Biological a situation understood to be of

March 8, 2019 English Language

Biological psychologists have aimed to effectively and coherently understand the universality and nature of Emotion, how we experience emotion, it’s expression, as well as recognise the impact of emotion on behaviour displayed. Emotions are complex, motivated states consisting of physiological arousal, behavioural expression and the influence of cognitive processes that arise as a result of a situation understood to be of meaningful importance (Gerrig ; Zimbardo, 2010 cited by Association, n.d.). Emotions influence how the brain processes information, it’s interpretation of such information, and its impact on emotional interaction and memory. Events deemed to be highly emotionally stimulating are most often better stored within the memory and are easily accessible compared to unemotional events. In a planned study, Rothbaum, Foa, Murdock Walsh and Riggs (1990) concluded that after a sexual assault, a highly emotionally stimulating event, 94% of rape victims met the criteria for a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis. Continuing, after 3 months, approximately 47% of victims still experienced episodes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, highlighting the impact emotion has on an individual’s daily life (Rothbaum, Foa, Murdock et al, 1990 cited in Foa, Rothbaum et al, 1991) Although it could be considered a universal experience for all, Emotion is a subjective experience, differing from person to person, which this essay will depict. Emotional experience is influenced by our physiological response to a situation, and therefore, emotional expression is situationally based. The strength of our response to a situation determines the intensity of the emotional expression, but the interpretation of such emotion can be experienced differently. Groups of theorists have argued that emotional expression involves differences in the way the individual ‘appraises’ it’s environment i.e. emotions are constructed through an individual’s evaluation of situation (Scherer, Schorr, ; Johnstone, 2001), defined as Appraisal Theory (Lazarus, 1975).Individual’s make a cognitive evaluation of how a situation with impact them emotionally, through two main processes: Primary Appraisal, whereby the individual evaluates whether they have any personal gain to achieve in this situation i.e. will there be harm or benefits to gain from the situation, or is there a risk to their life, and the lives of those around them. The individual also uses Secondary Appraisal, whereby they evaluate how the prospect of a beneficial situation can be ascertained through overcoming potential harm (Folkman, Lazarus, Dunkel-Schetter, Delongis, & Gren, 1986). This, therefore, leads to individual interpretational differences in the ways individuals evaluate and assess their emotional response to a situation. A supporting example of individual differences in emotional response can be seen in Bourne (1967)’s study with Vietnam soldiers. The study involved groups of helicopter crew soldiers serving during the Vietnam War, where they were an increased risk of severe injury or death. Every 24 hours, urine samples were taken in seven helicopter crews, measuring 17-hydrocortisone (17-OHCS) as an index of adrenocortical activity. Researchers found that, while it was expected that adrenal cortical secretion would be increased stressful situations, such as flying a helicopter in an emergency. However it was found that there will little difference between those flying the helicopters and those “on the ground”, in terms of their adrenal cortisol secretion, undeniably providing support for the belief that individual’s emotional expression is based upon their situational influencers i.e. environment, rather than an innate biological factor (Bourne, Rose, & Mason, 1967) cited in (Cantor & Ramsden, 2014)
Further support for the belief that emotion is a construct of external factors, effected by environmental influencers, rather than a universal trait and characteristic is provided by Jack, Blais, Scheepers, Schyns & Caldara (2009). Although emotions are believed to be communicated universally through facial expressions and the interpretation of facial expressions, it has been discovered consistently among Eastern groups that negative facial emotions generate decreased recognition levels and abilities compared to more Westernised groups (Jack et al, 2009). The study included 13 European participants, as well as, 13 East Asian participants, all East Asian nationals, who had acquired UK residence for one week and a rating in an International English Language Test. The study comprised 56 images of facial expression including “happy”, “surprise” and “disgust”. Participants completed a categorisation of facial expression task, using both same-race and other-race faces, whilst their eye movement was monitored. It was decided that eye movement is the most suitable factor to consider, as they tend to “reveal the information strategically selected to categorise expressions” (Jack et al, 2009). Results found significant difference between East Asia and Western Culture participators in their ability to differentiate universally facial expressions of emotion, with East Asia participants showing a significant inability to categorise “fear” and “disgust” when compared to European participants (Jack et al, 2009), thus, supporting the belief that emotions are not universal, and instead are, again, dependent upon the context, culture and other situational influencers present.
Although emotion could be considered a subject tool, influenced by individuality, and despite cultural and social differentiation in languages or societal norms, some aspects of emotion are displayed universally. Emotions could be considered a form of unspoken communication, essential for information exchange, used by humans to communicate how they are feeling, universally through facial expressions. Darwin (1872) was one of the fundamental researchers to study the nature of emotion, suggesting that all humans, and some animals, show emotional expression in similar ways to each other, with the ability to be detected across culture and specie (Darwin, 1872). One such example can be seen in the “sneer” of humans and the growl of a wolf. Darwin argued that during the emotional expression of anger, the lips become retracted, with clenched teeth exposed, with the appearance of the exposed teeth displayed as if they were ready “for seizing or tearing an enemy” (Darwin, 1872), which can be similarly related to the snarling of a typical wolf. Stated in his book, Darwin (1872) describes the case of an “insane” woman, who “foamed at the mouth” with a retracted upper lip, displaying her teeth, as typically seen in wolves. Given this information, it would be reasonable to deduce that emotion and emotional expression is an innately biological reaction to an event or situation, given that similar emotional responses can be seen across species. Darwin (1872) argued that emotion is an ever-evolving tool, necessary for the preservation of life. For example, for the emotional expression of anger, the face will typically “frown”, the function of which is protection for the eyes, in anticipation of an attack. Additionally, for the expression of surprise, typical characteristics include the eyebrows being raised, as well as, the mouth being open. Their purposes include: opening the eyes to assist with the individual’s ability to see, as well as, opening the mouth to facilitate air intake, so the body is prepared to act (Darwin, 1872). Darwin’s work, although provides support for the universality of emotion, its interpretation and expression
From Darwin’s work, further research has been conducted on varying societies and cultures, both Westernised and those secluded from the influence of Western culture (Russell, 1994) , with similar findings found in studies conducted by Paul Ekman. His research demonstrated the universality of emotion using cross-cultural studies, from both Westernised and virtually isolated cultures. Ekman (1968) and Ekman and Freisen (1969) suggested that the universal nature of emotion is due to an association between specific facial muscle movement and emotional expression, the expression of emotions including: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Surprise, Disgust and Interest (Ekman, 1968; Ekman ; Freisen, 1969 cited in (Ekman ; Freisen, 1971). The researchers conducted studies to support their previous beliefs. Members of one culture, an isolated, preliterate South Fore tribe in New Guinea, a culture largely free from Westernised influences, were told an emotion – provoking story such as: Your friend has come to see you, your child has died or you are angry and about to fight and told to identify which face, presented to them as a photograph, elicited the correct emotion. The same procedure was used with a second group, comprised of individuals, who had previous contact with Westernised cultures and spoke English (iterate) (Ekman ; Freisen, 1971) Results found supported the belief that facial behaviours can be universally connected to specific emotions. It was found that faces perceived by the more literate group to be a specific emotion i.e. happiness, was similarly judged by the pre-literate culture, who had no previous encounters with westernised cultures (Ekman ; Freisen, 1971). Considering the non-literate culture had no previous connection to the literate culture, this disproves the belief that facial expression and interpretation of emotion is learned socially and, therefore, supports the belief of an innate, biological drive behind emotion.
As evidently displayed, it would be unreasonable to assume that emotion is universal, experienced and displayed by all individual’s, given the evidence presented by the Appraisal theory and research for the belief that emotion is a social construct, with dependence on situational influencers, context and culture. However, it would more reasonable to conclude that emotion is a complex tool, requiring varying contributing factors necessary for successful expression and interpretation.


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