Psychological and Evolutionary Approaches

That emotions typically have formal objects highlights another important feature of emotional experience which feeling theories neglect and which other psychological theories attempt to accommodate: emotions involve evaluations. If someone insults me and I become angry, his impertinence will be the aspect of his behavior that fits the formal object of anger: I only become angry once I construe the person's remark as a slight; the specific nature of my emotion's formal object is a function of my appraisal of the situation. Magna Arnold (1960) introduced the notion of appraisal into psychology, characterizing it as the process through which the significance of a situation for an individual is determined. Appraisal gives rise to attraction or aversion and emotion is equated with this "felt tendency toward anything intuitively appraised as good (beneficial), or away from anything intuitively appraised as bad (harmful)". Subsequent appraisal theories accept the broad features of Arnold's account and differ mainly in emphasis. Richard Lazarus (1991) makes the strong claim that appraisals are both necessary and sufficient for emotion and sees the identity of particular emotions as being completely determined by the patterns of appraisal giving rise to them. Nico Frijda (1986) takes the patterns of action readiness following appraisals to be what characterize different emotions, but departs from Arnold in not characterizing these patterns solely in terms of attraction and aversion. Klaus Scherer and his Geneva school have elaborated appraisal theories into sophisticated models that anatomize different emotions in terms of some eighteen or more dimensions of appraisal. Emotions turn out to be reliably correlated, if not identified, with patterns of such complex appraisals. (Scherer et al., 2001). Appraisal theories can be described as taking a functional approach to emotion, insofar as appraisals lead to reactions whose function is to deal with specific situation types having some significance for an individual (Scherer, 2006). This approach suggests that the space of emotions can be conceptualized as multidimensional. In practice, however, so-called dimensional theories simplify the problem of representation by reducing these to just two or three (Russell, 2003). Typically these include 'arousal' and 'valence'. This is handy, but tends to flatten out many distinct ways in which one might classify emotional valence as 'positive' or 'negative'.

Other theories consider the function of emotions more broadly and ask, not why we should have particular emotions on specific occasions, but rather why we should have particular emotions at all. This question is often given an evolutionary answer: emotions (or at least many of them) are adaptations whose purpose is to solve basic ecological problems facing organisms (Plutchik, 1980; Frank, 1988). Darwin (1896) himself was concerned not so much with the question of how our emotions might have evolved, but rather why they should have the forms of expression that they do. Emotional expressions, he thought, once served particular functions (e.g., baring teeth in anger to prepare for attack), but now accompany particular emotions because of their usefulness in communicating these emotions to others. Paul Ekman (1972), inspired by Darwin's approach, takes emotional expressions to be important parts of "affect programs"—complex responses found in all human populations, which are controlled by mechanisms operating below the level of consciousness. Much research has been done on this group of emotions (usually listed as happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust) and scientifically-minded philosophers often restrict their discussions of emotion to the affect programs, since these are those most well understood of all emotional phenomena (Griffiths, 1997; DeLancey, 2001; Prinz, 2004). However, the affect program model leaves out a good deal. In particular, it ignores those emotions which involve higher cognitive processes, such as jealousy, envy and Schadenfreude. It is these sorts of emotions which many philosophers have made the focus of their own theories of emotion. The research program of evolutionary psychology (Cosmides et al., 2000) goes some way to filling this lacuna and emphasizes the modularity that is likely to result on the plausible speculation that different social and psychological emotional functions have been shaped relatively independently by natural selection. The mechanisms elaborated by natural selection in the context of competitive survival, dominance, mating and affiliation are not necessarily harmonious. Philosophers, for their part, have devoted a good deal of attention to the analysis of more subtle differences between "higher" emotions. (Ben-Ze'ev, 2000). This has led many philosophers to stress cognitive aspects of emotions.

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