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The words emotion and motivation are related etymologically (in the history of language). Motive comes from the Latin word motus–to move. Emotion comes from the Latin word emotus–to stir up.

Emotions stir us up; motives move us. Anything that motivates you probably moves you emotionally as well. An event causing strong emotions is likely to motivate you toward something or away from something.

The basic motivational dichotomy of approach and avoidance seems to underlie all of life, including psychology. There are exceptions (anger is negative and might involve approaching some­body to fight) but for the most part emotions and behaviors fall into one of two categories:


How is a "basic dichotomy" reflected in emotions?

In Archaeology of Mind: The Neuro­evolutionary Origins of Human Emotions, Panksepp and Biven (2012) rallied evidence that emotions evolved for either approach and avoidance. They listed 7 basic emotional responses that could be evoked from animal brains using deep brain stimulation:

Behavior aimed at positive outcomes or rewards:

Behavior aimed at avoidance or defense:

These behaviors go very deep. For example, what Panksepp and Biven call "seeking" behaviors (and old-time behaviorists called "appetitive" behaviors) occur even in decorticate animals (with cortex removed at birth). One of the first behaviors in many species is seeking the nipple, which happens before the cortex is mature.

Human babies born without a cerebral cortex, a rare birth defect, can nurse normally. They also smile and frown in response to internal stimuli, although they never develop the ability to per­ceive the environment.

What is evidence emotions can be expressed without a cerebral cortex?

Down through the years, different philosophers and psych­ologists attempted to produce lists of basic emotions. They often end up with the magical number 7, plus or minus 1.

Descartes found six passions (love, hatred, desire, joy, sadness, admiration). Darwin found seven clusters of emotions described in his book The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals (1872). They formed his chapter titles:

Robert Plutchik, in Emotions: A Psycho­evolutionary Synthesis (1980), identified additional lists of basic emotions from historical sources:

(From McDougall, 1921): fear, disgust, wonder, anger, subjection, elation, "tender" (e.g. parenting)

(From Jorgensen, 1928): fear, happi­ness, sorrow, want, anger, shyness

(From Tomkins, 1962): interest, surprise, joy, anguish, fear, shame, disgust, rage

(From Izard, 1971): interest/­excitement, enjoyment/joy, surprise/startle, distress/­anguish, disgust/contempt, anger/rage, shame/humiliation, fear/terror

All the lists above were intuitively derived. Paul Ekman (1972) attempted to use more objective methods. He analyzed face muscles used for emotional expressions and came up with six basic emotions: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, surprise, and sadness.

Plutchik (1980), after listing everybody else's lists, offered his own list of eight basic emotions:

joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust.

All the above are from Western culture, but here is a list from traditional Chinese medicine listing seven:

Anger, Fear, Fright, Grief, Joy, Worry, Pensiveness

How many basic emotions do theorists typically list? How many distinct emotional expressions were identified by a computer?

There are common themes. Everybody lists fear. Everybody lists anger or rage. Everybody lists happiness or joy.

Some researchers followed Ekman's lead, attempting to obtain objective operational definitions of emotions by analyzing facial expressions. Du, Tao, and Martinez (2014) put a large data­base of facial expressions through a computer to find which ones could be reliably distinguished from each other.

The facial expressions were analyzed using a list of face muscles called action units or AUs. Ekman eventually listed 80 AUs; other researchers use between 40 and 100 AUs.

Du and colleagues used Ekman's list. They found that computer facial recog­nition software could discriminate 21 different facial expressions (Du, Tao, and Martinez, 2013).

One might assume each distinct emotion is related to a distinct pattern of activa­tion in the brain, but that is apparently not the case. Lindquist, Wager, Kober, Bliss-Moreau, and Barrett (2012) found that a single emotion, on different occasions, could be accompanied by varying patterns of activation in the brain.

One uniquely human influence on emotion is language. Human emotions are greatly affected by what we believe or tell ourselves about reality.

The main technique used by cognitive behavior therapists, to help people deal with troublesome emotions like anger, fear, and anxiety, is cognitive re-struc­turing. That is a fancy way of saying, "Find a different way to interpret things." Albert Ellis designed a whole therapy around modifying self-talk or inner speech, to modify troublesome emotions.

What is an influence on emotions unique to humans?

Ellis pointed out that our model of the world is always an interpretation. The way we interpret or appraise events can change our emotional responses. We will come back to this idea in Chapter 14 (Frontiers) on the page, "The Role of Emotion in Stress."

The James/Lange theory

In the late 1880s William James, then at Harvard, and Danish physiologist Carl Lange independently suggested the same theory of emotion. Both suggested that emotion is due to perceiving changes in the body.

This became known as the James-Lange theory. As James (1890) wrote,

My that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of existing fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion...that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble... pp.449-450

What is the James-Lange theory?

The James/Lange theory has a certain plausibility, because (as we noted on the previous page) emotions are things that "stir us up." When we feel this happening (perceive the stirring up inside ourselves) we might identify this as an emotion.

Emotion is certainly associated with bodily reactions. The autonomic nervous system, when activated, causes noticeable body reactions such as shaking or sweating. James suggested our feeling of a body reaction is the emotion.

Some psychologists interpret this as meaning that the body reaction comes first, and the emotion (as we experience it in consciousness) is a cognition that comes quickly afterward. Schwartz (1986) offered an example of this pattern, with a slight delay between the two:

Think about what happens when you narrowly miss hitting someone who has darted out in front of your moving car. Chances are your first act is to slam on the brakes and screech to a halt.

After the car is safely stopped you notice that your heart is beating rapidly and your face is flushed with sweat; and then you begin to feel fear. As the James-Lange theory predicts, only after the car is stopped and the accident averted does the emotion occur. (p.90)

Some scholars distinguish between weak and strong versions of the James-Lange hypothesis. (A weak theory, in this context, is one that does not claim anything very controversial, while a strong theory makes a surprising claim but is less likely to be true.)

1. The weak version of the James-Lange theory is that emotions may follow bodily reaction. One may be surprised by love, by horror, by pride, by remorse. We refer to gut reactions when "the heart sinks" or "the heart skips a beat" or some­thing "turns your stomach."

2. The strong version of the James-­Lange theory, which researchers are usually talking about when they refer to the James-Lange theory, is that emotions occur only after visceral reactions. This implies that if you prevent a bodily response, there should be no emotion.

What are the weak and strong versions of the James-Lange theory?

Walter Cannon (1929) did experiments to test the strong version of the James-­Lange theory. Cannon cut the spinal cord of dogs so no sensations from the viscera could reach the dog's brain.

If emotion followed directly from perception of visceral responses (he argued) the dogs should no longer show emotion. However, the dogs with severed spinal cords still showed emotions of anger, fear, and pleasure. This contra­dicted the James/Lange theory.

Modern psychologists agree that the strong version is false; emotions arise in the brain. Emotion is not a response to changes in the body.

Everybody agrees with the weak version of the James/Lange theory, however. (And that is what makes it weak.) It is certainly true that emotions can follow, or be accompanied by, visceral reactions.


Cannon, W. B. (1929) Organization for physiological homeostasis. Physiological Reviews, 9, 399-431.

Du, S., Tao, Y., & Martinez, A. M. (2014) Compound facial expressions of emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., 111, 1454-1462. doi:10.1073/pnas.1322355111.

James, W. (1890) Principles of Psych­ology. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

Lindquist, K. A., Wager, T. D., Kober, H., Bliss-Moreau, E., & Barrett, L. F. (2012) The brain basis of emotion: a meta-analytic review. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 35, 121-143. doi:10.1017/S0140525X11000446.

Panksepp, J. & Biven, L. (2012). Archaeology of Mind: The Neur­oevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions. New York: Norton.

Plutchik, R. (1980) Emotion: A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis. New York: Harper and Row.

Schwartz, G. E. (1986). Emotion and Psychophysiological Organization: A Systems Approach. In M. G. H. Coles, E. Donchin & S. Proges (Eds.) Psychophysiology. New York: Guilford Press.

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