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What is an Emotion?
Different Perspectives

According to the Social Constructivist View:
 

Emotions are subjective, socially invented (or constructed) experiences. Emotions vary between cultures, groups, and individuals. As fluid concepts, there are no biologically determined or culturally universal emotions, although emotions  may be expressed and shared. Emotions can also be strongly experienced and even "embodied," such that they become "overlearned cognitive habits" capable of triggering physiological changes.

(See: William James, Catherine Lutz,  Ortony & Turner)

According to Basic Emotion Theory: 

 

Emotions are empirically observable biological phenomena. They are adaptive, and evolved in response to environmental cues. An emotion involves distinct biological changes (heart rate and hormonal shifts, muscle contractions) in the organism; these changes coordinate cognitive and physiological responses to stimuli. There are a number of "basic emotions," which are common across human cultures.

(See: Paul Ekman, Carroll Izard) 

Sample Research Questions

The Basics 

 

How does a particular society conceptualize "emotions"? ◆ Which emotions does the society recognize and focus on (hypercognize)? ◆ Which emotions are hypocognized (ignored or under-conceptualized) by the society? ◆ How does the society categorize emotions? ◆ How are different emotions communicated through words, images, gestures, and behaviors? 

Developing an Understanding

What is the social importance of emotions in society? ◆ How are emotional regimes produced? ◆ Who participates in emotional socialization (producing and teaching others emotional norms)? ◆ How are emotions performed? ◆ How are emotional norms enforced, negotiated, and contested? ◆ What happens when an emotional norm is violated? ◆  How does the type of historical source and the intended audience influence which emotions are expressed, and which emotions are suppressed? ◆ What are the display rules for different emotions?

Diving Deeper

How have concepts of emotion changed through time? ◆ How do individuals attach and detach emotions to and from ideas, objects, people, and historical events? ◆ How are emotions mapped onto landscapes? ◆ Why are certain emotions gendered, and how do emotional norms vary according to role? ◆ How are emotions used in power relations and claims-making? ◆ How do cultures exchange ideas about emotional norms? ◆ Which emotions are similar between cultures; are there any culturally specific emotions? ◆ What emotional subcultures exist, and why are certain affects used as a form of distinction? ◆ How do groups understand the emotions of "others"? 

"Words shape the emotions of those who lived in the past, marking the limits of the possible and the recognized.

 

Likewise, our own vocabularies limit how we in the present understand the emotions of other eras. . . . [H]istorians must take care when they study the words of earlier generations, and resist imposing modern meanings and connotations on to cultures of the past."

Susan J. Matt, "Recovering the Invisible:
Methods for the Historical Study of the Emotions"

"[E]motional communities: groups in which people adhere to the same norms of emotional expression, and value—or devalue—the same or related emotions.

 

More than one emotional community may exist—indeed normally does exist—contemporaneously, and these communities may change over time."

Barbara H. Rosenwein, Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages

Bibliography: Emotions 

Haidt, Jonathan. “The Moral Emotions.” In Handbook of Affective Sciences. Eds. R. J. Davidson et al. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Loewenstein, George and Jennifer S. Lerner. “The Role of Affect in Decision-Making.” In Handbook of Affective Science. Eds. R. Davidson, H. Goldsmith, & K. Scherer. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003..
Martens, Jason P., Jessica L. Tracy, and Azim F. Shariff. “Status Signals: Adaptive Benefits of Displaying and Observing the Nonverbal Expressions of Pride and Shame.” Cognition and Emotion 26, no. 3 (2012): 390-406
Mashak, Shahrzad Pirzad et al. "A Comparative Study on Basic Emotion Conceptual Metaphors in English and Persian Literary Texts." International Education Studies 5, no. 1 (February 2012): 200-207.
Moll, J., Oliveira-Souza, R., Zahn, R., Grafman, J. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Emotions. In Moral Psychology, Vol. 3. Ed. Sinnott-Armstrong. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.
Pawlak, Nina, ed. Codes and Rituals of Emotions in Asian and African Cultures. Warsaw: Elipsa, 2009.
Pernau, Margrit and Helge Jordheim, et al. Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth-Century Asia and Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Reddy, William M. The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Tangney, June Price et al. “Moral Emotions and Moral Behavior.” Annual Review of Psychology 58 (January 2007).

OUR STORY

Launched in January 2020, The Center for Behavioral and Cognitive History (BACH) is a collaborative digital history lab space, which strives to further the study of human behavior  by exploring how emotions, cognitions, behaviors, and concepts of morality have changed through time.

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