Emotion Research

For centuries, philosophers and psychologists have recognized the importance of understanding personality differences based on the type and degree of emotional expression. In the fifth century b.c.e., the Greek physician Hippocrates classified people on the basis of emotional temperament. The view that people differ in temperament remains today. Arnold Buss and Robert Plomin have hypothesized that newborns differ in their susceptibility to distress, fear, and anger. Everyday descriptions of people as "happy-go-lucky," "stoic," and "volatile" represent the tendency to group people according to characteristic styles of emotional expression. Clinical psychologists speak of the "hysterical personality" as exhibiting excessive emotional lability and the "schizoid personality" as showing emotional indifference toward others.

Theologians have traditionally approached emotion as representing the dark side of human nature. What elevates humans above other animals has been thought to be the capacity to overcome passion with reason. Even this seemingly archaic view of emotion has its counterpart in modern psychology. Psychoanalysts help people gain control of their feelings through un derstanding the unconscious roots of their emotions. Cognitive therapists attempt to alleviate emotional dysfunctions by teaching clients to "think more rationally."

The modern era of research on emotion can be traced to Charles Darwin's 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Darwin believed that emotional displays evolved as a means of communication and had adaptive significance for the survival of the species. Indeed, there is some scientific support for the assertion that emotional expressions are basic biological responses: Newborn infants show expressions of emotion that closely match the expressions of adults; all infants, including those born deaf and blind, exhibit similar facial expressions in similar situations; very young babies can tell the difference between different emotional expressions; and there is considerable similarity in the expression of emotions across diverse cultures.

In the second half of the twentieth century, psychologists made important advances in formulating theories of emotions and devising assessment instruments to measure emotions. Scientists have arrived at the point where they recognize many of the fundamental aspects of emotion: the nervous system, thought, behavior, and the immediate situation. The challenge for the future is to map the intricate interplay among these variables and achieve a thorough understanding of this basic facet of human functioning.

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