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In a bid to describe and define emotions, ancient thinkers adopted a simplified view that in most cases equated emotion to an irrational state of mind. However, as time progressed and different scholars described emotion, the explanations took multi-variant and multi-dimensional views. These views ranged from a Darwanism evolutionary school of thought to more complex biological states. As the times have progressed and various theories have come forward, most have felt that the traditional view used by ancient thinkers was the most accurate.

The ancient philosopher Plato likened emotions as irrational. In his view, emotion and reason were like two horses pulling towards opposing directions. Plato felt that when one of the two took over, the other was left dormant and could do little to control the other. Critically analyzing Plato’s view, a commonality is found in very day human experience. When one’s emotions take over they are almost completely unable to reason rationally. The same case is found in that when human beings rationally reason, they avoid involving their emotions on the subject at hand. An example for this is that, an angry person may lash out at a person and end up saying or doing things that they will later on regret. On the other hand, had the said person reasoned, they would have adopted a more wiser stance that they would not have later on regretted.

This has however been countered by modern researchers who have marked out that negative emotions teach us lessons that enable us reason better. According to Loewenstein B Shiv (2005) when one experiences a negative emotion, the human mind picks up subtle lessons relating to the incidence that it later visits when faced with a similar situation in future. A keen example is in investments both in finance and relationships. When a particular investment or relationship goes awry, one is wiser when handling future investments and relationships.

Despite this counter-argument, Plato’s theory of emotional irrationality still reigns over the contemporary view. This is because for the negative emotion to have occurred, the person had allowed their emotions to take over their reasoning in the first place. This resulted in the person, not thorough researching on the given investment hence ended up being frustrated by it and from that frustration learnt their lesson.

Contemporary researchers may have more in common in their stand as Aristotle. Aristotle described emotions as a human account that clouds their judgment and is followed by a resultant pain or pleasure. In this case, we can ascribe the resultant negative emotion by which the person improves their reasoning as the ‘resultant pain’ from their ‘clouded judgment’. In that case the researchers would not have discovered a new dimension towards defining and understanding emotions, rather they would have only proved Aristotle’s theory (Leighton, 1982).

In comparing Plato’s and Aristotle’s theory, there is an underlying commonality in that by emotions clouding judgment they are irrational.

Behaviorist, have pushed the theory that emotion is a conscious bodily reaction. According to this theory, the same arm muscles a person use to express their pleasure are the same they use to express their anger. However, in order to make the fundamental difference between the two, a person will feel a wave of internal tensing of muscles that is in reaction to their prevalent condition. A keen example often cited by behaviorists, is that of a clenched fist. When one throws their fist into the air to express excitement and joy, they are using the exact same muscle as that of a fist thrown in anger. The central difference between the two is that they are experiencing different internal states attributed to the trigger that caused the states in the first place.

According to the preparedness theory, human beings are born with an innate tendency to react with fear towards objects that pose a danger. That fear a human being experiences at the sight of a tiger, snake or armed intruder is passed through generations. Based on this theory emotion, such as fear are genetic and human beings are more likely to respond to a certain stimulus the same way their ancestors reacted. For example, despite different backgrounds, environment and race, all human being react in fear toward dangerous wild animals, heights, fire and adverse weather such as storms. This is in sharp contrast to how people react less afraid to things such as electricity and moving vehicles, even though it is well documented that they have a higher chance of being fatal as opposed to wild animals. The reasoning behind this is found in that humans are not instinctively wired towards responding in fear towards them.

The preparedness theory goes a step further to illustrate that even though fear of certain elements is genetical, emotion can be learned and attached to mentally preconceived dangerous situations. This leads to a person developing phobias. A phobia is defined as an irrational fear of an object. Most often a phobia develops after a person is exposed to a dangerous situation that involved the said object. A person who had a near fatal car accident or witnessed it may develop fear of vehicles.

Plutchik’s Psychoevolutionary theory describes emotions, not as feelings, but rather an adaptation. This adaptation involves a complex chain of events that begins with a stimulus that brings out psychological changes and action aimed towards a given goal. Often this goal has an element geared towards self-preservation (Plutchik, 2001).

From their point of view, supporters of the psychoevolutionary theory, point out that emotions enable the adaptation of the human species to various environments and demands (Plutchik, 2001; Reeve, 2009). In this theory, different emotions blend together to form a mix that allows the human body to react accordingly. For example, in order to reproduce and ensure continuity of the human species, joy and pleasure interrelate. This interrelation produces a state of approachability and acceptance necessary for reproduction to take place. On the other hand, anger and rage interact to produce a destructive element in human beings that is responsible for the protection of the species and its offspring.

Evolutionary theorists by studying the human body came to the results that different parts of the body performed different functions. Nevertheless, for the human body to survive, various reactions were necessitated. These reactions could at times go against each other to the detriment of the organism hence bringing the need for a process that could over-ride those reactions bringing about the desired response at the proper time. This system of over-riding was emotions.

An emotional state is described as coordinated adjustment of bodily mechanism for the body to perform a precise required function (Tomaka j, 1997). To illustrate this, when a person is dormant, such as seated or lying, the bodily systems are in a state of rest. All this changes upon the sight of danger and the body instantly gets into a state of flight or fight. The heart pump faster and breathing accelerates. This makes the response of flight or fight possible. In this case, the emotion of fear has over-rode the body biological state and systems from a state of dormancy to a state of alertness.

The main premise of the Evolutionary theory is that emotions are an underlying system within the human psyche, which is visited upon to ensure its survival in case a situation necessitates it. A point worth noting from this theory, is that for pro-creation to take place a lot of biological processes are required. These processes range from increased blood flow towards sexual organs and a steady heart and breathing rate. In order for this to be achieved, the body calls upon its emotive program. This releases joy, pleasure and anticipation emotions that bring about the desired body states that pro-creation requires in order to happen (Tomaka, 1997).

Psychologists William James and physiologists Carl Lange proposed the James-Lange theory. Under this theory, a stimulus causes a physiological reaction within us. How a person interprets that physiological reaction influences their physical reaction (Walter, 1927). Typically, it begins with a stimulus. This stimulus is interpreted by the brain, which initiates a motion of arousal allowing a specific emotion to be felt. For example, upon losing a loved one the body becomes numb and this is interpreted as sadness hence a person cries.

The biggest drawback of this theory, is that it was developed at a time when there was little in terms of scientific advancements. In essence, science had not evolved to the level where arousal patterns in the body could be measured.  The only piece of evidence that the James-Lange theory brought forward was that an emotionless man could react to stimulus without the preceding emotions. This served to prove that emotions did not precede or cause physical action. This theory has nonetheless come under great criticism from contemporary scientists.

The Cannon-Bard theory opposes this by citing that both physiological and physical reactions are caused by emotions. As such, when a person cries out, they are doing so because they are sad and not because their minds have told them to do so as an interpretation to an internal physiological state. To support this, Cannon refered to the Gregorio Maranon adrenaline injection experiment. In this experiment, subjects were given adrenaline shots. They were then asked to reflect on milestone events such as the death of a loved one or child’s wedding. When the subjects reported their emotional states, they ascribed it to the emotions they were already feeling from their reflections and not the adrenaline shot. The adrenaline shot only served to intensify the intensity of the already prevalent emotion! (Cannon, 1927)

Though the James-Lange theory is debatable, its applicability in explaining emotional states such as anxiety is commendable. For example, when a person experiences an awkward moment in public, they may develop anxiety. This will be evident in that, whenever they are in public their physiological status will change that will make their minds trigger physical reactions such as sweats and short breath that results in them being anxious (Walter, 1927).

According to the Ekman theory brought forward by Paul Ekman, non-verbal communication in human such as facial expressions is a universal phenomenon. The Ekman theory corroborates the Darwinian theory that emotions are complex, evolved biological processes. These processes are universally common in how they are made and interpreted. Despite ones culture or race, a smiling face denotes joy and a clenched forehead anger. The cardinal emotions of a human being which are; surprise, anger, happiness, disgust and fear were all accepted and recognizable world wide. Paul Ekman further claimed that emotions were at times so powerful that they could over-ride survival processes such as self-preservation. This theory has most commonly been used to explain why people could willingly offer themselves to die for a person or a cause they loved (Elkman, 1989).

The Ekman theory further states that as much as human beings try to conceal their true emotions, their non-verbal communication will give them away. This is evident when a person in unable to make eye contact when lying due to the heightened state they are in. This Ekman argued out, were micro-expressions, which were the basis of the universal nature of emotions (Elkman, 1989).

The Appraisal theory was brought forward by Magda Arnold. In this theory, emotion is a response based on how a person assesses a given event. If, for example, a certain event ended on a positive note, a person was likely to be show emotions of happiness and joy. This is as opposed to a negative end that would have ended in a sad and depressive state (Scherer, 2001). Nonetheless, the process of appraising is different amongst individuals. This is evident in that when the same event occurs to different individuals, they will appraise it differently.

Emotions can be termed as the way in which the inner state which at times may become observable by expressions or behavior. Culture defines to a large degree how human beings express and regulate their emotions. In culture, human beings learn social constructs that guide behavior based on sex and age. In most patriarchal societies, it is considered weak and improper for a man to cry. A man in most aspects is expected to maintain his composure.

The theory of cultural emotions also visits the premise by which a given culture is based. For example, in individualistic cultures such as those found in Western countries, it is not improper for an individual to undergo emotional outbursts irrespective of the sex. This is because emotions are within the psyche of a person. On the other hand, collectivist cultures such as the Orients, emphasize on individuals being part of a wider social context. In these cultures, emotions occur between people. As such, any emotion that is seen to threaten the social harmony is not to be displayed. People from collectivist cultures are known to suppress emotions and striving to maintain emotional composure. The main reason for this is that in individualistic cultures, from an early age, people are taught to be autonomous. In the bid to be autonomous, they learn to express their inner feelings and project their emotions if the situation allows them to. In a collectivist culture,  emotional out-burst are discouraged. From an early age, one learns to be emotionally calm as it is a major precursor to social harmony. (Scherer, 2001).

Individuals from individualistic cultures tend to keep only a few people in their circle. In collectivist cultures, individuals tend to rate family, friends and society highly. As such, individuals from individualistic cultures, will not hesitate to display hostile emotions to others who are not part of their preferred circle. On the contrary, collectivist individuals will limit their emotional disclosure in order to preserve interpersonal relationships.

The brain is a very powerful organ. Through it, various emotional states are interpreted. This is in fact thoroughly visited in the Damasio Somatic Marker theory. In this theory, emotions are defined as the responsive change in mental and bodily changes, in response to stimuli received. (Reeve, 2009) When human beings receive a given stimulus, the body undergoes physiological changes based on the stimulus. These stimuli are called Somatic markers. They include increased heart-rates or tension in the muscles. These changes are then interpreted by the brain, which relays to the body the corresponding emotion in which it should react with.

According to this theory, the brain has the ability to pre-empt expected body changes prior them actually occurring. When one encounters a dangerous object, the brain automatically puts the body into an alert state. The same occurs when the brain interprets signals it receives as if they were dangerous. For example, when watching a horror movie, the audience reacts in fear and shock as if they were in actual danger represented in the film.

Even though the Damasio Somatic Marker theory is grounded in biology, it encompasses social aspects of emotions. Despite the fact that a somatic marker may prompt the body to react in a certain way, social reinforcements and past experiences one holds, influence how humans react. These social influences are believed to be adaptive. For example, one could be angry at their superiors at work, rather than relay their emotions based on the angry somatic marker, they will maintain their composure. This is an adaptive mechanism based on what one has learnt by experience or observation. At that time reacting emotionally is maladaptive to their well-being. (Reeve, 2009)

The Zanjoc and Lazurus debate is frequently visited when looking at emotions. In this debate, both Zanjoc and Lazarus bring forward their proponents to what causes emotions. According to Zanjoc, affect and cognition were separate and independent processes. Though at times  both processes worked co-jointly, affect always preceded cognition. The main studies brought forward to defend this theory was that of a dangerous situation. The affect precedes the cognition in such a situation. A person reacts prior to fully comprehending the situation. The same was seen when subjects were too briefly shown images to comprehend what they were. When they were later shown new images, most subjects preferred the brief images over the new ones. The emotion of liking had over-rode that of cognition.

Lazarus by bringing forward the primacy of cognition. It held that emotions require cognition. In this theory, Lazarus, visits the fact that before making an emotion, a systematic process of appraisal takes place. When appraising, human beings identify as to whether it is positive or negative, then after evaluating the possible consequences, show their emotions. The appraisal process can be conscious or unconscious. (Ekman,1989)

Both the theories put forward by Lazarus and Zanjoc were both correct. Nonetheless, to fully comprehend them, they should be used complimentary as they are both one-dimensional. It is true that human beings react in fight or flight before cognition when in danger. (Ekman,1989) Nonetheless, studies prove that human beings subconsciously analyze events before attaching emotions to them.



Emotions form a fundamental role in our human make-up and psyche. This is because, it is human nature to attach an emotion on every phenomenon, object and person in their lives. This emotion ultimately forms the bias by which human beings view the ascribed entity. The issue of Emotions is multi-variate and multi-dimensional. One cannot ascribe to one form of its definition and advance it as the proper one. Different researchers on emotions have leveled out different theories. However, a critical look at all these theories shows that they are heavily borrowed from the works of ancient thinkers. This has at times led observers to conclude that modern contemporary research only ended up adding up, albeit in a complex manner what the ancient thinkers had concluded in the first place. That emotion is a complexity state in human beings that alters their perception and sense of judgment.



Cannon, Walter (December 1927). “The James-Lange Theory of Emotions: A Critical        Examination and an Alternative Theory”. The American Journal of                       Psychology 39: 106–   124

Ekman, Paul (1989). “The argument and evidence about universals in facial expressions    of         emotion”. In H. Wagner & A Manstead. Handbook of social psychophysiology.   Chichester, England: Wiley. pp. 143–164.

Plutchik, R. (2001), Integration, Differentiation, and Derivatives of Emotion, Evolution      and      Cognition, Vol. 7, No. 2

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ

Scherer, K. R., & Shorr, A., & Johnstone, T. (Ed.). (2001). Appraisal processes in emotion: theory, methods, research . Canary, NC: Oxford University Press.

Tomaka, J., Blascovich, J., Kibler, J., Ernst, J. (1997). Cognitive and physiological             antecedents of threat and challenge appraisal. Journal of Personality & Social         Psychology, 73, 63-72.

Cannon, Walter (December 1927). “The James-Lange Theory of Emotions: A Critical        Examination and an Alternative Theory”. The American Journal of           Psychology 39: 106–   124.



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