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Emotions are a lot more than what you feel

The way we understand emotions is almost always in comparison with rationality:
Emotions are the thoughtless reactions, while rationality is thoughtful consideration. The best decisions come when we activate our rationality to suppress our emotions.


This is a view that is very intuitive. It certainly feels like what is happening, and understandably, it was the first/classical model of emotions.

This classical model is based on a theory of universality: emotions are innate, biologically driven reactions to certain challenges and opportunities.



Emotions are triggered when a complex but specific set of programs in the body activate. For example, when you are angry, your heart beats faster, and your face shows a certain expression, and specific hormones are secreted. These programs are set in the human genome - i.e. people all feel anger or happiness or anxiety in the same way.


Since the late sixties, there have been a number of studies that seem to support this. Scientists like Silvan Tomkins, Carrol Izard, and Paul Ekman have tested showing photographs of folks with different expressions to people around the world, including a remote village in New Guinea that have seen few outsiders, and were not exposed to media portrayals of emotion. What they found was that people recognised the same emotions regardless of their culture, language, habitat and global exposure. This seems to support this theory of universality.


In fact, there is the belief that the universality of emotions also applies to animals - dogs do the same thing when they are excited, i.e. wagging their tails. In this way, these programs are almost like “emotional fingerprints”, unique to the particular emotion you are experiencing.

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