Seven ‘simple’ basic emotions are inherited, evolutionary. They consist of alerting, appetite cravings, pleasure/pain, fear-anger, and disgust. These are the core human emotions. But their derivatives, the ‘complex’ higher feelings of love, hate, shame, jealousy, loyalty, patriotism, hope and many, many more without an end in sight, are historically determined, ‘designed’ if you will.
Each of these higher feelings is a thought-emotion combination. That is, a word-idea combined with a basic, core emotion, often layer upon layer as in an onion skin. This is significant. The concept at last admits cognitive science into the field of emotional studies. Now I’ll explain that mouthful!
Simple inherited emotions
In lower animals, in us too, there is a spectrum of seven simple, core feeling-types – just waiting to be expressed. They developed over eons of time – in reptiles on up to mammals – as part of a repertoire for basic survival. It all started with a few fundamental appetites and an alerting to pleasure or pain. Then came fear and anger along with playing possum, fleeing or fighting, or spitting out disgusting things. The various appetites? Thirst, hunger (for food and air), sex and sleep (lumped together as THSS). All of this arose long before speech arrived on the scene (more on that a bit later). So, basically, every single human is born with inner 1) THSS
cravingsand core propensities to 2)surprisewith propensity to 3)happiness, 4)sadness, 5)fear, 6)angerand 7)disgust. The latter three are rightly called emergency emotions. All seven can be portrayed in a single diagram, thus:
The Emotional Spectrum diagram: The basic types of human emotion are akin to the primary colours of yellow, red, and blue. Out of three primary colours we can make a rainbow. Similarly, from seven core emotions—the appetite cravings, surprise, fear-anger, happy/sad, and disgust—come all ‘higher’ feelings. /wfh
The scientific basis of the core of simple survival emotions is founded in physiology (Walter Cannon’s seminal idea of fight-flight), anatomy (many experimental studies of the limbic structure, brain-stem axis and autonomic nervous system) and, of course, in studies of evolution. As a matter of fact, some 150 years ago, Charles Darwin, in his epochal book
On the Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, rightly considered emotion a crucial aspect of survival. He very carefully described the facial, vocal, postural, and other kinesic displays that automatically accompany most of the specific emotions. By this book alone, Darwin might well be honoured as the father of psychology! More recent studies help us to open the evolutionary door a bit more. Johnson-Laird, an engineer cum psychologist, wrote, “The important situations in the life of a species can be mapped into a relatively small number of emotions … happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust.” Much as above. But enough of that. Let’s get on to ‘designed’ human feelings.
Complex ‘designed’ feelings
There is an infinite possible number of varieties. Love, hate, shame, jealousy, loyalty and patriotism are merely the tip of the iceberg. Instead of being the product of evolution, complex feelings are products of human history. Instead of being inherited, they are learned, passed down in every culture. But first they must be devised, designed. This is where cognitive psychology comes in. But how?
Before all, there had to be speech. And the thinking or thoughts and ideas behind it. Lower animals, without reflective thought (inner words for ideas), simply do not develop higher complex feelings as do humans. And without speech (outer words in sentences) they cannot pass the names of complex feelings on to their offspring and others. OK? We’ll return to the concept. To help, let’s quote a beautiful metaphor, by John McCrone, from his 1990 book,
The Ape That Spoke:
“…higher (feelings) are really cocktails of socially valuable ideas, laced with a ‘raw’ (emotion) for extra punch.”
In other words, higher feelings are ideas wrapped in lower emotions. Or emotions wrapped in words. Either will do. Reworded again: higher feelings are hybrids, combinations, of various thoughts and one or more of the seven basic emotions. In complex feelings the thoughts and emotions are tightly intertwined. Inextricably so. So they last over historical time. Higher feelings, being complicated combinations of thoughts and emotions, obviously are complex. Hence the term, complex feeling. While words and emotions are always enough to create complex feelings, words all alone are not always enough to convey complicated concepts. But good diagrams are always helpful to us:
The Complex Feelings diagram: Complex feelings are cognitively constructed. They have a core of raw basic
emotions(light grey) layered with and modified (cognitively) by socially engenderedthoughts(in black), memories of the past and anticipation of the future, like layers of an onion. This concept can be mathematically formulated as: Complex feeling (Cf) = (E+T1,2,3…)n. /wfh
How does cognitive psychology come in? Well, cognitive science deals almost exclusively with thoughts alone and actions and so has a poor track record with emotions and feelings per se. Here’s a quotation from
Foundations of Cognitive Science(888 pages), edited by M. I. Posner: It (cognitive science) “deals with the nature of intelligence from the perspective of computation. An … issue is the relationship of emotion, feeling, and affect to cognition. Despite recent stirrings … no satisfactory integration yet exists of these phenomena into cognitive science. But the mammalian system is clearly constructed as an emotional system, and we need to understand in what way this shapes the architecture, if indeed it does so at all.” So I repeat, higher feelings are laced with thoughts or vice versa and hence, at last, cognitive science has an entrée.
It is only decent, at this point, to credit the originator of cognitive therapy, Although cognitive therapy is not mentioned in the above cited book, a sensible and seminal application of the cognitive approach to emotional states in clinical practice was developed by the psychiatrist, Aaron Beck. In Beck’s theory, pathological emotions (for example, as in depression) are seen as the product of a triad that includes persistently negative thinking: that is, thoughts can induce emotions! Such a notion is entirely compatible with the concept of culturally transmitted complex feelings.
Some lexical clarification
Before going any farther, I must concede that I’ve been using the two generic words, emotion and feeling, a wee mite incorrectly—on purpose. It is noteworthy that Shakespeare never used the word ’emotion.’ Hamlet praised his close friend Horatio as a man “whose blood and judgement are so well commingled.” Today we would say that Horatio’s emotions and thoughts were in good balance. Shakespeare was more or less stuck with the ancient humeral system of the four temperaments (about which more later). Now, the words
emotionandfeelinghave separate origins and subtly different meanings. Both words are general, or categorical, terms. While most people use them interchangeably in everyday speech, dictionary definitions make very clear distinctions:Emotion is the outward expression and feeling the inner subjective aspect of passion or sentiment.The wordfeelinggoes back to the twelfth century. Its meaning is blurred because of itsmanymeanings: i.e., ‘to feel’ may mean tosense(physical pain, touch, etc., as in, Ifeeldizzy, nauseated.) and it is used too loosely, tothink(Ifeelhe’s okay.). In the context of this articlefeelingreflects inner sensitivity, as in “Ifeelguilty, jealous.” The wordemotionwas coined in 1579 to describe “conscious mental feelings that are distinct from thoughts.”It is from the French verb emouvoir (to stir up), in turn from two Latin roots meaningto move—out.(The word ’emotion’ came out just five years before the Bard’s birth and, despite his passing acquaintance with French, was not in the his vocabulary!) Incidentally,emotionmakes for an awkward verb! Compare:I feel happyandI emote happiness. Feelings are the true love of poets. But scientists preferemotionand avoid references tofeelings. I think, however, that I’m on fairly safe ground calling historically and socially engendered higher feelings, feeling. And the raw product of evolution, emotion.
Explanations of love, hate and more
I’ll now confine myself to a few complex feelings and how they have been designed and defined by humans and passed down in historical time from one generation to the next. It is of note that more and more new word ideas are being attached to raw emotions all the time—spin—by PR people and their numberless vendors in the form of sales persons, politicians and the like, even unwittingly by teachers.
Attachment and loss
Reiterating what has gone before, simple, core emotions are the object of physiological experiments. Our higher feelings like love and hate make for poetic flights of fancy or become the raw material of innumerable, too often scholastic, philosophical essays. From a logical standpoint, it is extremely important to see, visualize, a unique cluster of special complex feelings—love, hate, jealousy, and grief. Then we can fully understand how this group of complex feelings is loosely interconnected through the key processes of attachment, loss, and rejection. Here is the picture, a small conceptual foundation:
Basic appetites, coloured by modifying thoughts from the cortex, provide us with whole ranges of higher pleasures in fine cooking and wine, hardly to speak of the varieties of love. Far more than material things, however, friendship and loving intimacy—as long as it is a happy two-way street, a byproduct of social success—is the most important source of human pleasure. In the paragraphs that follow we will touch upon lust and love, disgust, hate and shame, and the fear of loss attendant upon grief in jealousy. Raw lust aspires to love, romantic or poetic. And, as we shall explain, disgust at another person may become hate, but self-disgust is shame.
Lust and love
Explaining the historical lore of love is a de-muddling task. Love very often is encrusted with religious assertions and prohibitions. But the poetic imagination may mollify it. Philosophical speculation on love has abounded: Plato described an ideal and selfless platonic love—with homoerotic overtones so characteristic of ancient Greece. Ovid, a Roman realist, wrote of lusty heterosexual love; he offered advice on makeup and other tricks to catch a lover. Modern ‘romantic’ love, the very first concession to women’s rights, emerged and became stylized in medieval times; a truly revolutionary guide book on courtly love (Capellanus, Andreas (1184). The Art of Courtly Love. New York: Ungar 1957) was actually ghost-written by a woman and fronted by a priest.
These social-historical ideas are the underpinnings of all modern Western notions of lust-love. Bertrand Russell, the philosopher-mathematician, expanded upon lust-love in a small book describing brotherly, parental and other varieties of love and affection. The sighs and rituals of love-sickness and attendant follies have entire plays, novels and movies in their honour. Science (and psychiatry) rounds things out, as we’ll see, by unravelling the chemical and developmental interplay of lust and love. Adding scientific fact to the mix seems audacious if not anticlimactic. Common sense logic can clarify much also. Lust, played up or down, is the basic raw appetite. Love, whatever kind, is the complex feeling.
Love’s beginnings have a chicken-egg quality: First comes mother-infant attachment, founded in evolution. Care by a mammalian mother for her offspring is essential to the survival of a species. It is also the prototype of all bonding. Vis., breast feeding is not only a crucial source of infant nutrition but is a neurologically determined attachment behaviour between mother and infant; there is a clear ‘labelled line’ between an infant’s sense of smell (of the mother’s breast) and the infant’s brain. Other infant attachment behaviours include eye contact through facial recognition (the eye-nose T-shaped configuration face-on) and cuddling. All fundamental attachment behaviours are basically hard-wired rather than learned. The initial emotional attachment between mother and child may be translated later on into a complex propensity for prolonged spousal bonding, interpreted as ‘the joy of love,’ which further ensures species survival—as well as much individual misery. With maturity love starts within an individual and then is fostered or rejected from outside. One cannot demand love; it is by its very nature spontaneous. After simple lust comes complex love. Beneath all sexual love, attraction and attachment have a complete spectrum of love chemicals: 1) the male and female sex hormones, 2) the pheromones (attractants), 3) oxytocin (conferring relaxed satisfaction—the ‘cuddle’ chemical), and 4) the endorphins and phenyl-ethyl amine (PEA,which cause euphoria and goofy behavior). Incidentally, the latter substances are truly addictive; separation, rejection and deprivation result in a painful abstinence syndrome called ‘love-sickness.’ Chemistry is real! The long and the short of it is that love as a higher, complex state of feeling has become encrusted with myriad words. The idea of love is a complex product of social ‘evolution’ (a better phrase is historical idea-accretion), that is constantly changing.
Anger and hate—their distinctive origins and ends
Anger and hate to little children are as confusing as sex and love to teenagers. When they say, “I hate you!” children really mean, “I’m angry at you!” In family and children’s work it is wise to pick up on and clarify this seemingly small point.
We all know how hard it is not to show disgust when we encounter something disgusting. We can also feel that way toward another person. When we reject another we may feel disgust for, and even nausea, at the sight or thought of that other. Then, repellent words and ideas begin to encircle the core feeling of disgust. Disgust operates when we are doing the rejecting. Perhaps it is necessary to be nauseated by someone in order to whip up enough hate to reject him. Disgust is a precursor of hate. At any rate, hate is a complex species of disgust. It can lead to anger, but there is no necessary connection. You can feel hatred for someone without feeling anger; you can feel angry with someone you do not hate.
Shame is a feeling of self-disgust, rejection of one’s own self. Inner feelings covered in thought are tied into one’s self esteem (How I feel about myself, Do others like me? Am I OK?) and body image (how I see myself). A favourable self esteem engendered during childhood can sustain a person through years of later trials and tribulations. If one’s inner feelings and their emotional expression are generally above the core emotion model’s horizontal line, it is fair to assume that body image and self esteem are intact. Conversely, if one’s feeling tone is largely on or below the line, SE and BI come into question. Quite obviously, low self esteem and poor body image feed into and adversely affect emotional affect.
Shakespeare dealt with jealousy in his play about an African general who contracted to take on the defence of Venice,
Othello, who “loved not wisely but too well.” In my view it is mandatory reading for all therapists. Jealousy is an extremely complex, usually noxious emotion with underlying feelings of sadness and loss (real or imagined), anxiety and anger, combined with much more extensive cognitive components, past memories and lingering hopes. The cognitive formula: past misery/loss + present insecure mistrust + future uncertainty = jealousy
The cognitive formula that I have devised for jealousy can be extrapolated to any complex feeling (Cf). Cf is a sequential sum of 1) past experience (PE) affecting 2) self esteem (SE) (the typical way of feeling about oneself) projected into 3) the future as habitual expectation (FE). Based on a knowledge of causes, the most significant past experience for any complex emotion can be figured out. Thus, the PE for anxiety is
uncertainty, for depressionloss, for contentment it is consistent parentallove, etc. Similarly, PE colours SE in typical clinical ways. Both taken together colour anticipatory thinking negatively or positively. Thus, the general cognitive-emotional formula is:
Cf = [PE + SE + FE]
As with disgust, jealousy involves social learning and memory. Just as hate has to do with the active rejection of another, jealousy has to do with real or imagined rejection by another. Both jealousy and hate, along with grief, are the negative sides of affection and love. While hate is notably pain free, grief and jealousy are subjectively very painful. Grief usually goes away, but jealousy stays. Virtually every human being has felt jealous and a bit of jealousy can occur in many perfectly normal relationships.
A potpourri of complexity
As we have seen, while pure thought is distinct from basic emotion, we intertwine them to create complex feelings. When a complicated and abstract thought or idea is merely tinted around the edges with emotion, what then do we have? A very complex feeling? Or a complex thought tinged with incidental emotion? That is for the reader to decide.
Are the ancient Hippocratic temperaments what now would be scientifically termed complex emotions? These very old, emotionally-tinged words still are a peculiar part of modern everyday speech: A
sanguineperson (Hamlet’s friend Horatio?) exudes happiness and enthusiasm; amelancholyperson is sad, serious, and orderly, striving for perfection in all things; thephlegmaticperson is seen as calm and peaceful, reconciled to life; and acholericperson readily blows off steam, is a powerful leader, always right, knowing everything. I would say yes.
Guilt? Is it really a true feeling, or can we only have guilty thoughts, which, in turn, stimulate the production of certain unpleasant feelings and emotions including the illness of depression? Certainly, guilt is one of the most cognitively encumbered varieties of ’emotion.’ Hope is a complicated feeling-idea that has built-in optimism. It is opposed to pessimistic apprehension in which the future is tinged with fearful, hurtful memories of the past. Worry combines both past memories of uncertainty and present and future apprehensions.
The seven deadly sins (lust, envy, pride, greed, gluttony, sloth, and wrath), the source of so much guilt (at least in bygone times), may be seen as either complex feeling-emotions or elaborate ideas with strong feeling-tone.
Speech and the communication of ideas enables humans to manufacture such higher feelings as loyalty and patriotism, which are encrusted in cognitive nuances. Take the ‘American dream.’ Is the pursuit of happiness truly a dream? Or a hopeless, never-ending quest. Whatever the answer to that question, it is probably best to cultivate and greet happiness as an ongoing intermittent pleasure rather than as a goal in and of itself. Others? Artistic enjoyment, vanity, humour, and honour. These idea-emotions cannot occur in lower animals as they have no language and are locked into purer emotions that connect with the present only. (But I sometimes think my dog can harbour anticipation (hope?) of a walk. A future-concept without words?!)
Compound or mixed emotions
Feelings in the literary sense, are metaphorical. Artists and poets, painting with a fine brush, long did the best job with them. Shakespeare wrote about “sweet sorrow,” a mixture of sadness and pleasure bathed in erstwhile thought. One might write a poem about fearful-joy-and-excitement; that’s what we seek on a roller-coaster ride. Or, how about melancholy rage? I sometimes feel serene-sadness while trying to teach skills that I know must be earned by students through hard experience. Most depressions are laced with guilt; hopeless-disgust is a variant that amazingly responds better to Gravol than an SRI. The ‘mix’ between primary emotions highlights the unique human quality of splitting affect. Complex mixed feelings are not abnormal; we can consciously harbour irritation over a teenager’s antics with pride for his or her accomplishments; and we can combine affection and disgust while changing a baby’s diaper. If, however, opposed feelings get isolated and hidden from each other, if we act one way one time and the other way the next, it is abnormal. The term for this latter, ambivalence, is very common in mental illness. But not always:
Rockabye Baby, is a good example of sane ambivalence. A mother croons a soothing song that first expresses her well-wishes for her baby to have a nice sleep in a treetop—when the wind blows the cradle will rock. Then, her murderous unconscious thoughts are expressed as, when the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will crash baby cradle and all. Most new mothers wouldn’t be aware of or admit to harbouring both abusive and nurturing feelings side by side. They can be there, however, and this lullaby is wise old folk lore to that effect.
Complex feelings accumulate in historical time. They do not evolve biologically! Higher feelings are socially engendered, encrusted with time-linked thoughts—word-ideas—which are taught, learned. Higher feelings are layered like an onion-skin: core emotions stimulated by thoughts, thoughts stimulated by emotion, thoughts encrusted with emotions. Put yet another way, complex ’emotional’ expression is core emotional-feeling wrapped in words and thoughts. (The sequence is immaterial—except in Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy which posits that thinking precedes feeling.) As the historical ‘evolution’ of culture progresses, the social warehouse of complex and commonly shared feelings will undoubtedly expand – almost endlessly. Just as the propensity for speech is 1) genetically inherited through biological evolution and 2) specific language is learned through environmental serendipity, so 1) simple core emotions are few and genetically determined and 2) complex feelings are constantly changing social-historical elaborations.
Earlier, we sought an escape from premature flights into theoretical psychobiology through physiology, logic and the like. Never more. Words to the psychologist are as numbers to a physicist. Cognitive science and information communication through complex feelings are as valid as any ‘big bang’ theory. Psychobiologists never need feel inferior to theoretical physicists. Theorize ad infinitum! But, and this may now be obvious, it is impossible to design a single clinical test to measure complex feelings as done for simple emotions.
Now, I think (hope) you get the idea. If so, you can expand upon it by reading the longer partner Knol to this overview. As a teaser, that Knol addresses Star Trek’s coolly intellectual Spock who habitually bugged Kirk and Bones by asking them: What it the purpose of emotions? (The ‘big’ Knol, refurbished, will soon be back up.) /wfh