Feelings and Emotions

Feelings are physical sensations that can be subdivided into somatic and affective.

  1. Somatic experiences are feelings of the body, such as, for example, muscle tension, headache, chest pain, goosebumps, tiredness.
  2. Affective experiences are feelings of the mind (soul), for example, emptiness, panic, homesickness.

Scherer (1994) defines emotions as complex narrative structures that give shape and meaning to somatic and affective experiences, that is,

emotions are mental states, interpretations of feelings when the sensory perceptual input of both somatic and affective experiences get cognitive explanation and conscious plan of action.

According to Schweder (1994), emotions represent somatic and affective experience not simply as a feeling (such as tiredness or heartache or being sick) but as a perception (for example, being in love, or being betrayed) and a plan (withdrawal, retaliation).

Both parts are equally important. Damasio (2000) describes how physical manifestation of fear, for example, such as accelerated heartbeat, actually contributes to the feeling of fear.

To emotionalise one’s feelings means to give a reading to (interpret and label) somatic and affective experience.

Quite often the somatic feeling may be the same but its affective side is different, for example, you may feel sick but it does not necessarily mean that you have eaten something nasty, it can mean you are in love (Scheder 1994).

Are Emotions uniquely Human Phenomena?

Jaak Panksepp, who believes that feelings originate in the brain stem, disagrees with the concept of the uniqueness of emotional states to primates and humans.

The argument is, because the brain has not changed much in the course of human evolution, it could, therefore, be involved in producing feelings not only in humans but also in other species as well, so if it looks like fear in people and rats, it probably feels like fear in both species.

Opponents question this belief, insisting that although there is neural and behavioral similarity between humans and rats, for example, we cannot prove that rats and people feel the same way when they behave the same way.

It turns out that animals have the same basic emotions as humans. This is true not only for mammals but also for birds and other animals, such as lizards and snakes (Grandin and Johnson 2005).

Panksepp (1994) believes that most species possess unique sensory perceptual inputs that lead to emotionality. For example, such ‘fearful behaviors’ of rats in response to the smell of a cat are not acquired by learning. Rats are born with it (Crepeau and Panksepp 1988).

However, the ability to identify and ‘name’/label’ what one is feeling is a different matter. The activity of labeling is arbitrary; it is independent of emotional experience.

The choice of words to describe the emotion often depends on the communicator’s intentions. For instance, some words appear to emphasize the physiological reaction component (‘tired’ or ‘aroused’), others are quite cognitive (‘bewildered’, ‘curious’), still others focus on specific sociomotivation (‘jealous’), or highlight the action tendency (‘hostile’) (Scherer 1994).

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    The research data for this work heavily relied on:
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  2. Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry By David Semple, Roger Smyth
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