This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 09 table of contents.


Emotion and motivation are intimately related. Anything that motivates you probably moves you emotionally as well. Any event that causes strong emotions is likely to motivate you, either toward a repetition of the event or toward avoidance of it. The words emotion and motivation are also related etymologically (in the history of language). Motive comes from the Latin word motus—to move. Emotion comes from the Latin word emotus—to stir up.

How are emotion and motivation "intimately related"?

Theoretical approaches to emotion

Leventhal and Tomarken (1986) identified four different theoretical approaches to emotion.

1. Cognition/arousal theories portray emotion as a combination of arousal (e.g. from adrenaline) and thoughts (cognition). Arousal energizes emotions; the social context directs them.

2. Evolutionary theories focus on how different species express emotion and how this affects their reproductive success.

3. Body reaction theory describes emotion as a reaction of body systems, with cognition following or accompanying the body reaction.

4. Neural theories attempt to identify brain structures and chemical systems responsible for emotions.

How did brain scanning technology pare the list down?

Within two decades after Leventhal and Tomarken made that list, brain scanning technology seems to have reduced the number of theoretical perspectives from four to two, or perhaps even to just one.

Cognition/arousal theories were based on the assumption that emotions could be distinguished only by the cognition (type of thinking) and levels of adrenaline. Brain scanning showed that was not true. Each emotion produced a different pattern of activation in the brain. However, an important component of cognition/arousal theories was preserved in the notion of scripts or thought patterns associated with each emotion. That remains an emphasis in psychotherapy. A therapist may work on "re-framing" a situation, writing a different emotional script for it, to help a patient cope with strong negative emotions. Language does affect emotions (in humans).

The other three approaches—evolutionary theories of emotion, body reaction theories, and neural theories—seem like one approach in the 2000s. Again we probably have brain scanning to thank, because so much information has come out relating brain activity to everything else (including body reactions and the evolution of behavior) that we can see these three biological approaches as variations on a theme. They all relate emotion to brain activity.

The main distinction remaining, in the study of emotions, is between emphasizing language (what people tell themselves, what attributions they make, and how that affects emotion), and emphasizing biology (how the brain and body reacts, and what that was adaptive in the past). Those two remaining perspectives are entirely compatible. Most modern psychologists would agree that, if language changes a person's emotions, it changes that person's brain activity as well. So the study of emotion is now well integrated into the rest of psychology; it relates to biology and it relates to how people think, and it brings together ideas about evolution with ideas about how organisms are presently designed for reacting to situations of opportunity or threat.

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