Summary: Emotions

Emotions and motivation are intimately related. Things that "move" us emotionally are things that motivate us as well. Evolutionary theories going all the way back to Darwin emphasize the adaptive function of emotions. Darwin believed that humans as well as non-human animals communicated emotions instinctively with bodily displays and facial expressions.

Darwin's belief in universal human expressions received experimental support from the work of Ekman. Ekman showed, for example, that humans use several different types of smiles in different situations. Robot designers have used Ekman's system (which identifies 80 facial muscles) to give robots facial expressions.

Modern biological approaches to emotion emphasize areas of the brain specialized for emotions. The amygdalar region on the right and the prefrontal cortex on the left play the roles of brake and accelerator, respectively. Right amygdalar activation produces worry, anxiety, and caution. Left prefrontal activation produces mania, optimism, and disregard of danger. In an emotionally well-balanced person this system operates to find an adaptive middle ground in which a person is willing to take on challenges but shows a regard for safety.


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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey