What is an emotion?

What Does emotion Mean

We explain what an emotion is, its function and which are the main and secondary ones. Also, differences with feelings.

Emotions are psychological and physiological phenomena.

What is an emotion?

We call emotion to certain types of psychological and physiological phenomena that are manifested in our behavior , our bodily perceptions and our consciousness , as an adaptive reaction to an important stimulus. In other words, they are both mental and bodily reactions to a given stimulus or a set of them, integrated into our primary systems of behavior.

Emotions are complex and diverse, to the point that we usually talk about "emotional life" or our "emotional side", since they can sometimes run counter to or escape the control of consciousness. But we must not confuse them with feelings: the latter are more durable in time and are precisely the consequence, the externalization, of emotions. Emotions are part of who we are and are common to all human beings , and even to many higher animals. Although reason has traditionally been opposed to them, starting from the point that we must always operate guided by it and not letting ourselves be carried away by emotions, the truth is that it is not possible to deny them either. See also: Emotional intelligence

Types of emotions

There are two types of emotions, according to specialists: Basic or primary emotions are universal to all cultures and seem to be biologically inscribed in our bodies:

  • Joy , like a child when receiving a gift at Christmas.
  • Angry , like a person who is insulted in public.
  • Fear , like someone chased by a huge, mad dog.
  • Sadness , like a person who loses a loved one.
  • Surprise , like someone who is amazed with a magic trick.
  • Disgusting , like someone who tastes a rotten fruit.

From these six emotions, a true panorama of secondary emotions is composed, in which different aspects of the primary emotions are combined and that are manifested according to learned social, cultural and personal codes, although in them there will always be traces of emotions primary schools that gave birth to them.

According to some points of view, secondary emotions can be understood as feelings. They are more complex and intellectually refined emotions, they have an important cultural and traditional component, so that they can change significantly in expression depending on the person or the human group . Some secondary emotions are:

  • Guilt , like someone who has unintentionally hurt a friend.
  • Distrust , like someone who is offered a very good deal to be true.
  • Boredom , like a child forced to be undistracted in Daddy's office.
  • Love , like the one we feel for our relatives or for our partners.
  • Melancholy , like the "sad happiness" that looking at old photos gives us.
  • Serenity , like that felt by a person who vacates in a peaceful place.
  • Satisfaction , such as that which gives us to fulfill a long-desired goal.

What are emotions for?

Emotions are short, intense responses to pleasant or unpleasant stimuli that we experience in our lives. Their role is adaptive, that is, they help us deal, with greater or lesser success, with everything that happens around us and that affects us. Broadly speaking, its purpose can be summarized as:

  • React to an external stimulus . Emotions quickly dispose us to cope with experiences that affect us deeply. This is easy to perceive with fear, for example, which alerts us to a possible danger; or rage, which prepares us to respond with violence to an attack. Both affect the heart rate, blood oxygenation and prepare us to defend ourselves or to flee.
  • Communicate socially what you have experienced . Since it is impossible to know what other people think, physical and behavioral expressions of emotions give us a useful clue about how they feel, and that allows us to empathize and communicate better. In fact, emotions such as sadness are manifested in tears and facial gestures that are quickly recognizable by others, and that move them towards empathy , compassion and can invite them to help.
  • Motivate helpful behavior . Similarly, pleasant emotions reinforce certain behaviors or actions for us and those who make up our social environment. Joy, for example, is an emotion that we actively seek, and with which we reward ourselves when we meet a goal or achieve something that we had set out for ourselves. Sadness, in the same sense, can serve to discourage "inappropriate" behavior.

Emotions and feelings

Emotions and feelings must be differentiated, despite the fact that both words are often used synonymously in colloquial language . In fact, these are two sides of the same coin. However, on the one hand, emotions are deep and transitory reactions, which not only alter our psyche, but also trigger physiological responses from the body. For their part, feelings are the fruit of the rational perception of emotions , that is, they occur when we become aware of our emotions, and therefore are more durable and complex . For example, we can identify anger as a very powerful primary emotion: it flows fast, impacts our body and our behavior, and as soon as the stimulus that triggered it is left behind in time, it disappears. Then guilt usually appears, when we become aware of what we did or said during the moment when anger possessed us. Guilt would thus become a feeling, since rationality is involved in it.

Emotional reactions

We call emotional reactions, as its name suggests, those types of reactions that go hand in hand with emotions, especially the primary ones . Emotions, as we have seen, always invite us to act: whether physically, socially or behaviorally, they mobilize us, and what we do to externalize them are, precisely, emotional reactions. Reactions of this type can be violent, passionate and not very rational, or they can just be filtered through the sieve of consciousness, to make them more manageable and socially correct. For example, anger is related to all human beings, but not all of us go and physically attack the person who made us feel it, but we can - up to a certain point - modulate our reactions and express anger through other processes that, In the long run, don't bring us so many complications and discomforts. Follow with: Affection

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