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Discrete emotion theory assumes that there are seven to ten core emotions and thousands of emotion related words which are all synonyms of these core emotions (Beck 2004). Depending on the theory the most well known core emotions are happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, and fear (Izard & Malatesta 1987). This theory states that these specific core emotions are biologically determined emotional responses whose expression and recognition is fundamentally the same for all individuals regardless of ethnic or cultural differences. The theory also states that certain repetitive emotional experiences during childhood can develop traits and biases that will govern interpersonal relationships during adulthood. Some scholars believe that these emotions have evolved in us as a way for people, regardless of communication differences, to predict what other people are thinking and feeling (Beck 2004). It was a way for our ancestors to tell the difference between friend or foe, and has continued to serve the same function today.
History[edit | edit source]
Darwin (1872) described several facial, physiological, and behavioral processes that are associated with different emotions in humans as well as animals. Although Darwin was important in the creation of the discrete emotion theory, William McDougall was the first to believe that emotions were caused by many biological instincts or urges.
William James believed in discrete emotion theory but often argued against it. He believed emotions were made from mental events being broken down into smaller elements but each element wasn’t a specific emotion. He thought of emotions as a product instead of separate individual things.
James (1884) and Dewey (1894) suggested that emotions are associated with different neutral and physiological processes and also with different functions and experiences.
Tomkins' (1962, 1963) idea was influenced by Darwin's concept. He proposed that there is a limited number of pancultural basic emotions or "affect programs." His conclusion was that there are eight pancultural affect programs namely, surprise, interest, joy, rage, fear, disgust, shame, and anguish.
John Watson believed emotions could be describe in physical states.
Edwin Newman and colleagues who believed emotions were a combination of one’s experiences, physiology, and behaviour.
Floyd Allport came up with the facial feedback hypothesis.
After performing a series of cross-cultural studies, Ekman and Izard reported that there are various similarities in the way people across the world produce and recognize the facial expressions of at least six emotions.
Evidence for Discrete Emotion theory[edit | edit source]
A study conducted in New Guinea, where people have never seen Caucasians nor been exposed to photographs or television, to see if they could identify specific facial expressions. Researchers showed the people of New Guinea pictures of people portraying seven different emotions that are known as core emotions, happiness, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, fear, and contempt (Ekman & Friesen 1971). Researchers found that the people of New Guinea could in fact point out the different emotions and distinguish between them. Various parts in the brain can trigger different emotions. For example, the amygdala is the locus of fear. The amygdala senses fear and it orchestrates physical actions and emotions. From this experiment researchers concluded that these specific emotions are innate. They also looked at pictures of people ranging in age from infants to elders and saw that the core emotions look the same, further supporting the discrete emotion hypothesis. Also, deaf and blind children show typical facial expressions for these same core emotions.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Affect theory
- Affect (psychology)
- Developmental Psychology
- Emotions and culture
- Emotion classification
- Silvan Tomkins
References[edit | edit source]
- Emotions in psychopathology: theory and research Flack, William F. Flack & Laird, James D.
- Colombetti, Giovanna (August 2009). From affect programs to dynamical discrete emotions. Philosophical Psychology 22 (4): 407–425.
- Barrett,L.F., Gendron,M., Huang, Y.(2009). Do discrete emotions exist?
2. Colombetti, G. (2009). From Affect Programs to Dynamical Discrete Emotions. Philosophical Psychology, 22, 407-425. Barrett, L. F., Gendron, M., & Huang, Y. M. (2009). Do discrete emotions exist?. 22(4), 427-437. Retrieved from 
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