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emotion, term commonly and loosely used to denote individual, subjective feelings which dictate moods. In psychology, emotion is considered a response to stimuli that involves characteristic physiological changes—such as increase in pulse rate, rise in body temperature, greater or less activity of certain glands, change in rate of breathing—and tends in itself to motivate the individual toward further activity. Early psychological studies of emotion tried to determine whether a certain emotion arose before the action, simultaneously with it, or as a response to automatic physiological processes. In the 1960s, the Schachter-Singer theory pointed out that cognitive processes, not just physiological reactions, played a significant role in determining emotions. Robert Plutchik developed (1980) a theory showing eight primary human emotions: joy, acceptance, fear, submission, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation, and argued that all human emotions can be derived from these. Psychologists Sylvan Tomkins (1963) and Paul Ekman (1982) have contended that “basic” emotions can be quantified because all humans employ the same facial muscles when expressing a particular emotion. Studies done by Ekman suggest that muscular feedback from a facial expression characteristic of a certain emotion results in the experience of that emotion. Since emotions are abstract and subjective, however, they remain difficult to quantify: some theories point out that non-Western cultural groups experience emotions quite distinct from those generally seen as “basic” in the West.
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An umbrella concept in the common language, typically defined by instantiation by reference to a variety of mental and behavioral states. These range from lust to a sense of liking, from joy to hostile aggression, and from esthetic appreciation to disgust. Emotions are usually considered to be accompanied by some degree of internal, frequently visceral, excitement, as well as strong evaluative components. Emotions are also often described as irrational, that is, not subject to deliberative cogitation, and as interfering with normal thought processes.

These latter qualities are often exacerbated in the emotional behavior and expression seen in clinical cases. The expression of strong emotions is typically considered to be symptomatic of some underlying conflict, and even the positive emotions are used as indices of unusually strong attachments and atypical earlier experiences. Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of repression to describe a defense mechanism against the occurrence of strong emotional experiences. From the psychoanalytic point of view, what is repressed is not the emotion itself, since the very concept of emotion implies conscious experience, but rather the memory of an event which, if it became conscious, would lead to strong conflicts and emotional consequences. Many other defense mechanisms, such as rationalization and compulsive or obsessive neurotic symptoms, are also seen as serving the purpose of avoiding conscious conflict and emotional sequelae. See Psychoanalysis

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a subjective human and animal reaction to internal and external stimuli that is manifested, for example, as pleasure, displeasure, joy, or fear. Emotions accompany practically all manifestations of the organism’s vital activity; in the form of direct experience, the significance, or meaning, of phenomena and situations is reflected in the emotions, which serve as one of the chief mechanisms of motivation—that is, the internal regulation of mental activity and behavior whose goal is the satisfaction of actual needs.

Emotions emerged in the process of evolution as the means by which living creatures determine the biological significance of the various states of the organism as well as of external influences. The simplest form of emotion is called the emotional tone of sensations—the innate hedonic feelings that accompany certain vitally important effects, such as taste, temperature, and pain. Even at this level, emotions are differentiated into two polar classes: Positive emotions are evoked by helpful influences and impel the subject toward the latter’s furtherance and preservation. Negative emotions stimulate activity that seeks to avert harmful influences.

The ontogenetic development of emotions is related to the fact that certain objects and situations immediately preceding the emergence of emotions acquire the ability to evoke them; thus object emotions, which are anticipatory in nature, are formed. Emotions of a particular type, known as affects, develop under extreme conditions, when the subject cannot cope with an existing situation. Affects are distinguished by their great force, stormy progression, and pronounced autonomic symptoms, such as fear and rage. Affects are characterized by the trait of dominance; thus they inhibit other mental processes and impose certain kinds of “emergency” solutions—for example, flight or aggression—that are reinforced in evolution and that are valid only under typical biological conditions.

Individuals thus acquire species experience by means of both the elementary and the more complex kinds of emotions. Using the emotions as reference points, the individual performs the necessary actions, such as avoidance of danger or perpetuation of the tribe, while remaining unaware of their purpose. The level of energy mobilization (or activation) of an organism required for these actions is provided by the specific physiological processes that accompany a given emotional state. Emotions are also important for the acquisition of individual experience. By functioning as positive or negative reinforcement, the emotions serve as a means of learning useful forms of behavior and eliminating unwarranted ones.

As conditioned by society, the development of emotions was determined by the need to redirect them toward socially significant phenomena. The formation of man’s emotions is the major condition of his development as an individual. It is only by becoming the object of stable emotional attitudes that ideals, responsibilities, and norms of behavior are transformed into the real motives of action. The extraordinary diversity of situational human emotions is due to the complexity of relations between objects, subjects’ needs, and subjects’ actions directed at satisfying such needs.

Feelings, which arise in ontogenesis as a result of the generalization of specific situational emotions, represent the highest product of the evolution of human emotions. Feelings meet the highest social requirements and express man’s attitude toward social phenomena, toward other people, and toward himself (including moral, aesthetic, and parental attitudes); they are distinguished by their stability as well as their independence from the state of the organism and from the objectively perceived situation. The personality is characterized by a hierarchical system of feelings; the content of the dominant feelings determines the personality’s orientation. A powerful and absolutely dominant feeling is called a passion.

Feelings, once formed, become the chief determinants of man’s emotional life, as the emergence and content of situational emotions depend on feelings; for example, the feeling of love dictates the lover’s sense of pride in the beloved, hatred toward the beloved’s enemies, grief over the beloved’s failures, and jealousy. The events that influence vital human sensations may evoke more enduring changes in the general emotional background—that is, in mood (which may also be caused by pathological processes in the organism). Emotions affect the content and dynamics of perception, attention, imagination, memory, and thought. The extent to which emotions are realized, or consciously perceived, varies. The conflict between perceived and un-perceived emotions lies at the basis of most neuroses. Emotions play an important role in the etiology and syndromes of other mental disorders as well.

Emotions are grounded in physiological processes occurring in the brain and in the organism as a whole; they result from the integrated cortical and subcortical excitation systems that are based on inherited and acquired experience. Various levels of brain structures, including the neopallium and the limbic system (hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus), participate in the effecting of emotions. Thus the limbic structures, interacting with the reticular formation of the brain stem, constitute the central nervous substratum of the emotions. Subjective sensation results from stimulation of this system. Any kind of damage to the brain that alters the integration of stimuli leads to impaired emotional reactivity and, above all, reduces the capacity of man and animals to evaluate adequately the results of completed actions.

As a means of conveying information about a person’s state, emotions are characterized by overt expression, including motor and sound reactions, mimicry, altered breathing, activity of the stomach, bowels, urinary bladder, endocrine glands, and heart, and dilation of the blood vessels. Some of these reactions, such as movement and breathing, may be voluntarily controlled by man; others, such as blood pressure and heartbeat, under normal conditions cannot be controlled at will.

In conflict situations, the emotions of animals and humans may turn into emotional stress; in such situations, the emotional excitations move uninterruptedly from the brain centers through the autonomic nervous system and endocrine glands, spreading to the peripheral and especially to the involuntary processes. This may affect the functioning of various internal organs and result in such disturbances as neuroses, coronary insufficiency, hypertension, stomach ulcers, or eczema.

Although people’s emotional reactivity depends to a certain extent on their individual (typological) characteristics, the decisive factor in the development of emotions is proper education, especially in early childhood. A creatively active and harmoniously developed personality enjoys a wealth of emotions reflecting the variety of socially valuable motivations.


Darwin, C. “Vyrazhenie emotsii u cheloveka i zhivotnykh.” Soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1953.
Pavlov, I. P. Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 2nd ed., vol. 3, book 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
Anokhin, P. K. “Psikhicheskaia forma otrazheniia deistvitel’nosti.” In Leninskaia teoriia otrazheniia isovremennost’, Sofia, 1969.
Simonov, P. V. Teoriia otrazheniia i psikhofiziologiia emotsii. Moscow, 1970.
Leont’ev, A. N. Potrebnosti, motivy i emotsii. Moscow, 1971.
Deriabin, V. S. Chuvstva, vlecheniia, emotsii. Leningrad, 1974.
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Emotions. Edited by L. Levi. New York, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A strong mental feeling or affect of the consciousness involving visceral and other physiologic changes.
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References in classic literature ?
An emotion in its entirety is, of course, something much more complex than a perception.
Emotions are traditionally regarded by psychologists as a separate class of mental occurrences: I am, of course, not concerned to deny the obvious fact that they have characteristics which make a special investigation of them necessary.
Although what specially concerns us is the analysis of emotions, we shall find that the more important topic is the physiological causation of emotions.
Modern views on the causation of emotions begin with what is called the James-Lange theory.
These are among the ductless glands, the functions of which, both in physiology and in connection with the emotions, have only come to be known during recent years.
* Cannon's work is not unconnected with that of Mosso, who maintains, as the result of much experimental work, that "the seat of the emotions lies in the sympathetic nervous system." An account of the work of both these men will be found in Goddard's "Psychology of the Normal and Sub-normal" (Kegan Paul, 1919), chap.
The light was not strong enough to render their features distinct, though it was quite evident that they were governed by very different emotions. While one stood erect and firm, prepared to meet his fate like a hero, the other bowed his head, as if palsied by terror or stricken with shame.
She liked women, but where emotion was concerned they were as flies on a lump of sugar.
It wasn't that they were cruel, or meant to hurt, or even stupid exactly; but she had always found that the ordinary person had so little emotion in his own life that the scent of it in the lives of others was like the scent of blood in the nostrils of a bloodhound.
He looked at them again, and, very strangely, for he was so used to thinking that he seldom saw anything, the look of them filled him with a simple emotion of affection in which there were some traces of pity also.
She even felt, in spite of herself, an emotion of gratitude to the few who ventured to defend him.
Finding her own sensations exactly like those described in the book as symptoms of the direst diseases, she put it by in alarm, and took up a novel, which was free from the fault she had found in the lectures, inasmuch as none of the emotions it described in the least resembled any she had ever experienced.