Are There Any Native Emotions?

John Frederick Dashiell
University of North Carolina

The terms ‘anger,' ‘joy,' ‘grief,' ‘despair,' ‘love,' ‘fear,' ‘ecstasy,' and the like have been current coin in literary exchange, both popular and technical, for centuries. Such names have been used over and over again as if they denoted distinct, discriminable functions inhuman psychology. Some authorities have conceived that the psychological functions denoted by some of these terms are derived from functions denoted by others; and the literature is full of attempts to compare and qualify these phenomena. Elaborate descriptions of a few of them have been offered by acute observers such as Lange, Darwin, and James, including analyses of the bodily changes involved therein. Theoretical considerations, however, have cast some doubt upon the accuracy of many such terms; and experimental work that has gone forward in recent years on different phases of the topic of emotion is f about to force psychologists to face the fundamental problem and to reconsider the traditional conception of the type of behavior called emotion. It should be worth while for us to summarize some of the leading pieces of experimental research with a view to determining whither their results tend to point. For the purposes of the present paper, I shall restrict the term ‘emotion' to the meaning ‘visceral reaction pattern'; and the query I raise becomes this: On the basis of experimental research, are we warranted in assuming that there are distinct native visceral reaction patterns corresponding to the traditional names of the emotions?


Brunswick (3) has investigated whether there are distinguishing changes in gastro-intestinal tone involved in the emotional reactions to different types of stimulating con-

( 320) -ditions. He used the inflated balloon technique with a balloon in the stomach and one in the colon, both registering changes of pressure by recording tambours pneumatically connected. - To his subjects he presented such stimulating conditions as: pistol shot, water dashed into the face, malodorous material, a snake on the chest, and an electric shock. He obtained tracings showing changes in tonicity in the two regions; and these he compared with the reports of his subjects as to the kind of emotional excitement each had experienced. His results showed that there was some tendency for increase of tonicity to occur in reactions reported by the subjects as ‘startle,' ‘surprise,' ‘disgust,' and a few others, and some tendency for decrease of tonicity to occur in what were called ‘fear,' ‘wonder,' ‘tenseness,' and so on. Contradictory results, however, were obtained from different subjects, from the same subject, and even from the records of the stomach and of the colon respectively on the same subject at the same time. The conclusion was inescapable that, so far as concerns the tonic condition of the enteric canal, although changes in tonic condition do occur in emotional excitement, the character of the changes cannot be used as a basis for discriminating different kinds of emotions.

Work by Cannon (5) has long been familiar, and has been used by some as a basis for a grouping of the emotions. He investigated the role of the adrenal glands in the development of the excitement appearing in behavior denominated ‘fear,' ‘rage,' and ‘pain'; and he elaborated a conception of the operation of the autonomic division of the nervous system. He held that when the visceral reactions are innervated via the thoracico-lumbar subdivision of the autonomic, behavior was of the emergency type and was to be observed in reactions known as ‘fear,' ‘rage,' and ‘pain.' In contrast to this type of emotion are those visceral changes due to inner vation over the cranial subdivision, producing emotional behavior that may be called of the ‘hunger,' ‘thirst,' 'comfortable,' 'easy-going' type; and, on the other hand, those due to innervation over the sacral subdivision producing

( 321) behavior that may be called ‘sexual' and ‘eliminative' types. Thus, a contrast is suggested between visceral operations underlying the ‘emergency' emotions and the ‘appetitive' emotions. Such a distinction is, however, not thoroughgoing; for conditions arise under which one of the subdivisions mentioned may coöperate with an antagonistic subdivision. Consider the fact that in the acme of sex excitement the thoracico-lumbar is thrown into action, and further the fact that intense ‘fear' or ‘anger' excitement involves activity of the bladder and colon produced by innervation over the sacral. It seems that Cannon's statement that ‘the differential features of the emotions are not to be traced to the viscera' is strictly true.

Experimental work on emotional changes accompanying lying and deception has borne some fruit. With the sphygmomanometer Marston (11) found that when a subject was lying his blood pressure registered at least 8 mm. higher than when lie was telling the truth. With the pneumograph Benussi (1) and Burtt (4) found that the ratio of time for inspiration to time for expiration was increased after lying more than after truth-telling. With modifications of the forms of instrumentation just mentioned, Larson (10) has had striking success in getting blood pressure and respiration changes with lying in cases of actual criminals. With the galvanometer, changes in bodily resistance to electric current are demonstrable as a phase of emotional excitement, especially when used with the word-association technique. Landis' (8, 9) critical experiments did not bear out the claims for detection of deception by blood pressure changes but did slightly bear out the claims for inspiration and expiration ratios. Now, so far as our present question is concerned, one thing is to be borne in mind throughout the consideration of all this type of experimental work: when the experimenters get evidence of visceral changes, they do not get evidence of what kinds of visceral changes they are.

Marston (12) has offered evidence for a differentiation of three kinds of emotion on the basis of blood pressure changes: ‘anger' when there is an abrupt short-lasting rise, ‘fear'

( 322) ‘with a similar longer-lasting rise, and ‘sex emotion' with a distinct drop. Blatz (2) used a falling chair as the stimulating situation and with the electrocardiograph and the pneumograph obtained graphs showing changes in heart action and in respiration immediately following the fall. In all subjects he reported a uniform heart change: a definite acceleration of the beat followed by a retardation, and an irregularity in rhythm; while in nine of eleven subjects he reported retarded rate and increased depth of breathing. This work of Marston and of Blatz has not been verified as yet by other investigators.

‘Several experimental studies have been devoted to the measurement of ability to name from photographs the sorts of emotions for which the original subjects had posed. Feleky, Langfeld, Allport, Ruckmick, and Gates have all reported striking ability in this respect. Landis (6, 7), however, obtained results having a different bearing. He took motion pictures of subjects while a wide variety of emotional stimuli was being presented to them; and he found that there was little or no consistent correspondence between the motion pictures obtained and the subjects' report as to emotions they had experienced: no facial expression or group of expressions typified any named emotion in a consistent way. He suggests that the facial patterns are not expressions of distinct visceral patterns of emotion but rare social expressions -forms of facial reaction that have become habitual through social conventions.

‘A word should be ‘said concerning the great volume of experimental work that has been done in times past to determine what respiratory and circulatory changes are involved in emotional conditions as divided into ‘pleasant' and ‘unpleasant.' The instruments employed included pneumographs, sphygmographs, sphygmomanometers, and plethysmographs. From a great array of such studies, I have selected for mention a few leading ones and present them in the accompanying table. Inspection of it will reveal the fact that-whatever other use the terms may have-visceral reaction patterns cannot yet be differentiated as corresponding to the traditional terms ‘pleasant' and ‘unpleasant.'

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Changes Involved in Emotional Conditions Divided into the 'Pleasant' (denoted by P) and the Unpleasant (U)
  Respiration Circulation
  Rate Depth Pulse rate Blood Pressure Blood Volume
Mosso P-
Lehmann P- U+ P+ U- P+ U-
Binet P+ U+ P+ U+ P+ U+ P- U-
Külpe U-
Gent P+/_ U-
Zoneff and Meumann P+ U- P- U+ P- U+
Angell and Thompson No consistent changes Not consistent changes P- U-
Shepard P- U- P- U- P- U-
Stevens P- U- P- U-

It appears from this brief survey that experimentation has failed to date to establish describable differences of any stable and consistent form between visceral reaction patterns of adults. The question arises, are there any distinct patterns to be found in the visceral segments of the behavior of babies?


The earlier critical observations of children and infants were refined by Watson and Morgan (15) when they systematically controlled stimuli applied to newborn subjects and noted the resulting behavior. Their findings are well known. To the stimulation, loud noise, being suddenly lowered, or being jarred, the babies responded with puckering and crying, catching the breath, and convulsive clutching; to which reaction these authors applied the name ‘fear.' To the stimulation, hampering of movements, the reaction included stiffening, slashing movements, holding breath, and screaming; which reaction was named ‘rage.' To the stimuli, patting, shaking, or excitation of sensitive spots, there followed the reactions gurgling, cessation of crying, and smiling; this whole response being called ‘love.'

Now it is pertinent to note that Tolman (14) characterizes this distinction of the three emotions as having been based really not on the visceral segments of the responses but upon the gross behavior results-the character of the back-action-

( 325) -upon-stimulus in each case. Thus, ‘fear' is a protective response tending to avoid the stimulus; ‘rage,' a protective response tending to destroy the stimulus; and ‘love,' a response tending to continue and get more of the stimulus.

Recent work by Sherman (13) is in interesting contrast with that of Watson and Morgan. (I) To one group of observers he showed motion pictures of the stimulating circumstances (which included two used by Watson and Morgan) and the ensuing responses made by infants under 12days of age, and the observers were asked to write the names of the emotions. (2) To another group were shown motion pictures of the responses only, the stimuli having been deleted, and they were asked to name the emotion. (3) For another group the stimuli and the responses were transposed in the film. (4) Other observers were seated before a screen, the infants were given their stimulations behind the screen, and the latter was immediately lifted. In general: (a) considerable confusion was apparent in the judgments made by graduate students in psychology, by medical students, and by nurses, pointing to the importance of the interest and attitudes of the observers; and (b) ‘success' in correctly naming and differentiating between the different emotions was much greater when the stimuli were known than when not known, indicating that the judging was not purely a recognizing of patterned reactions as such but was guided in part by knowledge of the character of the stimulus. The subjoined table presents a few of the interesting irregularities in. judgments. From such results it seems clear that the rôle of the scientific observer in determining the findings is very great, also that the naming of an emotion is determined much by the character of the stimulation observed-in a given sort of situation the child is expected to be ‘angry,' to be ‘frightened,' etc.; and the clear cut results of Watson and Morgan call for verification by other experimental researches. In other words, it would appear not to be established that the emotional reactions of infancy are discriminable as distinct visceral reaction patterns corresponding to traditional names.


Judgements by Graduate Students in Psychology
  When Methods of Stimulation where Shown When Methods of Stimulations were notShown
  Delay in Feeding Dropping Restraint Needle Delay in Feeding Dropping Restraint Needle
‘Fear’ 0 27 4 7 7 5 5 9
‘Anger’ 14 4 24 13 13 14 13 8
‘Pain’ 2 2 2 13 3 3 4 2
‘Hunger 7 0 0 0 7 6 2 2
* When medical students and nurses were action as judges, “fear” was the name most frequently applied to the behavior consequent upon restrain when the restraint had not been seen by the judges.


In the face of this situation we may elect either of two alternative explanations.

(1) One is that there are emotions corresponding to the different conventional names, but that the visceral core of each remains yet to be discovered.

(2) A very different assumption suggested is that such names as are conventionally used for different emotions refer to different types of viscerally facilitated or inhibited overt behavior patterns that have been classified and labeled more in terms of their social significance titan in terms of their visceral components.

‘Further, so far as the visceral patterns are concerned, we may entertain the possibility that there are no native patterns of visceral reactions at all, but that the patterning that is to be later discovered in particular individuals is traceable to their experience, is acquired. Given at birth a repertoire of visceral reaction-elements, these may come to be integrated in the course of the individual's development.

But note that the environment directly controls much overt behavior and can ordinarily exert but indirect influence upon visceral reactions. In consequence, while we may expect to find some uniformity of gestural, facial, and other forms of expression in different individuals, and may further expect early habituation to the conventional social usage in

( 326) the applying of names thereto, still we need not expect to find much uniformity between individuals in the patterning of the visceral reactions acquired.

‘When two people manifest very similar behavior as respects attitudes set up toward their environment, the visceral segments of the behavior may show entirely different configurations. At the expense of over-simplifying, let me make the point clearer with a concrete example. When two different individuals attack, the overt behavior of the one may be supported by increase in the tonicity of one part of the alimentary canal, that of the other by increase in tonicity of another part; the behavior of the former may be facilitated by more rapid breathing or a changed distribution of blood, that of the latter by accelerated pulse and by increase of adrenal secretion.

On this conception, then, man is not born with definite patternings of his visceral responses worthy of being called distinct emotions. The most that he has in this direction are certain tissues, organs, and organ-systems (respiratory, circulatory, heat-regulating, etc.) capable of interacting and mutually influencing in complicated ways, and the rates, amounts, and orders in which these organs and systems severally participate in the overt behavior of a man toward his environment are not predetermined in any highly definite way.

Moreover, as these organs and systems come but little under the influence of these environmental controls that determine the integration of manual and thinking habits more or less similarly in all individuals, the particular combinations in which they come to function will show little or no uniformity from individual to individual. ‘Emotional' and ‘emotions' will still have validity and use in psychological description as generic terms, but ‘emotions' as visceral pattern reactions may survive only as socially determined constructs.


1. BENUSSI, V., Arch. f. d. ges. Psychol., 1914, 31, 244-273.

2. BLATZ, W. E., J. EXPER. PSYCHOL., 1925, 8, 109-132

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3. BRUNSWICK, D., J. Comp. Psychol., 1924, 4. 19-79, 225-287.

4. BURTT, II. E., J. EXPER. PSYCHOL., 1921, 4, 1-23

5. CANNON, W. B., Amer. J. Psychol., 1914, 25, 256-282.

6. LANDIS, C., J. EXPER. PSYCHOL., 1924, 7, 325-341.

7. IDEM, J. Comp. Psychol., 1924, 4, 447-509

8. IDEM, J. Comp. Psycho!., 1925, 5, 221-253

9. IDEM, J. Comp. Psychol., 1926, 6, 1-19.

10. LARSON, J. A., J. EXPER. PSYCHOL., 1923, 6, 420-454

11. MARSTON, W. M., J. EXPER. PSYCHOL., 1917, 2, 117-163.

12. IDEM, J. EXPER. PSYCHOL., 1923, 6, 387-419.

12. SHERMAN, M., J. Comp. Psychol., 1927, 7, 265-284, 335-351.

14. TOLMAN, E. C., PSYCHOL. REV., 1923, 30, 217-227

15. WATSON, J. B., AND MORGAN, J. J. B., Amer. J. Psycho!., 1917, 28, 163-174

[MS. received January 23, 1928]


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