An Attempt Toward A Naturalistic Description of Emotions I

Jacob Robert Kantor
Indiana University

The records of recent psychological history incline us toward the view that the descriptions and theories of emotions are for the most part inspirited by the necessity to specify the precise causal connection between mental and physiological .states. Thus James was interested to point out that the accepted sequential order of the mental and physiological should be reversed. What influenced James to formulate his theory was not merely the conviction that emotions are primarily organic or physical, since James was himself a subjectivist; but rather he was interested to substantiate the belief that emotions are not in any sense entitative mentalities expressing themselves in physiological action after being aroused. That the significance of James's theory lies not in the emphasis of organic resonance, but rather in the assumption that an emotion is the subsequent awareness of organic disturbances, is convincingly evidenced by the fact that the assertion of the organic basis for emotional conduct is centuries old.[1]

But now that the entire subjectivistic tradition in psychology is being challenged and tested, it seems appropriate to attempt an evaluation of emotional conduct not with regard to any causal sequence, but solely upon the basis of an observational correlation of the stimulating circumstances and the organism's responses to them. In the following discussion the writer proposes to submit a series of propositions, which it is hoped will serve to suggest an interpretation of emotional conduct from an objective and naturalistic standpoint.

( 20)


The Nature of Emotional Conduct.—Emotional conduct consists of interrupting forms of action stimulated by rapidly changing circumstances, in some cases accompanied by various intense organic processes which sometimes facilitate the immediate performance of a new act.

It is absolutely important for the understanding of emotional conduct to note that the primary occurrences in such action are the confusion and excitement which disrupt the behavior ordinarily taking place when the emotion-exciting stimulus appears. When we attempt to describe the specific characteristics of an emotional act we are profoundly impressed with the condition of disrupting chaos and inhibition of action which occupies so large a place in the emotional situation. We may look upon the emotional person as practically paralyzed for a moment; he appears to undergo a dissociation of his reaction systems; so that he remains powerless and helpless until his responses are reconstituted. This reconstitution may be superficially described as a refocussing of the person toward some definite object. Essentially, emotional conduct is a momentary condition of 'no response,' since there appears to be a complete cessation of all directed responses to surrounding conditions. In point of fact, it is this disruptive chaos which definitely marks off the milder emotional activities from the numerous classes of so-called feeling behavior to which they otherwise display striking resemblance.

In detail, the 'no response' phase of the act is a natural consequence of the fact that the perceptual phase of the behavior segment cannot be followed by an overt act. In such a case the perceptual phase of the activity is an implicit response situation. When it is possible for an overt activity to occur, then there is no emotional object or condition. But whenever a dangerous object or other emotion-exciting stimulus appears, or when we meet with and recognize a dangerous situation and cannot do anything about it, we are in an emotional condition and perform an emotional response.

( 21)

The emotional response, then, is not the definite functioning of an organized reaction system; in fact it is quite the opposite. In other words, we are not possessed of a large number of definite potential emotional reaction systems, in the sense that we are prepared to make specific disruptive reactions to definite objects of stimulation. In the case of various informational or habit activities, however, the organism does have definite potential response systems in its functional equipment. Thus for example, the verbal stimulus 'who was victor at Salamis?' or the perceptual presentation of the word 'loan' in stenographic notes will bring out definite overt responses which were acquired in a previous time and which are called into action by the present stimulation. Not so, however, in the case of emotional behavior in which no definite response system is functioning. What really happens to the person in the emotional situation is, that in the absence of what, from a behavioristic standpoint, may be called a required response system, the individual is thrown back upon any available behavior resources. In the most turbulent situations the person can substitute only visceral reflexes, and such behavior we may call the elemental emotions. In contrast with this condition, that is to say, in the more typically cultural situations [2] the person replaces the required response system with one serviceable in some similar circumstance (laugh when caught in a socially disapproved act, as though it were a deliberate joke), or with some response previously associated with the required act in this particular environing condition (smile profusely instead of answer question).

Assuming that we can agree that emotional behavior consists essentially of a disruptive disorganization of responses we might still question whether this diffuse and chaotic functioning of the organism offers a valid criterion of differentiation of emotional from other types of behavior. For we might recall that other types of psychological behavior also

( 22) show marked reactional disturbances. In the following exposition we propose to point out that despite the apparent superficial similarities, emotional conduct presents marked behavior factors different from those of other types of psychological action.

Let us pause here to inquire briefly into the conditions responsible for the irregularities of human behavior marking the general spontaneity of all psychological activity. First, we must note that all psychological description consists primarily of all the enumerative factors comprised within the arbitrarily chosen boundaries dividing off one segment of the organism's activities from all that precedes and follows. Such a segment of behavior we may call an act, or if we choose a pattern of response. Now every such act is a product of a series of stimulating objects or conditions and response systems, some one or a few of which give a name to and characterize the act. Indispensable in the extreme for the understanding of emotional behavior at this point is the careful distinction between response systems and patterns of response. Patterns of response consist of series of definite response systems organized in contact with particular stimuli and excited to action by them. Ordinarily, the definiteness and regularity, as well as the predictability of an act, depend upon the specific correlation of a definite reaction system with some particular stimulus. Whenever the organism possesses a definite response system of some sort, capable of excitation by a specific stimulus, we may expect an orderly and more or less compact act or pattern of response. Even here the act is spontaneous and variable, provided that the context or setting of the stimulus is modifiable. This sort of situation is well illustrated by the web-spinning of spiders in which the slight modifications of the context of the stimuli makes possible the hardly perceptible differences in web-spinning. In human informational and habit modes of action a somewhat greater invariability and unconformity to type are introduced by the greater possibilities of variation in the settings of the various stimuli. Clear it is, therefore, that notwithstanding the wider or narrower latitude for irregu-

( 23) -larity of behavior supplied by the variability in the setting of the stimulus, there is, of course, a fundamental describable regularity in all of our behavior which comprises organized response systems.

Here then we have a clue to the explanation why emotional conduct lacks even the remotest resemblance to order or regularity, namely the absence in such conduct of an organized reaction system. The lack of a stimulus-response integration can be more readily appreciated when we consider that the very circumstances under which emotional behavior occurs make it impossible for the person to develop response systems with which to adapt himself to those circumstances.

Moreover, this lack of a response system makes it possible to see why in the emotional situation the only basis for predicting the behavior of a person is the influence of the surroundings at the moment, and it is only because the surroundings are such as to determine the intensity of the person's dissociation, that we are able to describe, however inadequately, the comparatively large segment of behavior which includes the emotional act.

To the writer it seems that the absence of a definite response system in emotional behavior explains the following facts, and furthermore, unless there are other satisfactory means of accounting for these facts they tend to support the hypothesis that an emotional act is essentially a 'no response' phase of behavior. The facts are: (1) the impossibility of an onlooker to specify what sort of emotion a person is experiencing from any observation of the individual aside from the emotional circumstances, (2) the hitherto complete failure of psychologists to be able to make any satisfactory classification of emotional acts. (3) Furthermore, is it not the absence of a response system in emotional behavior and its replacement by reflexes which makes it easy for psychologists to misinterpret emotional acts, and to look upon them as mere bodily 'changes' or 'expressions' of invisible states of mind? (4) Again it appears that only 'no behavior' conduct could induce psychologists to interpret emotions as the awareness of organic changes or to look upon the substituted

(24) visceral reflexes as instincts which protect the organism pending the arousal of the awareness of what is to be done in the situation in question. (5) And finally, the view that the same emotions are found in the animal world as in human action equipment may be traced to the fact that psychologists were observing in the human organism not definite reactions but replacement responses which do in part resemble the simple organized activities of animals.

Although the disruptive chaos may be taken as a definite mark of differentiation between emotions and other forms of behavior, it should not be considered as in any sense an exhaustive description. In the actual description of a concrete emotional situation we must include many other essential features, although chief reliance must be finally placed upon the absence of a focussed reaction system. When we thus take cognizance of all the factors in a behavior situation it becomes impossible to confuse emotional conduct with the hypnagogic dissociations in which the person is temporarily cut off from his surroundings, or with the attention shift in which there is merely an orderly reconstitution of reaction systems as a preparation for a change in behavior. To give always as full a description of behavior as possible would mean that we might avoid mistakes that now are most flagrantly indulged in, namely, calling certain acts emotions which clearly are not, such as passions, sentiments, and habits of affective response, or identifying as something else actions which are emotional in character.

Lest someone inject into the description of emotional behavior any teleological notion concerning the lack of response, we might suggest forthwith that the assumption of such a lack of 'a response system is based directly upon the immediate facts of the emotional situation. The fact is, that in any specific emotional situation the contextual stimuli and the associated activities that occur, clearly indicate that a particular kind of stimulus-response correlation should be a significant factor in the segment of behavior under observation. In some instances we can determine with little chance of error what the person may be expected to offer in the way of an organized and directed activity in a particular situation.

( 25)

If in each case of emotional conduct the fundamental principle is the absence of a certain response system the question arises as to how to distinguish between the more and less violent emotional activities. Here as elsewhere in the investigation of emotions the only safe and sufficient guide is the consideration of the specific conditions under which the behavior occurs. As we have already pointed out the person may be found lacking a response system in a situation in which the greatest immediate need for definite action seems to dissociate him until he is left with only his simplest elementary behavior, while in other situations, events do not occur so suddenly, nor are the circumstances so pressing as to bring about even very marked surface confusion. In the milder situation there is, in fact, only a slight difference between the activity interrupted by the emotion-exciting stimulus and the resumed occupation after the emotional period is over. Consequently, the milder sorts of emotion seem to merge with the non-emotional situation in which a definite response is 'merely delayed or inhibited because of the person's lack of attention to a certain stimulus, or because of a momentary failure of perception.


The Systematic Analysis of Emotional Acts. — As a distinctive segment of psychological activity an emotional act can not only be separated and distinguished from its preceding and succeeding contextual correlatives, but can be analyzed into its functionally constituent phases. And thus we may distinguish in the emotional situation (1) the perceptual phase, that is, the discrimination and appreciation of the stimulus object, or the ideational preliminary to an emotional response; (2) the emotional action proper; (3) the superseding organic or other activities. Succeeding these three phases we find another segment of behavior and unless it is another emotional act, involves an organized response system.

I. The perceptual phase is an act of simple apprehension which in a given case may be an implicit appreciation of a danger or its opposite. As an incipient response system a

( 26) perceptual reaction of danger involves uneasiness, excitement, trembling, and unpleasantness, all of which are reminiscent of a previous condition of the individual in actual danger, which condition is preserved and revived in vestigial form. In a sense, the perceptual phase of the emotional situation is a preparatory response for some act which is to follow. When, as sometimes happens, the exigencies of the situation prevent the occurrence of the overt act, as for example when confronted by a dangerous animal under conditions lacking available means of escape, or when an appropriate act has never been acquired for the present frustrating and baffling circumstances, then the cataclysm or seizure which is the emotional phase proper is instantaneously irrupted.

At this point it is worth noting that an emotional complex cannot include a primary perceptual act[3] as an antecedent function. For in such a case the primary differential reaction, or the meaning activity, is a directly operating overt response in the form of a definite adjustment, and therefore can never invoke a confusional, disruptive response activity, such as we find in emotional conduct.

As compared with the perceptual anticipatory phase of emotional action, the ideational antecedent of the emotional act is a more refined and more vague vestige of an original danger or other response; it is brought into operation through a substitution stimulus for the original danger situation. The statements just made presuppose an idea to be a definite act which incipiently [4] repeats a previously direct overt adjustment, or what was in a former time a precurrent or preparatory activity such as reading something, or hearing imparted information. In the case of such an antecedent act, the emotional behavior is much milder, and the organism does not as a rule get so much out of hand as in the case of the emotional situation preceded by a definite perceptual reaction. It must be understood, however, that the violence of an emotional activity is entirely due to the surrounding circum-

( 27) -stances; so that the emotion following an ideational process might possibly be far more turbulent than one which is preceded by a perceptual activity.

2. The emotional activity proper may be described as a process of disintegration of the series of response systems constituting the individual at the moment. In effect, there is a total inhibition or suppression of all activity so far as any overt adjustmental response is concerned. Essentially, the emotional factor is a phase of behavior in which there is lacking a coordinate stimulus-response process ordinarily resulting in a definitely directed act. Such an act when it occurs may be looked upon as a consummatory response which is initiated by the precurrent perceptual or ideational action, and when this act does take place we call the pattern of response a volitional or habitual adjustment. The typical commotional seizure and chaos, is then, the direct consequence of the non-operation of a consummatory reaction when its appropriate antecedent has functioned. According to our hypothesis it appears that an emotion is intrinsically a negative form of behavior although it may serve to induce or accelerate another adjustment.

3. Because every psychological act is the reaction of an organism, it is an invariable law that whenever a stimulus fails to produce its appropriate response the organism is forced to fall back upon some substitution or replacement act. We have already suggested that in the most striking emotional situations the replacement acts are interoceptive reflexes. Hence we find an almost universal emphasis upon organic processes as prominent factors in emotional behavior. Naturally there will be a great difference in the amount and intensity of such organic activity when we compare the elemental behavior, sometimes called the violent emotions, and the cultural conduct usually referred to as the subtle or tender emotions.[5] In the latter case, it is universally true that whether the stimulus is perceptual or ideational there is always possible some measure of direct adjustment and therefore there is less organic functioning.

( 28)

If we accept as a fact the difference between the elemental and cultural emotions we may then specify some of the conditions in the more violent and pervasive emotional action, and assume that the descriptions will hold for the simpler activities with merely a variation in the degree of the organic components. And first we may note that the supplied organic activities involve vascular and visceral processes of all sorts. There are disturbances of the digestive secretions, respiration, contraction of blood vessels, acceleration or retardation of the heart beat, induction of various secretions, etc. Very frequently we find also as substitutes for definite focussed responses, imperfectly articulate cries which in most cases answer better to the description of groans or screams than to language. Still other substituted actions are the numerous random activities of the skeletal muscles sometimes becoming so exaggerated in emotional behavior that persons assume poses of cataleptic rigidity.

Following very closely upon the emotional activity proper the person may begin an act which is directly conditioned by the stimulating circumstances surrounding him at the moment. Naturally the type of response will depend upon the circumstances which initiated the emotional activity in the first place, since we are here observing what is after all a definite and restricted event. In the case of a primary emotion the activities are large overt responses involving the external skeletal muscles, as in fighting, running, and jumping. It is in such cases that the preceding definite emotional conditions may be of service. In the secondary emotional situations the transition from the state of suspense and confusion is more gradual and in fact the whole emotional situation is more of a piece with other activities than is true in the primary emotions. In other words, the specific emotional action is decidedly less marked off from preceding and succeeding segments of behavior. The directed responses following an emotional situation are then very rigidly determined by the surrounding stimulating objects and in all types of emotional conduct are at first diffuse and not especially well directed for the needs at hand. The recovery is indefinitely more rapid,

( 29) however, for the cultural emotions, since as we have already seen, in these cases the organism is never shaken to the reaction foundations. In all cases, however, it must be noted that when the final activity once begins the emotional action proper has ceased to exist. This directed act or adjustment must be considered as a consummatory act following a precurrent response which is not identical with the anticipatory phase of the emotional act. It is, therefore, from the standpoint of the stimulus, a new and not merely a delayed reaction. So disparate are the emotional acts and the adjustments which follow them that in any given emotional situation the presentation of a new stimulus, no matter how remote from the emotional situation, will strikingly curtail the emotion. Such a situation is well illustrated by the student suffering an emotional confusion while being orally examined, but who recovers immediately when he attempts to make some reply, however unsuited to the question.


Some Points of Contact between the Organismic [6] Hypothesis and the James-Lange Theory.—Our analysis of emotional conduct suggests a basis for reexamining some of the discussions centering about James's formulations of emotions. One of the essential points in the discussion turns about the problem of harmonizing the directness and immediacy of emotional conduct with the apparently necessary cognition of what sort of act should occur. The pre-Jamesian view was interpreted in the following manner. The stimulus object excites a mental state (emotion) which is followed by its appropriate bodily expression. Not unlike his predecessors James was a mentalist, and consequently thought of an emotion as a 'state of mind,' but he saw clearly the necessity of connecting it very closely with overt activities if the description was to be at all in consonance with the facts. As a result, James was lead to assert that the emotion proper follows the bodily

(30) expression. Now, although we must admit that James's emphasis of the immediate occurrence of some act was a distinct stage in advance of his predecessors' theory, yet because he thought of an emotion as the knowledge process in the situation he could not explain why any particular behavior or expression, as he called it, should be connected with any specific mental state. The solution that he offered was that the stimulus object calls out an instinct act presumably appropriate for the occasion, and which supplies the characteristic emotional tone to the succeeding mental state.

Such a solution could of course not be satisfactory to James himself unless he could conceive of an instinct as a definite cognitive activity, a condition which runs completely counter to James's mentalistic attitude and his own vivid description of instincts as primarily physiological processes. For unless he could consider instincts to be definite cognitive processes, the fact that different kinds of acts seem to be associated with any given emotion still leaves the original problem on his hands. But if the instinct is a cognitive act what purpose can the succeeding mental state serve, since the reflex-instinct act arrogates its function? It is not surprising, therefore, that James soon gave up the notion of the instinct as the means of connecting an immediate overt act with an emotion, in favor of the idea that possibly there are differentiations in organic activities suitable enough to provide specific antecedents to the mental phases of emotions.

How differently interpreted is the entire behavior situation from an objective standpoint. Whatever the immediate act may be, its prompt occurrence following the perception of the stimulating object is a natural consequence of the phasic character of all psychological behavior, for perception is merely a precurrent phase of a segment of behavior in which some consummatory reaction is to follow.[7] And since the precurrent action is a perceptual process, no inscrutably working instinct need be here invoked. As we have attempted to show in the earlier part of this paper, it happens

( 31) that in a segment of emotional behavior no organized response actually occurs, but instead a series of replacement reflexes. It is of course understood that each phase of any segment of behavior is the reaction of the complete organism as a biological unit. Unless one adopts an organismic hypothesis at this point, it is impossible to avoid a controversy, as the experience of James illustrates, concerning the order of emotional events.

If it is true as we have suggested, that the perceptual phase of a segment of emotional behavior brings about a 'no response' action, what becomes of the knowledge factor that seems so essential to James in common with all other writers on the emotions? Our answer to this question is as follows. In the first place, since no directed adaptation follows the perceptual phase of the segment of emotional behavior we are not obliged to assume that the precurrent perceptual response carries any further significance than the appreciation of a .danger or other stimulus. And further, any definite knowledge of what is occurring in the emotional situation is a cognitional response belonging to a segment of behavior postdating the emotional situation in question. To us it seems that most of the difficulty that James had with the emotions arose from a confusion of the perceptual phase of an emotional situation with the knowledge of an emotional event after it occurs.

We believe that an objective analysis of emotional conduct reveals two kinds of cognitive factors. The first is the precurrent appreciation of an emotion-exciting object which results in a 'no response' action with substituted organic reflexes. The second is the self-expressive language act which we may call the overt appreciation of the danger situation. We repeat, that if James could have kept these two distinct and considered them as phases of a complex action, he could have obviated the entity interpretation while still doing full justice to the conception of emotions as rapidly occurring acts in which running or striking follow directly upon the perception of some stimulating object.

Another essential feature of the Jamesian theory of emo-

( 32) -tions, which becomes clarified by our organismic hypothesis, is the shift which we have intimated James effected in the expressions of the emotions. Let us recall that in the 'Principles' he mentioned as antecedent expressions such overt directed responses as crying, running, and striking, and that in the 'recantation of heresy' article [8] he modified his view to stress visceral activities. This shift was stimulated by the critics of his theory who pointed out that entirely different expressions might give rise to the same emotions,[9] and bespoke an endeavor to find less inflexible touchstones of his theory. In supplanting the exteroceptive activities with diffuse interoceptive waves as expressions of emotions, James of course weakened his theory, since he gave up what appeared to be prime prerequisites to support the denial of the antecedent mental factor in emotions.[10] James's acquiescence in what was virtually a complete retreat from his original position, was inevitable as long as he did not recognize that the factors in an emotional act are a succession of organismic responses, and not sequences of mental and physical events.

Could James have developed an organismic conception from which both antecedent and consequent mentalities are banished, he might readily have seen that the overt directed acts such as running or striking are very immediately related to the emotional situation, but need not be interpreted as concomitants of mental states. As our analysis has indicated, these overt responses are consummatory phases of behavior following very closely upon the preparatory perceptual reaction which postdates the emotional phase of another segment of behavior. In point of fact, when these running or striking acts occur, even when they seem simultaneous with the appearance of the emotion-exciting stimulus, the emotional seizure is over.

And finally, the organismic hypothesis affords us an insight into the fallacy of making emotions consist to a very considerable degree of organic activities. Had James not

( 33) been a subjectivist he would never have faced the necessity of making the organic processes into positive, adaptive responses which serve to express emotions. Rather he would have seen why the organic processes must inevitably be indifferent 'expressions' of emotions. Could James have seen that the organic processes are merely substitute activities which fill in a gap between two anticipatory or precurrent reactions, the former of which is not followed by an appropriate final act, he would have realized that these organic reactions could not be 'expressions' of specific 'emotions,' whether preceding or succeeding them. Failing to evaluate properly the organic resonances, James found in them nothing but an illusion of immediacy.


Distinction of Emotions from Non-Emotional Feeling Behavior.—The strict observation of actual responses under different conditions of stimulation indicates very clearly that a wide difference exists between the disruptive types of emotional action and other forms of feeling behavior which are frequently called by the same name. Probably few accomplishments in psychology are more desirable than the isolation and examination of the distinguishing features of the great mass of activities which have been indiscriminately thrown into a heap through the intellectualistic influence of subjectivistic psychology. Let us note that the necessity to review the facts of affective behavior is intimately bound up with a naturalistic attitude. In the first place, not until such an attitude became at all established was it deemed necessary to give much attention to the detailed analysis of human behavior. Again, this naturalistic view is of extreme advantage for the study of feeling behavior, since it serves to prevent our being misled by the conception of a presumed operation in them of some form of common mental content symbolized by a word such as Fear or Anger.

In reply to the question whether there is any feature of behavior which sharply marks off the emotions from other kinds of feeling conduct, we may offer the tentative criterion

( 34) of the presence or absence in the act of an organized response system. If this criterion be valid and if it be employed as a guide in the investigation of human activity, we ought to be able, not only to distinguish emotions from all other feeling behavior as a class, but also from each type of activity in the class.

Especially is it necessary to mark off sharply the emotions from the passions, which constitute a very different form of behavior. Unlike the emotions, the passions consist of organized response systems which in some form operate continuously, whether or not the original stimulating object is present. The passions, as exemplified by love and hate, are the prolonged functioning of organized response systems kept active by the periodic appearance of the original stimulus or by some substituted stimulus-object such as a letter or some other token. Moreover, between the intervals of direct or substituted stimulation by the original object of love or hate, the person is constantly responding in a characteristic feeling manner, thereby inducing much self-stimulation. Thus, a person who acquires a passion for another individual or some object such as books or music, begins to respond with some form of implicit feeling activity, becoming cheerful, hopeful, happy or enthusiastic, depending upon the specific circumstances.[11] Clearly, when we observe the person responding to the absent object of passion; that is, when he responds with the protracted implicit feeling activity, we cannot possibly confuse such behavior with the momentarily explosive emotional reaction. On the other hand, when we compare with an emotion the more violent focussed passion responses performed in the presence of the stimulating objects, probably the only crucial criterion is that the passion acts do, and the emotional acts do not involve definite organized reaction systems. However unsatisfactory the description of passion acts may be at the present time, it is beyond doubt

( 35) that they constitute a genuine chapter in the psychology of feeling.

Also the emotions must be clearly distinguished from the sentiments which are in essence prescriptive and limiting types of activity developed under the influence of social approval. Sentiment acts are directed forms of responses usually resulting in some definite kind of complex social conduct. Illustrative of the sentiments are the activities of modesty, cleanliness, and charitableness. A sentiment is a preferred act of acquiescence or readiness to do certain definite complex things or to have them done. Again, sentiments are in a genuine sense latent and intermittent responses and the specific acts may involve much implicit or thought activity. As compared with sentiments, passions are for the largest part direct and specific responses to stimuli; passion acts being more elemental and explicit, they are also more closely integrated with the immediate surrounding conditions, while sentiments are more generalized reaction systems having a larger range of exciting stimuli.

Unfortunate indeed is the confusion of emotional conduct with diffuse feeling behavior, a practice generously indulged in when the term emotions is employed as a general blanket for all sorts of feeling activity. The diffused feeling acts are responses to prolonged conditions as of desire, achievement, or thwartedness. They are responses to objects and conditions definitely recognized as of a particular character, beautiful, good, wise, etc. Upon the basis of definite external situations in which the person finds himself we can trace out particular forms of responses that may be denoted regretful, remorseful, relief, elation, cheerful, enthusiastic, disappointed, admiring, patient, or impatient, happy, excited, shocked, depressed, and an indefinite number of others. In all these cases there are more or less continued effects brought about in a person through some contact with particular objects in specific settings. In each case it appears that the whole individual is involved, and for a considerable period of time; so that any particular feeling is distributed over all the reaction patterns of the person. In worry, for example, the individual seems

(36) overwhelmed by a certain environing condition and constantly keeps up a process of self-stimulation, thereby reinforcing the feeling. We find also the constant tendency to hark back to the feeling stimulus as a point of reference. Thus when we are worried about an impending calamity and read of someone's success, we connect ourselves with that situation and feel deeper concerning our own affair. In a general way, the diffuse feelings are implicit phases of all the activities of the person while he is in an affective condition.

Since the diffuse feelings are not outwardly directed, the definite response systems of such behavior are not always manifest to the observer; so that it may not be entirely out of the way to say that in intense feeling one is simply acting upon oneself. As a consequence, to a considerable extent we may think of diffuse feelings as conditioning activities, in the sense that while they are operating they will affect any activity the person is performing.

Great as are the difficulties of description encountered in even the slightest penetration into the maze of feeling responses, they can be amply accounted for by the lack of exploration in the psychology of feelings. The absence of accurate investigations in this domain is manifested by the fact that the interpretation of feeling conduct is based less upon facts of concrete reactions than upon the habits of popular speech. The futility of such interpretation is clear when we consider that no feeling term in popular use refers to a type of response belonging exclusively to a single class of psychological reaction. But although we have yet to begin the isolation of the various classes of feeling behavior, the differentiation of emotional conduct from the various other forms of feeling behavior appears plausible and worth while.


Are Emotions Inherited?—The conception of emotions as inherited forms of response is a legacy which psychology has acquired from the tradition of biological abstractionism.[12]

(37) Immediately we face the question as to what is inherited and how. From the standpoint of a mental states psychology, one might say, of course, that a permanent state of mind may be inherited, but what bearing can such an assertion have upon the problems of objective psychology? When we confine our study to definite facts of behavior and reject the conception of emotion-cause and its manifestations, we find no specific kind of chaotic condition as a permanent acquisition of the person, arousable to action by various sorts of stimulating objects or conditions. Some there are who might I say that the inheritance of emotions means that the individual is so constituted that he will suffer dissociation when put under certain kinds of stress, but how informing is this statement? Such a statement is on a par with the assertion that the human individual is born to think, to perceive, to wear clothes, as well as to undergo various other experiences.

The doctrine of diuturnal inheritable emotions must inevitably make emotions into entities of some sort. For, consider that the doctrine requires nothing less than that a person should be equipped with some innate powers manifesting themselves in complex and peculiar activities in emotional situations. Not the least objectionable consequence of the entity interpretation is that it implies a parallelism or an interactionism, and this circumstance always means an obscuring of the actual events in human behavior. An emotion comes to be either a cause, an effect or an accompaniment of bodily activities.

That much of the writing concerning emotions is based on an entitative conception is amply demonstrated by the psychological literature relative to the organization, combination and association of emotions. Thus, from the time of Descartes to the present, there is an unbroken procession of theories as to how a few primary or simple emotions (states ii or entities) become combined into complex emotions or sentiments. The only difference between a seventeenth century mixture and a twentieth century compounding of emotional states lies in the connection of the emotion in the latter case with an instinct which is presumed to be in some sense a

( 38) biological process. [13] In actual practice, however, there is little difference between Descartes' organization of all emotions (passions) he enumerates forty from the six primaries (admiration, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness) and Spinoza's combination of all (about forty-six) [14] from the three primaries (desire, pleasure, and pain) or McDougall's, Shand's and Ribot's association of elementary emotional states into complex sentiments. In all cases there is a logical grouping of elements which are apparently derived from an analysis of feeling situations[15] quite after the fashion of the British associationists. In no case is there, nor indeed can there be any attempt to connect such combinations of emotions with any directly observable data of behavior.

At the basis of all intellectualistic attempts to describe and compound emotions lies the assumption explicit or implied that the psychologist is attempting to describe the ultimate character of human nature and not the concrete behavior of a human organism under its various conditions of stimulation. This assumption of the ultimacy of human nature further implies that emotional states constitute some of the prominent factors of human nature. Here is a suggestion as to the motive for assuming the inheritability and permanence of emotions, namely, a prejudice concerning the absolutistic and invariable character of psychological facts. The domain of psychology appears to be the final halting place for those finalities which, since the Renaissance, have been gradually ousted from the natural sciences. Instead of describing emotional behavior, as indeed all other phenomena of the psychological domain, as definite organismic responses to specific stimulating circumstances, the attempt is made to describe behavior as manifestations of putative powers, or substances resident in the individual. In consequence, the names of emotions, as well as other classes of behavior are hypostatized

( 39) into unique qualities of mind. The subjectivistic psychologist of emotions treats the behavior he studies much after the fashion in which the older ethicist handled the social activities he dealt with, and so fear, love and anger became 'properties' of the individual in a manner similar to that of the 'virtues.'

If anything can be clearly made out in the observation and description of emotional behavior it is this: that such behavior only occurs under definite, external surrounding conditions and therefore can only be described in terms of such conditions. The specific movements of and changes in the individual are direct effects of definite external circumstances and not expressions of innate and continuous entities. This fact is, of course, no more true for emotions than for any other sort of behavior, but it requires special mention here, because the tradition has grown up that emotions are peculiar forces or tendencies which manifest themselves in many singular ways. This is in effect making emotions or the instincts which are presumed to operate with them into final causes or primary principles of behavior of which the various activities of the human individual are the effects.

Excellently illustrative of this attitude is the reiterated assertion that love in all its forms, including all the acts referred to under this term, is the manifestation of a hidden force called the sexual instinct. This sex-love situation admittedly constitutes a crucial instance because of the pervasiveness of sex behavior, but a critical examination of the facts involved offers sufficient evidence that every specific activity which we find in this series of behavior segments can be described without invoking any transexperiential causative factor. The wide prevalence and constant occurrence of certain forms of behavior can be readily accounted for on the basis of incessant stimulation. Consequently, it would be very remarkable if there existed less sex activity in the form of actual sex behavior and discussion than we now find in the presence of all the multifarious sex stimulations, both social and physiological, constantly surrounding us.

Among the conditions unwittingly designed to induce sex

( 40) stimulation are the divergent apparel, work, duties, virtues of men and women, which have developed with an uncanny inclination towards the emphasis of sexual differences. Moreover, modern civilization has tended more and more to make of woman a sex object, a stimulus to sex reaction. Possibly the reader will find just here a justification of the belief that a sex instinct-emotion is responsible for such social development as we have suggested; but is it of advantage to psychology, we might ask, to compromise our interpretations with a hopeless bias of immutable final causes, in view of the fact that we can readily convince ourselves of the existence of definite empirical facts to account for the kind of society that we have developed? Any critical investigation of differential phases of civilization as represented by different geographical, national and temporal conditions, will disclose sufficient economic, social, and religious motives, in short, verifiable conditions, to account for the peculiarities of our complex social behavior.

And now we must consider the biological facts of sex, those most potent sources of confusion in psychological investigations. Because the biological factors which condition psychological reactions are so imperious in their influence and so constant in their operation they have been repeatedly misinterpreted. Instead of being described as essential factors in organismic reactions they have been made into vital forces or purposes. Now obviously the biological organization of the person as the pre-psychological matrix of all human behavior, exerts great influence upon his conduct, but just as obvious it is that the biological sex factors are simple stimulus-response activities. To consider the comparatively simple biochemical processes which operate as components in psychological reactions as causes or representatives of vital causes is to do violence to critical observation. Furthermore, it is not incorrect to say that the biological factors of sex, at the level of human psychological development, serve as subordinate influences of behavior among the exceedingly many others. Are we beyond understanding how physiological sex activity can be secondary excitements to

( 41) behavior originally induced by primary social sex stimulation? And what of the numerous sex-gland and other reflexes which serve as important stimuli to sex behavior, both implicit and overt? Are these reflexes to be interpreted as anything but natural consequences of the metabolic conditions of the individual at the time? For if they are the results of such definite physiological processes, and who can doubt the fact, then they are, of course, the effects of immediately occurring and verifiable biological processes, and not the manifestations of mysterious instincts. Most infelicitous is the confusion of the directly observable biological processes stimulating us to action, precisely as the other conditions about us do, with hidden forces which have no actual existence aside from their name. Must we not conclude then, that the biological factors of sex, in the form of sex structures and their functions, merely provide a foundation and a means for the operation of sex behavior, while the sex reflexes serve only as concrete stimuli for various kinds of reactions?

To believe that all the complex human sex actions are the manifestations of a sex-instinct-emotion is like attributing the standing-up reactions of a child to an upright instinct, although in the latter case only the slightest amount of critical observation makes it easy to see that it is not because he has a standing-up instinct that the child is induced to acquire standing-up reactions, but because in addition to his peculiar biological structure he is living in a standing-up world. All the objects and their settings are standing-up objects and it would be really impossible for the child to develop otherwise. Here as elsewhere, of course, one can invoke an absolute teleological factor and say that an ultimate cosmic purpose has brought it about that the child should be born into a standing-up world. The writer frankly admits that to such an argument he lacks all answer.

If we have succeeded in making it at all plausible that the intricate emotional and feeling behavior of a sex character is to be interpreted primarily, if not exclusively, in terms of definite surrounding circumstances, it must appear that the same situation would be true in the case of other feeling

(42) behavior such as anger, grief, and fear. In each case, the specific phases of the behavior event can be correlated with a stimulating object or condition. The names given to the events denote concretely occurring phenomena and not ends which are being worked out through pre-arranged machinery. Unfortunately psychologists have been in the habit of considering emotional responses as innate feeling activities much after the fashion in which they have thought of instincts as innate knowledge processes. And this condition prevails in spite of the fact that every observation of fear or anger behavior strongly suggests that no matter what action occurs, it is a direct function, in a mathematical sense, of changes that are taking place in the environment of the individual. What is more natural than that one should attempt to strike back when struck, and when this is prevented by holding the hands it is to be expected that the person will kick, cry, and attempt other means of releasing himself and doing damage to his opponent. This whole activity may be called an anger stimulus and response situation, but in no sense must we speak of the striking out, the breath holding, the snarling and the crying as 'emotional manifestations' of an anger 'emotion.' Can there be any other explanation than that the variable and unpredictable occurrences in an emotional situation are the results of series of specific external stimulations? As to the name of the total behavior when the name stands for an actual emotion, is not that derived from the mere fact that it includes an emotional factor, although that factor is of the briefest duration. For the most part, however, the actions taking place in the total situation can be analyzed into volitions, habits, perceptual responses, etc. Do psychologists mean by an 'emotion' anything more than some event hypostatized through the medium of a name?

(To be concluded.)


  1. Cf. Titchener, E. B., 'An Historical Note on the James-Lange Theory of Emotion,' Amer. J. of Psychol., 25, 427-447.
  2. By the terms elemental and cultural the writer plans to point out a difference in behavior circumstances as illustrated by coming upon a dangerous animal in a wood and by being informed of a legacy.
  3. By primary perception is meant the directly operating exteroceptive type of consummatory behavior. In primary perception the precurrent and consummatory (we borrow these terms from Sherrington) phases of activity are identical.
  4. And in many cases symbolically.
  5. Not sentiments or diffused feelings.
  6. By the term organismic we mean to point out the absolute inseparability of the factors in an emotional or any other psychological act. Emotions as acts of a unique individual cannot be thought of as composed of parallel or interacting parts.
  7. Cf. Kantor, 'Suggestions Toward a Scientific Interpretation of Perception,' PSYCHOL. REV., 1920, 27, 191 ff.
  8. PSYCHOL. REV., 1894, 1, 516.
  9. Cf. Worcester, Monist, 3, 285 ff.
  10. Especially was this true, since as James himself realized, different organic activities may belong to the same emotions, Cf. PSYCHOL. REV., 1894, 1, 520.
  11. The extreme importance of the situation to which responses are made is well brought out in these activities; also we observe the intermingling of different forms of feeling reaction in the same segment of behavior. Especially do we find considerable alternation between emotions and diffuse feelings.
  12. Cf. Kantor, 'A Functional Interpretation of Human Instincts,' PSYCHOL. REV., 1920, 279 55.
  13. We use the term biological process here because, while even in Spinoza we find a reference of emotions to biological conditions, such reference does not involve specific modern physiological details.
  14. I adopt Ribot's calculations here.
  15. "We may count as primitive all those which cannot be reduced to previous manifestations." Ribot, 'Psychology of the Emotions,' p. 13.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2