People invented emotions

Exploring the emotions

For the 29th International Congress for Psychology in Berlin

From Ulfried Geuter

Moods are not tied to events. (dradio.de/Andreas Lemke)

On Friday the largest psychology congress of all time came to an end in Berlin with 9,000 participants from over 100 countries. One focus was the exploration of emotions. At the congress, Professor Klaus Scherer, Director of the Center for Scientific Research into Affects at the University of Geneva, was honored by the German Society for Psychology.

For a long time, feeling was not an issue for psychological research. For decades, people were viewed as perfect thinking machines, in which feelings only appeared as appendages to thoughts or even interfered with them. The information processing of a computer was seen as a metaphor for mental life. At first it was economists who gave up the idea that human behavior is purely rationally controlled. Now psychology has followed suit, says Klaus Scherer, professor at the University of Geneva:

"Because emotionality is so widespread in our daily life and has such a strong role, for example, in the authenticity of our counterpart, that we cannot do without it. That information, bare cognitive information, is important, but is not meaningful on its own. "

Information about other people or about oneself is always of an emotional nature. Most of the time, they are not processed consciously, which would not be economical either, given the abundance of perceptions that constantly reach the brain - just think how many impressions one can have when walking through a canteen. One way of processing emotions is through body expression, says the Japanese psychologist Genji Sugamura from Osaka. He invited people to the research laboratory and put them in a depressed mood:

"However, if you made them adopt an expansive, proud posture, they recovered from it. Their emotional state became neutral. Conversely, if the subjects were bent over, the negative mood did not change. So I think if we feel depressed we should we adopt an upright, expansive posture. "

Genji Sugamaru also researched the brain activity of the test subjects. In the bent posture, the prefrontal cortex was less supplied with blood, the brain region in which actions are centrally controlled and emotions are regulated and information from many parts of the brain converges. This also includes information about posture:

"Thinking is not always the basis of our feelings and behavior. Movements have the function of adapting to the environment. The hunched posture has long been used for survival, because then an enemy does not attack us. It shows submission. Even today are postures related to feelings. "

Klaus Scherer, however, doubts that posture alone can change feelings. Perhaps Genji Sugamura captured the mood of his subjects. Klaus Scherer tries to differentiate between emotion, feeling and mood. Moods are not tied to events. Emotions, on the other hand, require an event that makes a person fearful, angry, sad or curious. Events are subjected to an internal evaluation, a thought process. For example, if we are frightened by a bear or angry because someone insults us:

"We have to recognize the meaning of this event and that is a largely cognitive process, even if it is not conscious. We have to process the information, we have to know: What does that mean for us? And then physiological changes develop from this, because of course the Emotions have an action function. They should enable us to react quickly. "

Anger makes the blood shoot to the periphery so that a person is ready to flee or fight. Fear freezes you so that the enemy will turn away. These emotional reactions become feelings when you become aware of them.

"I always call this a monitoring system, a surveillance system where the cerebrum monitors all aspects of this very critical episode so that it can intervene, for example to prevent panic reactions that could occur. That is the feeling."

Emotions, as violent and sudden as they may shoot in, are not clear, says Klaus Scherer. Because they are not instincts either, because an instinct reflexively triggers behavior at a certain stimulus. But emotions do not lead to an inevitable action. Anyone who is angry about another person and realizes that the other person is at least as angry and even stronger than you will try to soften his emotional outburst.

Emotions come and go, and how the process of an emotional reaction will work can never be predicted. Computer scientists already know this when they try to construct human-like beings in the virtual world. Emotional reactions in humans are extremely complex and constantly in flux, and therefore so difficult to program.