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  It is fairly clear what ‘emotions’ (from Latin emovere, ‘to move out’) mean in English: the inward experience of strong feeling, often accompanied by physiological changes. However, further investigation presents difficulties. How should emotions be labelled? How do similar emotions (for example anger and frustration) differ from each other? How do emotions relate to the inner states of those who experience them?

Psychologists study the way unreal or unrealistic expectations of an event produce inappropriate emotions or responses. In classical behaviourism, there is a stimulus response model. An external event leads directly to an emotional response, a result of previous conditioning. In this theory, thinking does not enter the interaction; the stimulus is seen as always coming from outside and meaning is rejected.

From the perspective of cognitive therapy, events with special meaning determine emotional responses. Meaning is encased in an image or thought. Reports of observations or feelings will always be attached to a thought. This being the case, it is possible to ask what kind of thoughts lead to which emotions. Differing emotional situations lead to the same emotional response leading to generalizations.

In psychoanalysis an internal stimulus occurs: an impulse or unconscious wish which is generally unacceptable and whose emergence imposes a threat. If the person is unable to ward off the taboo impulse, they will experience the emotions of guilt or anxiety. The stimulus is internal and unconscious and the emphasis is on unconscious meaning. For example, in the Oedipus complex the boy reacts to the sight of his mother (stimulus) with an unconscious sexual impulse towards her. The wish threatens to break into the conscious and the boy feels anxious because of possible punishment (the father).

In anthropology, the study of emotions in other societies is complicated by the task of translating languages and concepts. It is an area closely related to recent concerns in varying concepts about personhood. Both have received attention and have raised several issues for consideration.

Conventionally, as in the behaviourist model described above, emotions have been seen as separate from reason and logic. Careful consideration, however, reveals that emotions often overlap with value-related or reasonable conduct. For instance, passion may be used instrumentally in speech to make some kind of gain. In fact, the distinction between reason and emotion depends on the Cartesian idea of there being a separation of the mind and body. This idea locates the mind as the seat of rational thought and the body as the location of emotions. In contradiction to this are the views of, for example, the Taita people of Kenya. Their beliefs relate the head as being equivalent to the mind, the liver as the seat of the will and the heart as associated with emotions and the mystical capacity to affect others through these emotions.

Anthropological perspectives on emotions have ranged from the study of social or public display of emotions to a more psychological approach attempting to find what it is that defines human nature. Some anthropologists interpret public displays of emotions, such as those at funerals, as more of a socially learned obligation than an indication of the person\'s inner state. Related to this theme is the way social expectations about emotional behaviours hinge on the position of the person in society, in terms of age, gender, status, etc. and how this varies for different contexts.

Other anthropologists, under the influence of Sigmund Freud\'s psychoanalytic theories, have interpreted emotional experiences and displays as a safety valve to discharge disturbances of various kinds. This view has been criticized for reducing all other dimensions in society to this supposed primary cause, and it also depends on the idea that each person is an autonomous individual who subjectively feels emotions. In other societies, to impose such an assumption is possibly to distort their world-views. Traditional Hindu ideas about emotions, for example, derive from the theory of rasa (‘juice’, ‘extract’, ‘flavour’). This describes emotions in terms of social situations or practices instead of in terms of individual feelings. The metaphor of taste and nourishment is widely used rather than the hydraulic metaphor (of discharging or letting off steam) familiar in the West.

Historical overviews have provided further insights into varying senses, concepts and behaviours concerning emotions. The current understanding of fear as equivalent to dread, terror and horror, and as an emotion that is unpredictable, uncontrollable and unknowable, is very different from the 19th-century usage embodying the idea of respect and reverence, as, for instance, in the fear of God. Each categorization reflects on the social and cultural fabric of its times.

Even though emotional states, terms and behaviours may vary widely, anthropologists generally agree that there is a basic commonality of experiences that defines us all as sentient human beings. An anthropology of emotions, to the extents possible, is valuable in that it affords an insight into how people interpret visible and unseen states and how this relates to the social and cultural context, while compelling one to review our own assumptions on what is ‘natural’ about emotions or about the person. AJ MJ RK

See also death; interpretative anthropology; rationality; ritual; self.Further reading M. Arnold, Emotion and Personality; , Owen Lynch, Divine Passions; , Catherine Lutz and , Lila Abu-Lughod, Language and the Politics of Emotion; , David Parkin, Towards an Apprehension of Fear.



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