How many emotions are there? Is our society building new, complex emotions?

When was the last time you felt something ambiguous? A feeling that you couldn’t name? Was it perhaps a mixture of two, three, or many other more familiar emotions? Are there basic emotions that everyone feels and understands? The evidence seems to suggest that there are at least four to six universal basic emotions, based on Paul Ekman’s analysis of facial expressions across cultures. These have a genetic basis, and are experienced by all humans. The great majority of emotions seem to be more complex amalgams of these basic emotions. Indeed, in 1980, the psychologist Robert Plutchik developed a fascinating ‘colour wheel’ of emotions to depict the various possible combinations and intensities of basic emotions and their resulting ‘complex emotions’.

However, many of the psychological studies into basic and complex emotions do not account for the inherently social way in which emotions are combined and experienced. Norbet Elias’ Civilizing Process, and Michel Foucault’s studies of discipline and punishment (compounded in the construction of Jermeny Bentham’s famous Panopticon as a vehicle for moral reform) are historical examples of how society engenders complex, socially constituted emotions such as shame and guilt to maintain social order and police the boundaries of class and status. Think about how the modern institutions of society – work, family, church, government, market, media, social networks – shape and assemble your emotions in ever more complex forms.

Reflect on your feelings right now. Are they basic or complex? Individual or social?

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Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, Tutorial 3, UOW.

19 Comments

  1. Emotions are what we have that make us feel real. I think we are living in a time of such confused states of emotions because we put too much thought into them. Why is crying said to be good for you? Isn’t it because you are letting out whatever it is that isn’t good for you…pain, frustration, guilt. And then there is crying because you are so happy you can not contain it …love, pride, joy. Either way crying is good for you, we are usually calmer after crying, feel cleansed, and kind of lighter, and able to confront our next obsticle with renewed strength.
    Expectations are higher these days to perform well, make good decisions, achieve, compete, obey, conform, to be someone outside of yourself….(Life structures). So I believe we need to now more than before to take time to step back breathe slow, observe with patients, and wonder with our wisdom, our independent agency,( yes I believe we have it) and know why we are here…..My thoughts are simply because we want to live, feel, love, cry and all the rest is make believe…..recognise the systems faults and your own value… Isn’t this a way for change to occur?

  2. There have been quite a few times in my life where I’ve experienced either an ‘ambiguous’ emotional state, or, as discussed in the Burkitt reading, have consciously felt things I have been unable to put into words. More often than not I have been able to rationalise these states after they have happened, and pinpoint what was going on to a combination of different emotions (like anger, sadness, etc) and so the Plutchik colour wheel of emotions makes a lot of sense to me, albeit somewhat small in my opinion.
    I tend to agree with Raymond Williams perspective of “structures of feeling” that is discussed also in the Burkitt reading, where meanings and values attributed to certain feelings are seen as more fluid and dependent on social context, and only when we look back and reflect on these are we able to explain the emotion/emotions that were taking place. In my experience this is mostly how I’ve dealt with intense or ambiguous “feelings”.
    However, the inability to express these “feelings” or the fact that we view one particular “feeling” as possibly being made up of various “emotions” could be stemmed from a cultural content in which we haven’t developed the correct “emotional vocabulary” to explain what’s really going on. Both the Wouters reading and the lecture showed how how we view emotions, behaviours and manners have all changed over time, in some cases quite drastically (especially between the Renaissance and Victorian eras and Victorian to Modern era), which means there is a possibility in the future for us to discover new ways of communicating feelings and emotions we previously didn’t know how to.
    I think especially of the way we treat the mentally ill now as compared to several decades ago. Depression especially was once viewed as being a singular, persistent emotional state (sadness) that impacted negatively on a person, whereas now it’s seen as as a combination of emotions like fear, anger, disgust, sadness, boredom and loathing.

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  3. The mind and body is constructed to feel and think so many emotions, some so complex we may not even have a name for them yet. We have distinct individual emotions we experience when we are born and we are not aware of the social experience and not yet able to form indepth emotions like the society surrounding us. These emotions are the most basic and as we grow and develop we become present in social environments and new emotions may be established and at times one may become more dominant than another. We may feel a particular emotion when placed in a situation where we are unsure of and may feel a complex or array of emotions we have never felt before. The social environment we are in enables our mind and body to form more than just the basic emotion but complex and socially constructed ones.

    Burkitt argues that emotions are experienced mainly as structures of feeling which give meaning to relational experience.I believe our mind and body work together to feel a particular emotion based on our genetics and personal experience and a certain feeling may not constitute that emotion. Elias mentions that, more complex emotions formed within the civilizing process and history of manners. These complex social emotions such as shame and embarrassment are apparent in the individual and this develops from society and social experience which outlines that society has a big impact and helps form what emotions we experience and enables new emotions to be expressed.

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  4. We are inundated with social persuasions around emotional manipulation. Whether that be from our work, family, church, government, or any other institution or network we connect with, we are consistantly pressured into action based on emotional responses. For example, my son goes to a Catholic school and I am a single parent working full time. Every week, notes are sent home (via paper, iPhone Ap and email) congratulating and thanking thoughtful parents, by name, for their contribution to the school projects and requesting donations to be made in support of the school. Being unable to participate in the school acitivites (except on weekends), I feel imense shame, guilt and embarrassment at my lack of involvment within my sons school community, however am also overwhelmed with gratitude for those who are able to make contributions. This exaple demonstrates Burkitts discussion around the process of emotions and relational experience. The specific context highlights the way in which complex emotions emerge. If I was an onlooker of the school and local community I would feel pride when reading of others contributions and perhaps even inspiration however due to the inability to participate, and the specific circumstances of my life experience and values, I feel deflated and inept.

    In terms of where my emotions are sitting right now, I believe they are a hybrid of individual and social, basic and complex. I am a mixture of happy, pensive and content yet overwhelmed projecting my hectic day tomorrow- complex.

    Wine time.

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  5. Ones mind and body are designed to feel and express emotions. On a daily basis we experience many emotions, some without realising. I believe years ago there were only four to six universal emotions, however we are becoming more aware of different types of emotions, for example, just recently the term ‘Hangry’ come about; Meaning you are soo hungry it makes you angry. There are many emotions that I am sure will be created or found, however, as referred to within the Burkitt reading, we have / may have consciously felt things that we haven’t been able to put into words. This may be the barrier to identifying new emotions.
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  6. Everyday, at some point I am faced with emotions of ambiguity. In the work place, at home with my family, in a social context with friends and acquaintances and in the everyday hustle and bustle of life.

    Restructures in the workplace provide a level of uncertainty and somewhat fear, because of the unknown final outcome. Whilst I am happy I have the security of a full time permanent position, the lack of information provided by management and directors on what is happening is frustrating. Being in a position that is being re-evaluated and upgraded to a higher level (creating feelings of happiness) also creates the uncertainty because I am not aware on how they will be assessing the suitability for the position. I am aware that I have to undertake the role of my job liaising with Project Managers, Community members and colleagues routinely, but the uncertainty in my mind is covered with a smile and happy front.

    Similarly as a parent and a partner in the family home, emotions are often a rollercoaster of happiness, frustration, love, fear etc. The unconditional love for your children whilst trying to teach them right from wrong, disciplining and praising and trying to maintain the parent role if you’ve had a crap day at work, or lack of sleep is depriving you of energy or trying to be happy when you are really sad or upset. The love and fear aspect as a parent, fear that something may happen to your child and having that fear because of the love you have for them, same as with your partner and family. Similarly when you conceive a child, the feelings of happiness and excitement (“yay I’m going to be a parent”) come with thoughts of uncertainty and scariness in the sense of “what kind of parent am I going to be”, “can we afford it”, “what child care should I put my child in” and the like.

    There are many situations in my life where my emotions are socially structured, due to my position in the workplace, my role as a parent, my role as an adult, a friend, a colleague or just a customer.

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  7. Social construction understandings are all around us all the time by way of media and its many ways that it is delivered to us on our own levels of knowledge and by adhering to them they are normalised, real. Socially we need to interact with others to relate emotions and create identities and beliefs that you have learned and this can determine that your contribution to construct and change evolves. Charles Horton Cooley termed ‘looking -glass self’ underscoring that self is influenced by how we think others respond to us. Journeying through life we encounter different people and their thoughts are often totally opposite to yours, they can experience and view you as either useful or not. Identities in the modern world pose new challenges that again we socially devise and attempt to understand. Biological entities are social and thus civilised and emotional constructs act on feelings, expectations that require emotive effort. Daniel Skender.

  8. When thinking about the emotions I have at the present time I find it hard to distinguish which are which. I feel that there are many emotions that are quite similar but due to the broad range of emotions it is almost impossible to distinguish which emotion is which. Two people may feel the same but put differnet names to the same emotion.

    When thinking about the panopticon many of the interactions that we have within our social interactions whether being at work, with friends or even within our family settings we find that there are certain emotions that must be shown to create a sense of belonging. For example if you are at work or school and you are not doing what you are meant to be you are punished by doing something else. emotions that are generally felt depending on the severity of the punishment, would be anything from relief to anger.
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  9. The modern institutions of society have an extremely large impact on the feelings and emotions experienced by an individual. As the Burkhitt reading highlights “we are aware of our feelings by our bodily engagement in the social world”. Therefore, the collective groups we are a part of form an individual identity that shapes how we behave and therefore shapes how we feel. Also, Burkhitt argues that actions are always connected to the past and what we already know. Thus, our past experiences in life will affect how we perceive certain interactions. If two similar interactions produce two different emotions, our emotions can become complex.

    Spinoza expresses that there is a euphoria (increase in power) and dysphoria (decrease in power) that is experienced by an individual. The modern institutions can affect these emotions by introducing regulations or rules that may impede on an individuals feeling. For example, an individual may really like a restaurant in the street but the government had to close the restaurant down because they had to build a walkaway through the building. This will therefore affect how an individual will feel and this “euphoria” will not be experienced again in the same emotional experience. Thought and emotion cannot be separated, as they work together in the interpretation of our social situation and our world.

    Previously, during the periods of courts and courtesy in the Wouters reading “social superiors made subordinates feel inferior if they did not meet their standard of manners”. This would have extremely affected individual’s emotions as they would have to consciously make an effort to try and fit in and identity may be lost. Conversely, through the rise of the media and particular television shows the concept of ‘shame’ being a complex emotion is evident. The television show “60 minutes” in some stories, shames certain individuals or companies that have done something wrong or illegally.

    Eventually, the overall emancipation and integration of ‘lower’ social groups in (western) societies has allowed for the emancipation and integration of ‘lower’ impulses, and the opening up of emotions in the personality structure.

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  10. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact time in which you felt an exact emotion. I believe most of the times, it is a combination ofa few of the 7 basic emotions (Ekman 2011) that we feel, not just one. When I am trying to pump out an assignment I go through certain emotions, depending on how I am dealing with the assignment. I’m angry if I cannot understand the question, yet sad that I have not left myself enough time to complete it. Once I get going, I am happy that I am learning and getting through the assessment, yet usually fear of not getting it done in time is what drives me. Education, a social institution, creates ways in which we need a variety of emotions to properly function within. The university system, in particular UOW, definitely resembles the panopticon, it is how the university guides people to educate themselves and creates a cohesive educational environment. Some would also say that this type of educational system and the inner governing of how students learn and are taught, is not the best way to evoke critical thinking and learning.
    We live in such a structured society, that emotions are very structurally viewed, behaved and reacted to. There is a right and wrong way to react to certain things, as dictated by Western society, which is mandated by a panopticon view of our society. One does not want to upset the balance by reacting inappropriately to something or someone. This makes for an even more complex society which leads to needing a more complex understanding of the basic emotions.
    Burkitt says complex emotions arise from complex social situations, therefore the need for a new or different emotional vocabulary is present, and is currently in motion.
    Social media and the continuing rise of the necessity of the internet has created a new emotional language that is universal and allows for a more complex understanding of emotions. Emoticons allow for emotion combos which show the complexity of a variety of emotions one is feeling. Instead of typing that you are happy or sad, you can use an emoticon that shows that you are unsure, or you can use a variety of emoticons and emoticon images to reflect how you feel.
    The complexity of emotions and society is being addressed, yet is this the best for our society? Trying to hone into my current emotion is so difficult. I am excited, sad and angry, yet I still feel unable to properly convey my emotions to the world without being judged. Emotions are definitely describable, but are the acceptable?
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  11. Since I am constantly surrounded by people who I interact with in my dormitory, I often have ambiguous feelings, which are hard to describe or name. Usually these complex emotions are a combination of shyness and one other emotion which I am afraid to express, thus an example could be fear and anger; I am afraid to exert excess anger when something bothers me in case that I may damage a relationship or publicly embarrass myself. These are two commonly understood emotions but when mixed together, the power of the two combined is harder to overcome.

    However, according to the colour wheel by Robert Plutchik, these two emotions are opposite each other and create a “conflict”. I tried to research if this meant that they are not physically possible or if it just meant they are challenging each other when an individual feels them. I think feeling two conflicting emotions simultaneously, such as one crying from a happy sadness when holding a litter of kittens, is possible within context of a few situations. Such a “happy sadness” could be considered ecstasy, yet I would believe nostalgia to be another form of “happy sadness”, not ecstasy. When an individual experiences nostalgia it is a bittersweet reminiscence of good memories which he/she wishes he/she could relive. This experience is confusing rather than pleasant and cannot be felt or is not desired to be felt for extended periods of time. From my experiential beliefs, fear as a restriction to anger is possible. Perhaps this could be reason restricting my anger, but I am almost certain that when this feeling occurs, I am confused and slightly afraid to show how I actually feel.

    Modern institutions within society formulate social mores, folkways, taboos, and laws that define boundaries for class and status, in turn instilling complex feelings as well as other basic feelings within everyone. Families often teach their children manners, acceptable dress according to gender guidelines, how to reason with emotion, etc. What an individual learns from his or her family at a young age can significantly influence his or her psychological behavior for the rest of his or her’s life. Once an individual discovers values outside of what had been ingrained earlier on during his or her life, he or she can decide whether or not he/she wants to stray from the norms that he/she has learned, and develop his/her own set of beliefs.

    One characteristics of a social network is creating stigma surrounding proper expression of emotions. For example, if I fear damaging relationships or publicly embarrassing myself from exerting too much anger, then I want to behave acceptably to maintain relationships that I value along with preventing any other individual from experiencing a disturbing moment in his/her day. I could encounter one of these other individuals later on in my life as a friend or co-worker and they may feel uncomfortable or unhappy around me, but I would not want to make anyone feel that way. Outside of the realm of stigma/society, should I not care about who would not accept me or feel that way towards me because of who I am? If anyone does not value me for who I am, then should I still consider them as a valuable friend or asset in my life? Or not?

    My current feelings are basic and individual since I am focused solely on my work. I am only content overall with how my day has gone, where I am, and what I have. Since I am not socializing with anybody at this moment, what I am feeling is not related to any other person’s perspective or connectivity.

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  12. The last time that I felt a feeling I couldn’t name was this morning. My partner asked me about my family issues and as I began describing them, it was a mixture of hurt, sadness, confusion, and anger as well as a whole bunch of other emotions. These combination of emotions do not have a name as a whole, yet, they are separated into different feelings/emotions. There are basic emotions that I believe everyone feels and understands, such as, happiness, sadness, fear, anger, anxiety etc. but I also believe that sometimes, when we don’t have time to really tune in and reflect on our emotions that we can feel all of these emotions and more all at once.
    In today’s modern society, institutions such as work, family, the media, government, social networks etc, shape our emotions in complicated forms as, we are forever being told what to feel. Burkitt explains that emotions are experienced mainly as structures of feeling which inturn, give meaning to relational experience. He states that these feelings can be expressed through speech genres or even discussions, which give them, form as specific emotions that have a place in the emotional vocabulary of a culture. Here, in simple terms, he is stating that emotions are a result of feelings and situations that might occur. So, when looking at the institutions in which are experienced within society today, we can see that if there is a tragic news story on the news for example, in which somebody lost their life, one might feel a mixture of emotions solely based on that story. The individual could feel sad, anxious, or hurt for the family of the deceased. Within Burkitt’s article, “Complex Emotions: Relations, Feelings and Images in Emotional Experience”, he is constantly drawing on the idea that emotions are due to cognition, talking about how emotions are a result of a situation or event that has occurred. In relation to my feelings right now, my emotions are basic when I first start to tune in on them. I am comfortable in my pjs, I am so far going good for time. Although, as I dig deeper into my emotions, I am starting to feel stressed as I have a lot of uni work that needs to be completed both today and in the weeks to come and not very much time to do it due to commitments, I am happy as I have a good circle of people in my life, I am lost due to personal issues. Drawing on this as I am reflecting upon it, I can not help but relate it to Burkitt’s thoughts and ideas in which to say that, all of the emotions that I just reflected upon, are all linked to situations in which have occurred or are currently occurring. Therefore, allow me to believe more that emotions are not due to biology, they are due to what happens to us and also what happens around us on a regular basis which inturn, allow us to feel not only one emotion, but a rollercoaster of emotions that are constantly occurring, even though we do not always realise it until we take the time to sit down and reflect.

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  13. We as humans are designed to express feelings, thoughts, emotions. Basic emotions that said above ‘everyone feels and understands’ are true and common. Although peoples experiences, bodies etc all affect these basic emotions therefore they can range on a large spectrum. Some emotions can be found/based on colour… from green or paleness representing sickness or even to consider a dark sky as ‘gloomy’ and ‘miserable’. Social power has the ability to shape perceptions therefore allowing individuals emotions to be impacted. This can influence ways people react to certain things or even the way people act essentially. Emotion is shaped by behavioural and biological factors, and as everyone is completely different (health, age, gender, culture, previous experience etc), it is only inevitable that emotion is a very complex feeling one describes as one of the 4-6 “basic emotions”. Modern institutions shape our emotions based on culture, work, environment and more. We are constantly impacted by the mechanisms of society and we find through this, we share a common emotion about certain ideas.

  14. Reflecting on my feelings right now I can confidently say I am feeling quite content. When looking further into how I feel in a social context I can also say that I am feeling quite content.
    However, that is just at this present moment. There are many times in my life where I have felt an emotion that was incredibly difficult to describe and so complex that the more I try to think about it the more ambiguous it becomes. It can be a result of a mix of basic emotions as there are times when I have been happy and sad at the same time as Roger has previously described it as ‘bitter sweet”. Personally, I think majority of complex emotions are reliant on society and can be referred to as social emotions, in contemporary society people are so image conscious and a lot has to with the way we are perceived by society which in turns results in our emotions being affected.

  15. Reflecting on my feelings right now I can confidently say I am feeling quite content. When looking further into how I feel in a social context I can also say that I am feeling quite content.
    However, that is just at this present moment. There are many times in my life where I have felt an emotion that was incredibly difficult to describe and so complex that the more I try to think about it the more ambiguous it becomes. It can be a result of a mix of basic emotions as there are times when I have been happy and sad at the same time as Roger has previously described it as ‘bitter sweet”. Personally, I think majority of complex emotions are reliant on society and can be referred to as social emotions, in contemporary society people are so image conscious and a lot has to with the way we are perceived by society which in turns results in our emotions being affected.

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  16. An emotion is defined as “a strong feeling..” or an “instinctive feeling..”. So do little subtle feelings of restlessness, or maybe uncomfortableness count as an emotion? Or are they just moods that effect our emotions?
    Is there a difference between your mood and your emotions? Obviously they are connected, but if you are watching TV and know you need to do an assignment, you suddenly feel unable to relax. I personally believe that this is an example of your mood you may be experiencing rather than a distinct emotion. It may lead to strong feelings of frustration or self-achievement if you decide to complete your assignment, which could then be seen as an example of an emotion. But when is your mood classified as an example of an emotion? Initially in the scenario I used, I believe it is just the beginning of the development of a feeling or emotion, and the circumstance as to which your mood can be owed too.
    As for whether or not our society is building new emotions for us to experience, I think society is building more new combinations than genuinely new emotions. For example, with so many big changes having taken place in the past regarding the way society thinks, humans have often been exposed to new ways of thinking and new ways of living, causing new conflicting feelings. For example, many people I have spoken to regarding gay marriage have all agreed that it should be legalised (experiencing happiness when they see the law passed in countries and encourage couples to tie the knot), but will turn away if they see same sex partners showing each other affection (often feeling emotions such as uneasiness and even disgust in some circumstances). This combinations of emotions regarding the one issue is a combination of feelings many people with that opinion wouldn’t have felt before.

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  17. Depending on how much may be on our mind it may determine wether or not the emotions we feel are complex due to the different layers of emotion. we may be feeling an array of different emotions that we may not even be conscious of due to manipulation or criticism from society. I believe if we are aware of our emotions they become a lot simpler as we are able to target the problem and why and how it is affecting us emotionally and we can individually choose to keep feeling that emotion or not.

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  19. I believe there are an endless number of emotions throughout the world. There are so many instances where I find myself unable to describe what I am truly feeling in that exact moment. Am I sad, am I upset, am I disappointed or is it something in between?
    As society grows in complexity and as our knowledge and understanding or society and behaviour increases so too does the range of emotions us as human beings are able to express and acknowledge as a true and real feeling. Emotions can be both social and individual because the emotion comes from within ourselves but is influenced by our environment and those around us.

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