Psychology For Dummies - Adam Cash 2013
How Does That Make You Feel?
Thinking and Feeling and Acting
In This Chapter
Discovering why you do the things you do
Running hot, cold, and in between
Thinking before you act
Considering love and war
Adapting heads and hearts
Why do people get up and go to work every day? Why did my teenage cousin get her bellybutton pierced? Why do people go to the gym? Honestly, I think the best part of psychology is getting to ask all these interesting questions!
But there isn’t always a lot of mystery behind why people do what they do. Most of us work to pay the bills and earn money for vacations, comfort, and entertainment. You eat to stay alive. You tolerate irritating neighbors to avoid going to jail. These things make sense and don’t usually require much thought. But when someone does something extraordinary, extremely difficult, or horrific, the “Why?” question comes up.
Trauma, especially when caused by someone else, often leaves a person feeling confused and in need of answers. Why would someone do such a thing to me? Answers can help people come to terms with the way they feel.
But the quest for answers isn’t always focused on the negative. Take Mother Teresa, for example. She dedicated the greater part of her life to working with the sick and the poor in India. She lived in abject poverty, sacrificing all comfort in order to help the poor and seemingly forgotten. Why would she do such a thing? Mother Teresa’s dedication to her religious calling and duty was remarkable. She endured harsh conditions and stayed the course; her motivation was strong and unyielding. Were her actions a result of love for the people she helped?
In this chapter, I introduce the psychological approach to motivation. Simply knowing the nuts and bolts of an action leaves a gaping hole in what you know about behavior if you don’t know why someone chooses a certain course of action — or at least why he thinks he does something.
In addition to exploring the various theories of motivation, I also take a look at emotions, which some psychologists tag as the primary motivating factors for all of us. Psychologists make a big deal about emotions because of the central role emotions play in human behavior and mental processes. “Why we do what we do” has a lot to do with the way we feel.
A popular retort about seeing a psychologist is that she’ll always ask, “How does that make you feel?” So what’s the big deal about feelings and emotions? Most people agree that being hungry or tired can be important. But wait a minute. Is hunger a feeling? What about feeling tired? It seems like some people wouldn’t know an emotion if it crash-landed on their doorstep. Yet other people seem to be a little too “in touch” with their emotions. For the record: Hunger and fatigue are not considered emotions. But, like food and sleep, emotions are important to psychological survival.
Calling on Tony for Some Motivation
Tony Robbins, an American motivational speaker, has built a multimillion-dollar empire by helping people find their proverbial kick in the pants. I’m not familiar with the specifics of his technique, and I’m not even sure his approach to motivation really works, but he’s got an army of celebrities endorsing him. And from a business standpoint, it doesn’t really matter whether or not his technique really works. The point is that people want to be motivated. People need to be motivated. People are spending a lot of money to find out how to motivate themselves the Tony Robbins way.
It’s hard to imagine life without motivation. Without incentive to get things done, I may decide to just sit on the couch all day, eating chips and watching television. Not everyone wants to save the world or cure cancer! Whatever I choose to do, psychologists who study motivation believe that some psychological process is responsible for my behavior.
In the following sections I describe the various theories related to the sources and structures of motivation — ranging from basic biological needs to a striving for independence and freedom.
Would you like some adrenaline with that bear?
Over the course of human evolution, certain behaviors were naturally selected (put in the “to keep” pile) because they contribute to the survival of particular individuals in a species. Imagine a group of people that lives in a forest with wolves, bears, and various other dangerous beasts. Now, imagine that a group of three men and three women from this community encounters a bear. One man and one woman take off running the instant they see the bear, and they get away. Another man and woman stand there, frozen in their tracks. They become the bear’s lunch. The final couple tries to fight the bear with sticks and rocks. They lose.
If the man and woman who ran away decide to have a child, there’s a good chance that their child will be a runner when it comes to encounters with bears. The other couples (the freezers and the fighters) died, so they can’t have children. This is a crude illustration of how evolution selects for traits that help us survive. Those who survive reproduce. It is safe to assume that the couple that ran away had better instincts than the other two couples. Their instincts were better in the sense that they were able to stay alive. Instincts that help keep us alive stay in the gene pool.
Trusting your instincts
Does a plant grow toward sunlight because it wants to? Would a little rebellious plant, the black sheep of ferns, grow toward the shade just to be different? No, a plant couldn’t perform this feat even if it wanted to. Plants grow toward the sunlight because they can’t help themselves. They need sunlight in order to survive. That’s an instinct.
An instinct is an automatic, involuntary, and unlearned behavior that occurs in response to a specific trigger, or stimulus. Numerous examples of what are considered human instincts can be found in phrases that people use every day: the maternal instinct, the survival instinct, the killer instinct, the gut instinct, and so on. Instincts motivate in the sense that you do what you do because you have to do it. You take certain actions automatically and involuntarily.
James McDougall came up with a way to classify some of our basic instincts. He believed that an instinct can be identified by pinpointing its intended goal. He identified numerous instincts, including parenting, seeking food, and mating. If you’re looking to relieve your guilt about eating so many cheeseburgers, you can use the nonscientific and flimsy excuse: It’s just your food-seeking curiosity instinct driving you!
A lot of instinct research has been done with animals. Instincts are also called “modal action patterns” by animal researchers. Geese fly south for the winter. Why? Maybe they like the poolside bars in Florida, or maybe it’s instinct. Konrad Lorenz conducted extensive research exploring the instinctive behaviors of animals. Lorenz’s specific approach is known as the ethological approach to motivation; and according to Petri, an ethologist, instinctive behaviors have action specific energy — the idea that a specific trigger sets an instinct into action. All instinctive behaviors have a specific trigger or triggers, called key stimuli. Driving by a nice coffee shop is a key stimulus for my coffee instinct. Maybe caffeine helped my ancestors survive. Were there Starbucks in Neolithic Europe, I wonder? Key stimuli come from the environment. Key stimuli that come from other members of an animal group are called releasers.
Key stimuli produce behaviors that are fixed and automatic. These behaviors are called fixed action patterns. One of the popular examples of a fixed action pattern is something that Lorenz called imprinting. Imprinting is a kind of bonding instinct between a young animal and its parents. Remember that cartoon where the baby duck hatches from its egg and starts following around the first animal that it sees, even though it’s not a duck? That’s imprinting.
Many people can relate to being worried about money and finances. I’m sure that even the billionaires of the world have spent one or two sleepless nights of their lives mentally counting their Benjamins. Some have learned to live on a budget, setting aside money for the mortgage, car payments, medical insurance, and household costs — even keeping a little money for entertainment if there’s any left over. When I started living on a budget, something weird began to happen. When I went to a store and saw something I liked, such as a pair of shoes or fancy power tool, I asked myself if I really needed it. Part of developing a budget involves figuring out what you truly need and what your financial priorities are.
I first spend my money on what I need. My needs are a powerful determinant in what I do with my money. I may even say that I’m driven (or pushed) by my prioritized needs. Satisfying my needs is one of my top, if not the top, drives in my life. Needs drive my behavior; they motivate me.
Clark Hull came up with a theory of motivation that emphasized need satisfaction. Needs are generated from two things: homeostasis and equilibrium restoration. I experience homeostasis when my needs are met and I feel balanced — not in need of anything. When my needs aren’t being met, I find myself out of balance, and I’m then motivated to restore the equilibrium through the satisfaction of my needs.
Hull’s theory is called drive reduction theory because people are driven to satisfy their needs. Drives are motivations toward satisfaction and homeostasis. There are two kinds of drives:
Biological needs that are necessary for survival are called primary drives. Hunger, fatigue, and thirst are all examples of primary drives. If you think about it, primary drives play a pretty big role in everyday life. A large part of the day revolves around satisfying hunger and obtaining shelter.
Any need other than a primary drive is called a secondary drive. A lot of these are learned from families, social groups, and the larger culture. The importance of secondary drives is determined by how they become associated with primary drives. People are driven to go to school and get good grades in order to have a better life and provide for themselves and their families. Secondary drives have no inherent worth; they only matter as they relate to primary drives.
One of the limitations of drive reduction theory is that it leaves no room for needs that seem only peripherally related to our biological survival. Does a day of surfing restore my homeostatic balance? What basic need does surfing satisfy? I may be able to stretch it a little and say that I make it a point to go surfing because if I don’t, I’ll get depressed and then I won’t be able to go to work and then I won’t be able to eat. That would make surfing a secondary drive at the bottom of a long chain of other secondary drives. But most people probably don’t reduce, consciously anyway, their every activity to the lowest common denominator of biological survival.
Although it’s not technically an instinct theory, Abraham Maslow’s motivational theory states that motivations stem from a basic set of needs that you naturally strive to satisfy. Maslow believed that some needs are more basic than others. Eating is more basic than getting an A on your English final. They’re both needs (for some people anyway), but one is more fundamental than the other.
Maslow created a priority list of needs that he arranged into a triangle called the hierarchy of needs:
At the lowest and most foundational level are basic physical needs for food, water, and sleep. These needs direct behavior until they are satisfied.
The next level of the triangle contains needs for safety and security such as proper shelter and protection.
Love and belonging is the next level of need.
The fourth level of need is self-esteem, striving toward situations that enhance self-worth.
Self-actualization — the need to fulfill our top potential and to live at a high level of awareness of ourselves and our desires — is the top level. When someone has reached the highest part of the triangle/hierarchy, he has a peak experience, or a feeling that signals arrival at the highest level of motivation. It is important to point out though that even for one who self-actualizes, these peak experiences are brief and infrequent. A person does not settle in at the level of peak experiences.
Arousing interest in prime rib
Optimal level of arousal theory is considered a more refined version of drive reduction theory. Instead of just being driven to satisfy basic biological needs at a minimum level, this theory states that people are motivated to reach the highest level of satisfaction possible.
What do I mean by “highest level of satisfaction?” Think of this as the “prime rib theory” of arousal. When my body needs energy, I get hungry, and I develop a primary drive or motivation to eat something. Now, if this theory was the “hamburger theory” of arousal or the “minimal level of arousal theory,” then I’d just get a greasy drive-through cheeseburger and be done with it. But why would I eat hamburger if I can eat steak? I can satisfy the primary need and also enjoy great flavor at the same time.
Another component of the optimal level of arousal theory involves being driven to seek the best (optimal) level of arousal in order to maximize performance. In an example of how optimal level of arousal theory may work, in 1908 psychologists Yerkes and Dodson found that people perform activities best when moderately aroused — not too relaxed, not too uptight. This is called the Yerkes-Dodson law.
Have you ever had to make a presentation in front of a large group or class? Were you nervous? If so, how nervous? Throwing-up, passing-out nervous? Being that nervous constitutes an extreme level of arousal; and if you’ve been there, you know it doesn’t contribute to a top-notch performance. Similarly, if someone is too relaxed, he may not put out enough effort to properly prepare for the presentation, and he may end up giving a terrible performance. The best place to be is right in the middle.
Getting cheaper long distance is rewarding
When I come home and find the red light on my answering machine flashing, I wonder who called. Was it a friend I haven’t talked to in a while? A long-lost relative? No, it was one of those annoying long-distance phone companies trying to get me to change my provider.
A lot of marketing efforts are based on a motivational theory called expectancy theory. Expectancy theory holds that motivations are the product of an individual’s analysis of the potential rewards associated with a particular behavior and the likelihood of achieving those rewards. Long-distance carriers count on me associating a switch with an expectation of a reward. This is a straightforward but powerful means of motivating people, especially if you can get them thinking that the rewards are likely to come rolling in!
Incentive theory, which is closely related to expectancy theory, simply states that we are motivated to seek rewards and avoid negative experiences such as pain. My experience with spam e-mail ads has led me to expect pain in my inbox from unsolicited purveyors of stuff I don’t need every day, which overpowers the expected reward of saving a few bucks from their “great deals.” What I expect, whether it’s really the case or not, ultimately has a powerful effect on my behavior. When I see these e-mails I don’t even open them, I just delete them.
Facing your opponent-process theory
Sometimes I am motivated to do things that aren’t much fun, like going to the gym — at least I don’t think that’s much fun. Some people may like it. But the point is that people can engage in behaviors that seem more painful than pleasurable on the surface. This doesn’t mean that they have some masochistic need or instinct. Motivations that may appear outwardly painful and not so pleasurable can sometimes be explained with the opponent-process theory, which states that people are motivated not by the initial response or incentive, like the pain of a tough workout, but by the reaction that occurs after the initial response, like the reflection of a toned, fit, and healthy body in the mirror looking back at me.
For every response that occurs, there’s an opposite reaction called the opponent process. After being exposed to a particular stimulus for a while, the initial response diminishes, and the opposite response grows stronger.
A lot of people like to eat hot and spicy foods. Personally, I like to taste my food, not feel it for 20 minutes after I take a bite, but to each his own. What’s the opposite response, the opponent process, of hot foods? It’s the endorphins — those natural painkillers released by the body to combat pain. Spicy foods actually chemically burn the tongue, and the body combats those burns with these natural painkillers. It feels good when the endorphin painkillers kick in to soothe the burning. People who enjoy hot foods think that they eat spicy foods for the spice, but according to opponent-process theory, they’re just a bunch of endorphin junkies. Yep, they’re burning their tongues in order to benefit from the opposite or opponent reaction of endorphin release!
The opponent-process theory has been used to explain the sometimes baffling affliction of drug addiction. Of course, when a substance or drug is used there is a high, euphoria, and an experience of pleasant feelings. Once the effects of the drug wear off, however, there is an unpleasant experience from the aftereffects of the drug. According to the opponent-process theory, the addicted person then uses the drugs again to get relief from those unpleasant experiences. They don’t use for the initial high necessarily — they use to alleviate the negative aftereffects.
Knowing who’s the boss
Freedom may be the best motivator of all. Throughout history, societies and large groups have sacrificed their lives for the right to determine their own fates, make their own decisions, and be masters of their own lives. The US Declaration of Independence, authored by Thomas Jefferson, is perhaps the quintessential document of such self-determination, the right to determine one’s actions without compulsion from others or outside influence.
Edward Deci and Richard Ryan proposed a psychological theory of motivation known as self-determination theory (SDT); it states that the human motives for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are at the center of what drives behavior. These fellows may even be considered the “Thomas Jeffersons” of motivational psychology. They propose and cite research to support the concept that the needs to feel competent, autonomous, and related are universal human needs and found in all cultures. These needs are considered necessary for people to feel a sense of well-being and to perform or achieve at an optimal level at life’s tasks such as work, school, and relationships. SDT acknowledges two different kinds of motivation:
Autonomous motivation is intrinsic, or internal, to a person; it comes from within and reflects a sense of non-coercion and freedom of choice.
Controlled motivation is a function of external contingencies and rewards or punishments such as shame, pay, or public recognition.
Controlled motivation is associated with feelings of being pressured to think, feel, or act according to some external standard as opposed to an individual’s internal standard. A wonderful historical example of autonomous motivation is the great American Rosa Parks, an African American woman who challenged racial segregation in the United States by sitting in the “white only” seats on a public bus. She was brave enough to sit on a bus seat of her own choosing. Despite the pressure to conform and concede and have her motivation “controlled,” she chose where to sit, was autonomously motivated, and changed history. According to SDT, it is best to be in control of one’s self, to be one’s own boss, to have the freedom to make choices; this satisfies a basic human need and drives motivation.
Deci and Ryan consider autonomy to be synonymous with being in control of oneself, to regulate oneself, to engage in self-regulation. Whereas SDT refers to the human need and motive to be autonomous and in control of oneself, self-regulation is a set of psychological controls over emotions, behavior, and thoughts in a manner that is consistent with meeting personal goals. SDT can be considered the “why” of human behavior but self-regulation is the “how.”
Psychologist Andrea Burger defines self-regulation as an individual’s ability to monitor and modulate cognition, emotion, and behavior to accomplish goals, and/or to adapt to the demands of specific situations. Self-regulated behavior involves controlled, focused, and attentive thought and action as opposed to impulsive and reactive action. Self-determination, it would seem, is not possible without adequate self-regulation.
Being autonomous and in control of yourselves is all well and good, but many people have had the experience of letting themselves down after a resolution to diet, exercise, quit smoking, or change some other undesirable aspect of their behavior. They “want” to diet but they overeat. They want to exercise, but end up watching that movie they rented instead.
This is where the concept of willpower comes in. There is a struggle for self-control going on, a struggle of the will. Roy Baumeister defines willpower as the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. Some psychologists consider willpower a logical component of self-regulation, to be in control of oneself in the face of competing or contradictory motives or impulses. You can diet and lose weight or enjoy eating that entire plate of Kung Pao chicken and bloat.
Psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s conducted a very simple but powerful set of experiments popularly known as the “marshmallow studies.” Basically, the experimental subject, a child, is offered a small reward such as a marshmallow but is told by the researcher that he or she could get a bigger reward if they don’t eat the marshmallow while the researcher steps out of the room for a short time. If they delay their gratification for a short time, they will get a bigger reward. Well, some children could do it and some could not. Those who could were considered to have stronger abilities to delay gratification. Follow-up research on those same children many years later showed that children who could delay had better academic outcomes and were less likely to be overweight.
Research suggests that willpower is a psychological ability that exists in all people to a greater or lesser extent. Willpower has been likened to a “mental muscle” that can grow, get stronger, weaken, fatigue, and even atrophy. Strong willpower has been associated with success at behavioral change such as quitting smoking or sticking to an exercise regime. Stress and needing to resist too much temptation have been found to weaken willpower. This is why it’s probably a good idea to avoid going to a donut shop when all you want is a cup of coffee. Unless of course you’ve already “chosen” to eat an apple fritter or a chocolate twist.
Launching Countless Bad Poems: Emotions
At this point, none of the theories on motivation address the power of emotion to spur action or initiate behavior. Yet emotion and motivation are intimately related. When I need something, I am motivated to satisfy that need. When my stomach growls, I know I’m hungry. But how do I know when other, more psychological needs aren’t being met, like the need for self-esteem? When certain personal needs aren’t being met, emotions send out a signal. Emotions can indicate that you are not reaching your motivational goals (in the form of disappointment, for example) or that you are meeting your motivational goals (perhaps in the form of happiness).
In the following sections I define emotion, explore its functions, and discuss how emotions can be “used” to improve functioning.
An emotion is a complex phenomenon with three interrelated components:
Subjective experience: When I have a particular emotion, I call this a feeling. My experience of sadness may consist of wanting to cry and lacking energy or motivation. This is my experience of sadness; it’s subjective.
Physiological response: All emotions are comprised of responses that involve brain and nervous system activity. When I’m angry, my heart beats quickly and my breathing rates increases. When I’m sad I may feel tired.
Expressive component: Each emotion is expressed and communicated in a unique way. Facial expressions, body language, posture, words, phrases, gestures, and numerous other means of expression accompany and communicate the experience of an emotion.
Another theory of emotions that has gained more support over the last few years comes from evolutionary psychology. Psychologists subscribing to this perspective view specific behaviors and mental processes as adaptive responses developed through natural selection. Emotions are assumed to be part of this adaptation process.
Feelings save lives
In addition to signaling whether someone has achieved his or her goals or not, emotions have a couple of other functions. Emotions prepare people for and alert them to potentially dangerous situations. Gavin De Becker sings high praises for this function of emotions in his book, The Gift of Fear (Dell Publishing). In a sentence, fear saves our lives. Have you ever been in a situation where you got that feeling that something just wasn’t right? That “feeling” was your emotions alerting you to the possible presence of danger that you may have not consciously observed or been aware of. De Becker advocates listening to that voice more often and being more attuned to it as a powerful survival tool.
Positive emotions can provide relief from the trials and tribulations of life. Happiness feels good. What would life be like if you never felt happy? Pretty miserable, obviously! It’s easier to have a good relationship with someone who is happy. Happiness also leads to socializing, which may lead to romance, which may lead to children, which may lead to passing on whatever genes worked to produce that happy procreator in the first place. Positive emotions have the potential to make people more attractive and allow for social connection.
Cosmides and Tooby propose an extensive set of behavioral and mental programs (think computer programs) that help people address the challenges of survival. Each program functions independently, which creates a logistical nightmare. If you think getting ready for a camping trip is logistically difficult, try coordinating all the behaviors and mental processes that humans possess! This is where emotions come into play. Cosmides and Tooby view emotions as “master programs” of sorts, working to organize and integrate all those behaviors and thoughts. From this perspective, emotions serve a regulatory function. They help people figure out what they need to do in a particular situation and whether or not they’ve accomplished a desired goal.
Finding out which comes first, the body or the mind?
If emotions consist of three components — subjective experience, physiological reactions, and the expressive component — which comes first? Do I think and feel angry before my muscles tense up? Do I say I’m angry before I know I’m angry? Figuring out this process can get confusing; it’s like the chicken or the egg argument for emotions. But don’t worry; Farmer Cash — that’s me! — is here for you to put all the eggs in the right basket. Three main theories address the birth order of emotion components.
The James-Lange theory attempts to make sense of this mess. When a person encounters a situation or stimulus that leads to an emotional reaction, his body reacts first. There is a set of automatic physical reactions to emotional stimuli. The sensory systems respond by sending signals to the emotional centers of the brain, creating a state of arousal. After this physiological reaction, the brain analyzes what is occurring. Finally, after arousal and appraisal, the subjective experience of the emotion occurs. The brain then recognizes fear, for example, after interpreting this long chain of physiological reactions. Emotional expression comes after recognition of an experience of emotion.
First you see the bear. Then your heart starts pounding, and other fear-related physiological reactions occur. You think to yourself that your heart is pounding, and you are running away from the bear and must be scared. Only after the analysis are you able to communicate that you are “scared.”
The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion is a variation on the James-Lange theory. This theory also proposes that the physiological reaction to stimuli occurs before the subjective experience of an emotion, but there’s a little twist. Cannon-Bard doesn’t agree that the complex activities of muscle activation and the subsequent actions (like running from a bear) are the first physiological processes to get involved.
Specific parts of the brain that are considered less sophisticated are activated first, according to Cannon-Bard. These “lower” parts of the brain then simultaneously send signals to three “higher-level” brain areas: the appraisal area, the arousal area, and the experience area. When compared to James-Lange, the main difference here is that arousal, analysis, experience, and expression all occur at the same time, but only after more basic areas of the brain are cued or activated.
So I encounter the bear, my lower brain areas activate, and then I run, analyze my running, realize I’m scared, and yell out, “Help, I’m going to die” all at the same time. If this fascinates you, check out Chapter 3 to read more about the brain.
Stanley Schacter of Columbia University and Jermone Singer of Penn State University are psychologists who came up with a third variation on the emotional process. Their two-factor theory takes elements from James-Lange and Cannon-Bard but changes things around just a tiny bit. Instead of having an initial reaction from the body or lower brain areas followed by the evaluation process, the two-factor theory states that physiological reactions and cognitive appraisal occur together, creating a feedback loop and co-producing the subjective experience of an emotion. Information from the situation and the environment are used in the appraisal process. Emotional arousal is seen as generic (not specific to a particular emotion) until an evaluation is conducted.
According to this theory, I see the bear and experience physiological arousal and cognitive appraisal at the same time. “I’m aroused and there’s a dangerous animal in front of me. I must be scared.”
When someone is smiling, is she happy? What about someone who glares at you, puffs out his chest, and turns red in the face? Can you guess what emotion he’s experiencing? Of course you can. All emotions have an expressive and communicative component that consists of verbal signals, facial expressions, eye contact, and other body movements and nonverbal expressions.
Some people believe that the expressive components of emotions are innate or inborn. The same goes for the ability to discern what someone is feeling by observing these expressions. Some emotional expressions seem to be universal, such as smiling when happy and frowning when sad.
Certain situations place constraints on these aspects of emotions as well. Although not always the case, people don’t typically cheer and laugh at funerals and they don’t usually scream angrily at people when given a compliment or a gift. In some cultures, funerals are somber, quiet affairs in which there is very little public display of emotion, although in other cultures there may be a great outpouring of emotion with people screaming, hitting themselves in the head, and grabbing at the casket of the deceased.
Injecting a little fun
Consider the following experiment: Research subjects are given a shot of epinephrine that activates their sympathetic nervous system. It engages their fight-or-flight response. Some subjects are told what the injection will do, and others are told either something misleading or nothing at all about the injection. Then the subjects are placed into one of two groups: an anger-situation group or a euphoria-situation group. The anger group is asked to fill out an insulting questionnaire that’s designed to make them angry. The euphoria group is put in a room with a researcher who is laughing, smiling, and having a good ol’ time!
Both groups received the same drug, so their bodies produced the same physiological reaction and the same type of arousal. But do you think they experienced arousal as the same emotions? The subjects in the anger group said they felt angry, and subjects in the euphoria group said they felt happy. Keep in mind that both groups had the same physiological arousal so their experienced emotion was all based on the information provided to them by environmental cues applied to the generic experience of autonomic nervous system arousal. Just as the two-factor theory predicted, subjects apparently labeled their physiological arousal by evaluating the situation, or the context.
Culture has a lot to do with how and when emotions are expressed, including what emotions are appropriate to feel and express.
Speech gives expression to feelings in several ways:
Rate of speech: Rate of speech can increase or slow down depending on how a person is feeling.
Tone of voice: A person’s voice can be friendly or sharp, and this tone variation says a lot about the emotions being experienced.
Volume: Volume of voice conveys information as well. When someone is angry or excited he may talk more loudly, for example.
If you want to appear calm when you’re angry, make an effort to speak slowly, use soft tones, and keep the volume down. If you’re looking to intimidate someone, speak fast, in harsh tones, and very loudly. This sends the signal that you’re angry.
Human beings experience many different emotions: fear, sadness, elation, and disgust to name just a few. Take a second and think about your life: What emotions do you experience most often? As a therapist, I’ve seen the whole range, but love and anger are two feelings that come up time and time again — maybe more than any others. People want to talk about wanting love, not getting love, giving love, and so on. They also want to express their anger in a safe place where they know they won’t experience retaliation.
Feeling the power of love
Love makes the world go ’round. Or is it money? Whether love makes the world go around or not doesn’t diminish the power that it seems to hold over most people, who want love, even if they don’t want to admit it at times. It feels good to be loved and to love someone else. I think most people would have a hard time arguing that there’s just too much darn love in the world.
If you think love is magical, I hope I don’t burst your bubble with a psychological analysis of it. Elaine Hatfield and Richard Rapson, psychologists at the University of Hawaii, identify two specific types of love:
Passionate love: Intense love with a sexual or romantic quality. It’s the kind of love Romeo and Juliet had for each other. It’s the kind of love you don’t have for your grandmother!
Companionate love: This is the love between friends and family members. There isn’t much passion here, but there are high levels of attachment, commitment, and intimacy.
Robert Sternberg created a theory that outlines six forms of love. Each form is distinguished by varying degrees of passion, a strong desire for another person and the expectation that sex with that person will be rewarding; commitment, the conviction that a person will stick around, no matter what happens; and intimacy, the ability to share our deepest and most secret feelings and thoughts with another person.
Here are Sternberg’s six forms of love that are based on varying levels of passion, commitment, and intimacy:
Liking: There’s intimacy but no passion or commitment here. A relationship with a therapist is a good example of this form of love. I can tell my therapist my thoughts and feelings, but I don’t necessarily feel passion for or commitment to her.
Infatuation: Here, there’s passion but no intimacy or commitment. This form of love is like lust. It’s the one-night-stand or seventh-grade crush version of love.
Empty love: This is what people have who are committed but share no passion or intimacy. Some married couples are committed to each other out of necessity or convenience and stay together despite the lack of passion or intimacy.
Fatuous love: This is the highest level of commitment and passion but it offers low levels of intimacy. Romeo and Juliet seemed to be under the spell of fatuous love. I don’t see how they could have become intimate when they never really got a chance to talk.
Companionate love: This form of love is being committed and intimate but lacking in passion. It epitomizes a really good friendship.
Consummate love: I guess Sternberg used consummate to describe this form of love because it’s the total package: high passion, strong commitment, and deep intimacy. This has got to be “consuming.”
Are the foundations of love formed in childhood? Some psychologists feel that our love relationships as adults are extensions of our childhood attachments. Children who have healthy attachments have more mature adult relationships with higher levels of intimacy and trust, and they’re comfortable with higher levels of interdependency. Children who experience anxious or ambivalent attachments to their primary caregivers may “fall in love” too easily, seeking extreme closeness right off the bat and reacting intensely to any suggestion of abandonment. Glenn Close’s character in the drama-filled movie Fatal Attraction must have had a hard time with attachments when she was a child. Children who avoid social interaction tend to be uncomfortable with closeness and have a tough time with being dependent upon others in their adult relationships.
Hatfield and Rappon proposed that people possess love templates in the form of mental schemas or scripts. Templates are formed early in life and are revised and solidified over the years as individuals experience various relationships with other people. These templates shape how a person thinks about relationships and determine what expectations he has upon entering into relationships. It seems that a lot of people on those TV dating shows have some pretty interesting love schemas because some of their expectations are, let’s just say, interesting.
There are six basic love schemas that apply to romantic relationships. Each schema is differentiated by a person’s comfort level with closeness and independence and how eager she is to be in a romantic relationship.
Casual: No strings attached. Interested in a problem-free relationship. Dream on!
Clingy: Seeks closeness (a little too much) and fears independence. Anybody got a spatula?
Fickle: Uneasy with both closeness and independence. Can’t make up your mind? Flip a coin already!
Secure: Comfortable with both closeness and independence and doesn’t rush things.
Skittish: Fearful of too much closeness and perfectly comfortable with independence. Don’t run!
Uninterested: Just not into the whole relationship thing.
Everyone has an opinion on each of these love schemas. It’s hard to judge people who may use one type of schema over another. Different schemas seem to apply to different periods of life, but many people strive toward the secure schema. If someone feels that her schema is causing problems in her life, therapy is a good place to work out these issues.
Speaking of issues, anger is an issue that deserves a lot of attention. On the one hand, anger can be suppressed and not expressed enough. But on the other hand, anger is expressed in inappropriate and extreme ways every day. Either way, anger is a natural emotion and is as important to human relationships as love.
Have you ever seen that T-shirt that has “I’m not prejudiced, I hate everybody” printed on it? Wonderful message, right? That ranks right up there with the bumper stickers with the cartoon character Calvin, from the American cartoon Calvin and Hobbes, peeing on everything from the symbols of different car manufacturers to the Internal Revenue Service. Sometimes it seems like there’s a heck of a lot of anger out there.
Where does anger come from? Lots of theories exist. One is that anger is a consequence of experiencing negative or painful feelings. All kinds of things can lead to negative feelings: unpleasant physical conditions, physical pain, limits on our movement, and even loud noises. I like to refer to this theory as the “grouch factor.” Psychologists theorize that the following things trigger anger:
Feeling depressed: People who are depressed are more at risk for feeling angry. Even sadness and grief can generate angry feelings. It is not uncommon for people to become extremely angry when someone they are close to dies.
Being separated from desires: When people are unable to engage in a desired activity or carry out a desired action, they tend to become angry. Sroufe proposed the existence of an anger system, which works like a pressure cooker. A person gets increasingly frustrated as his desires and activities are blocked time and time again, which eventually leads to the experience of anger with the blockade. There are no guidelines in this theory about where the breaking points are.
Separation from attachment figure(s): An attachment figure is someone we have attached to or formed a strong emotional bond with. When someone you are attached to leaves you, you may react with anger. These types of anger reactions were determined by researchers observing young children’s reactions to being separated from their mothers. This seems to happen as adults as well. Have you ever seen someone fly into a rage when their romantic partner wants to break things off? This has been the story in many horrific romantic related crimes, unfortunately.
Although it can be quite destructive, anger is a valid and important emotion, and there are some positives to it. Anger can be pretty adaptive. It can aid in self-defense, fuel ambition, and sometimes prevent someone from acting aggressively toward another person. If someone is going to hurt you, sometimes a display of anger can make her think twice.
Keep in mind that some people react to anger with even more anger, so be careful with this tactic. Anger can mobilize a lot of physical energy in a short period of time. If two angry people meet up, who is going to be the one back down first? Maybe neither. When I worked in the prison system, I witnessed this often. Tough guys with a lot to prove would meet anger with anger and the result was not pretty; usually both people got hurt and put other inmates and correctional staff at risk as well.
Anger need not be destructive, as long as it is expressed appropriately and constructively. Research shows that children who appropriately express their anger have fewer emotional and social problems growing up. Infants and toddlers sometimes use anger as a signal that they’re frustrated and may need help with something, like eating.
Checking out happy
The other day, in the middle of my workday, I caught myself feeling good and particularly positive and I stopped to think about what I was doing, what was going on around me, and what may be producing this positive experience. Was I happy?
Philosophers, poets, and many a middle-ager in midlife crisis would agree: Happiness is an elusive concept. Psychologists do not disagree. The exact definition of happiness and how to study and research it has been controversial, in part because research consistently shows that happiness is more than having the experience of positive emotions. Happiness can be understood as a multifaceted experience consisting of many things, including a person’s self-view of life satisfaction, positive beliefs about life, and having more positive emotions than negative ones on average. Happiness is considered synonymous with well-being in psychological research.
Was my positive experience the other day the product of my exceptional cup of coffee, the unexpectedly delicious breakfast burrito, the warm welcome I got from the clinic staff, or my sense of being helpful to my first few clients? What were the ingredients of my happiness that day? What are the ingredients of my well-being?
Take two people: One has a good job, friends, a loving spouse, and well-behaved children; the other has unpredictable work, few friends, and no spouse. Which person is happier? This question gets to the heart of the approach to happiness known as subjective well-being (SWB).
University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener has done some important work on subjective well-being and the self-evaluation process involved. The SWB approach to happiness posits that well-being is essentially the strong positive emotions a person may experience as she reflects on and evaluates her life. SWB is the “whatever floats your boat” approach to happiness. The answer to the initial question is whoever evaluates her life more positively — the friendly person with a good job or the single guy with unstable work. Maybe neither; maybe both; the answer does not come from some objective list of “happiness ingredients.” The happiest person of the two is the one who individually and subjectively judges himself or herself to be happy. That’s it!
Perhaps this approach seems rather simplistic; to some people it is wholly profound. Whichever position a person may take, the subjective well-being theory of happiness leaves one’s judgment of happiness up to individuals to judge for themselves.
Some think the SWB approach to happiness is too limited because it does not address why or how someone has high SWB or what she bases her SWB evaluations on. It doesn’t address what “leads” to SWB and therefore is not prescriptive, not helpful, cannot be learned from, and cannot be taught.
Psychologist C. D. Ryff presents a more “list like” approach to happiness known as the Psychological Well-Being Approach. Ryff’s model proposes
Self-acceptance: Feeling positive about yourself
Positive relations with others: Good relationships
Autonomy: Being independent with self-control and self-determination
Environmental mastery: Being able to choose and create environments that fit your needs and wants
Purpose in life: Having beliefs that give meaning to your life
Personal growth: Developing your potential and growing as a person
Martin Seligman is another psychologist who approaches happiness from a broader perspective than the “whatever floats your boat” approach of SWB. Seligman’s ingredients to happiness and the good life are captured in the acronym PERMA:
Positive emotions: Feeling good more often than feeling bad
Engagement: Feeling absorbed and highly focused on what you are doing — akin to being “in the zone” during a sports performance or composing a piece of music
(Positive) relationships: Having good relationships with good people in your life
Meaning: A sense that your efforts and talents are serving a purpose greater than oneself
Accomplishment: Mastery and success at the highest level or a particular pursuit, be it work, sports, or school
Taking the SWB, Psychological Well-Being Approach, and PERMA model all together, it would seem that some degree of positive subjective evaluation, good relationships, mastery, and meaning are core components to the good life, to happiness. So, the next time I’m feeling happy, it just may be a result of that good cup of coffee and breakfast burrito (SWB), warm staff (good relationships), and knowing I’m helping somebody (mastery and meaning)!
Discovering your smart heart: Emotional intelligence and styles
In 1996, psychologist Daniel Goleman introduced the public at large to the concept of Emotional Intelligence in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ. In the years since, there has been a great deal of research on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) — a person’s ability to perceive, control, and utilize his emotions in a productive manner. EQ has been likened to a form of intelligence because it is seen as a particular mental skill or ability and has been found to be associated with some positive outcomes in a person’s life, just as being traditionally (cognitively) intelligent has, as in success at work.
Psychologists Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso define EQ as the ability to accurately reason about emotions and use that knowledge to enhance thinking. Dr. Reuvan Bar-On considers EQ to be a set of emotional skills that help a person cope and succeed in the world and environment. Perhaps an example of “emotionally unintelligent” behavior or skill can illustrate the point best. During a staff meeting I once saw a well-respected colleague scream and berate a graduate student for making a menial clerical error on some documentation. This caused quite an uproar, but it was later revealed that the colleague had received very distressing news about his personal health just a few minutes before the meeting. The poor student was the target of a lot of emotion he did not deserve. The colleague was clearly not aware of how his emotions were playing out in this interaction. Not so smart, not an example of high EQ.
Richard Davidson, in his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live and How You Can Change Them, takes the concept of emotion perhaps a little further than the concept of a “skill” or “ability” in his model of emotional style. For Davidson, it’s less about EQ and more about a person’s predominant and consistent responses to his or her life’s experiences. Davidson proposes the following six dimensions for determining a person’s emotional style:
Resilience: How quickly you recover from stress and challenge
Outlook: How long you can maintain a positive perspective
Social intuition: How good you are at picking up social signals
Self-awareness: How well you perceive body sensations related to emotions
Sensitivity to context: How good you are at using your surroundings in regulating your emotions
Attention: How focused you are
Both emotional intelligence and emotional style approaches look at emotion from a broader perspective that put emotional “skillfulness” and ability at the heart of coping and success. It’s not enough to be “book smart”; you need to be “heart smart” — to know how you feel, what do to about it, and how to use it to your advantage.