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While we as humans have developed significant physical adaptations for our survival and success, there are some crucial adaptations we often overlook. Physical attributes—walking on two legs, opposable thumbs, stereoscopic vision, complex vocal cords, and more—don’t completely explain our species’ success. While many of us would instead point to the human brain, and the resulting human mind, as our most significant adaptation, we actually have astonishing adaptive features that are often overlooked: our emotions.
Our emotions are vital tools in our arsenal of adaptions, ones that we rarely consider or appreciate as a survival mechanism. Some of us might even label emotions as negative or feel they do nothing but get in our way. But from a scientist’s perspective, our emotions are methodic, purposeful, and intelligent.
In the 12 fascinating lectures of Understanding Human Emotions, Professor Lawrence Ian Reed helps us consider emotions from an evolutionary point of view—exploring why we have these consistent feelings and physical responses to specific stimuli in our lives and how they benefit us. That doesn’t mean we feel great when a moment of jealousy pops up or that we should be thrilled to be angry. It does mean that, averaged over the course of evolutionary history, our emotions motivate us to act in ways that best promote our survival and reproduction. Without the full range of our emotions, we simply would not be here.
What Exactly Are Emotions?
We all know what emotions are and yet we find them so difficult to define. We experience them and recognize them in others every single day. At some stages in life, we might even feel controlled by our emotions. Some people claim they try to rise above their emotions and live by reason alone. But what are emotions?
It’s not an easy question, and one that philosophers and scientists have been wrestling with for millennia. In this course, you’ll learn about many of the earliest written musings on the subject, including those of:
Aristotle. The Greek philosopher offered some of the first systematic analysis of emotion in the 4th century BCE. In his book Rhetoric, he wrote that emotions depend upon what we believe and our judgments of events in the world.
Charles Darwin. In his 1870 book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, biologist Charles Darwin argued that emotional expressions came from habits that were useful in our evolutionary past.
William James. The work of 19th century American philosopher and psychologist William James led to the idea that our experience of many emotions involves changes in the autonomic nervous system.
In the second half of the 20th century, the scientific study of emotions came into its own in the brain sciences, psychology, and other social sciences, such as sociology and anthropology. Today, we recognize that emotions can be thought of in computer terms: as superordinate programs that coordinate subprograms in order to motivate adaptive behaviors. In this way, emotions function from an evolutionary perspective as solutions to recurrent problems faced by our ancestors over the course of history.
Emotions and the Body
If emotions are superordinate programs coordinating a variety of subprograms to motivate adaptive behavior, what are these subprograms and how do they help us?
Consider the ancient ancestor who unexpectedly finds himself much closer to a tiger than he ever wanted to be. As his emotion of fear kicks into high gear, hormones surge through his system to prepare him to fight, flee, or freeze. None of those options might be enough to save this particular man in that moment. But without that hormone surge, what would he be doing? He might have reached down to leisurely scratch that mosquito bite on his ankle, started daydreaming, or realized that he was hungry. None of those actions or thoughts would have helped preserve his life in any way. Without the benefit of fear, that man would not have had a chance.
In Understanding Human Emotions, you’ll study the numerous physical capabilities which might be suffering from emotions. In addition to the “butterflies for your stomach” and apprehensive sweating which you would possibly have experienced, you’ll study:
Glucose. The launch of cortisol into the bloodstream turns on glucose production, which is wanted for metabolically high priced movements along with walking or fighting.
Blood flow. Blood flows freely to the fingers whilst we are angry, with a view to put together us for combat, however it stays withinside the chest whilst we’re afraid, to aid flight.
Hunger. No rely how hungry you are, that feeling will evaporate on the sight or odor of meals that would be infected or harmful, way to the protecting emotion of disgust.
Cultural Component of Emotions
While scientists believe all humans have the same emotional potential, the way in which emotions are expressed and perceived can depend on a person’s culture and associated values. In general, in cultures that place a high value on self-expression, emotions are understood and expressed differently than in cultures that place greater value on knowing one’s place within a larger society.
One of many fascinating studies you’ll learn about in this course is the comparison of responses given by American students of European heritage and responses given by American students of Asian heritage. Although both groups had similar physiological responses to remarks of a rude instructor that commented on their mistakes while they were doing a stressful task, the European American students expressed more visible anger than the Asian American students. One interpretation of this difference would be that spontaneous emotional expressions are valued more highly in Western European cultures, since they are a means to express the individual’s authentic self. And in contrast, the Asian American students were more likely to constrain their expression of anger because angry expressions risk disrupting social harmony, a disruption frowned upon in many Asian cultures.
In this course, you’ll learn about cultural differences in the experience and display of many emotions, including:
Anger. While public expressions of anger are encouraged in some societies—such as the Ilongot people of the Philippines and the Yanomamo of South America—in other societies, such as the Inuit people of North America, anger seems to rarely occur.
Shame. In Western cultures, shame is seen as damaging and is to be avoided. But in more hierarchically structured societies, shame seems to be more valued, especially when the shame is experienced by a person of lower status.
Excitement.Some cultures view excitement as a pathway to happiness, while others view it as the road to calmness and serenity.
While the evolutionary and cultural perspectives of emotion do find different expression in different cultures, the two perspectives have much in common, especially the idea that emotions promote cooperation, which is always a critical factor for the survival of a species.
Average 26 minutes each
- The Science and Philosophy of Emotions
- How Emotions Evolved
- How the Body and Emotions Influence One Another
- The Social Purpose of Emotions
- Facial Expressions and Nonverbal Behavior
- Self-Conscious Emotions: From Empathy to Shame
- Culture and Emotions
- How Children Develop Emotions
- The Rational and Moral Sides of Emotions
- Emotional Disorders: Anxiety and Depression
- The Purpose of Disgust and Anger
- Connecting People: A Focus on Love
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