Friday, June 15, 2012

Do we Have Primary Emotions Like Primary Colors?

Which emotions constitute our most basic ones? That’s not easy to answer since there are a number of different opinions. As far back as Darwin, theorists speculated about whether emotions are innate or learned, and how many are universally expressed. To shed light on this dilemma, Paul Ekman, a psychologist, traveled to Papua, New Guinea and showed members of an isolated culture, the Fore tribe, photographs of emotions in people from another culture. He found that they could reliably name six emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Ekman was, thus, able to show that contrary to the belief of some anthropologists, including Margaret Mead, facial expressions of emotions are not culturally determined, but are basic or biologically universal to all humans.

I decided to use Ekman’s original six emotions and, based on further research, decided to add two additional ones. Many of our basic emotions are designed to keep us aware of danger, potential harm, or novelty in our environment. Others are more social in nature. Happiness and sadness are often related to our interactions with others. I thought the same was true of shame and love They both, but in different ways, help us to stay connected to others or to be an accepted group member. Dacher Keltner, a student of Paul Ekman, in his book, Born to be Good, talks about the importance of the positive emotions and our deep capacity for kindness and compassion.

Take a look at this You Tube video on basic emotions
Or read an interview with Dr. Ekman.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Expressing Emotions Keeps You Healthy

Even as adults, many of us still may be puzzled by what we’re feeling. Often we weren’t taught to pay attention to our feelings or distinguish between them. Like seeing or hearing, emotions alert us to how we’re responding to events, or to the people around us. Emotions need to be a comfortable part of who we are, a part that we accept and value, rather than hid or deny.   

I thought that if I could create a guide that clearly explains each emotion and its unique purpose, then adults might better help children know why emotions are important. We experience emotions every day, so children need guidance in recognizing them. They need help learning to read faces or body language that signal an emotion. They need help in making distinctions between being tired or angry, or being really afraid or just a little shy. Helping kids slow down and make these distinctions will help them become more aware of themselves and more sensitive toward others. Of course, when adults can comfortably express their own emotions, then children have a model to emulate and will feel freer in sharing their own emotions.      
Dr. Candace B. Pert in her book, Molecules of Emotion:  Why You Feel the Way You Feel,  talks about the importance of expressing emotions this way:  “ My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed--which is to say that the biochemical’s that are the substrate of emotion are flowing freely--all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”   

Here's an interesting Bill Moyer's interview with  Dr. Pert.
You can learn more about Dr. Pert here.

More About Color

One of the most creative responses to my question, "What color goes with each emotion?" came in the form of a poem by an artist cousin of mine: 

Anger is a dark red throbbing, its edges glowing orange-yellow, and this in a dark place.

Fear is a very dark gray with a greenish cast.

Sad is less a color than the blur of whatever colors we see through tear-filled eyes.

Shame is the color of the top of whatever shoes I'm wearing.

Surprise is an unexpected flash of brightness, the hue of which doesn't matter.

Disgust has no particular color; it's a recoil from corruption.

Happy is not one color but the sparkling of many.

Love is all the colors we have of eyes, and skin, and hair.

While thinking about color, I learned that in 1666 Sir Isaac Newton became the first person to use a prism to separate pure white light into the colors on the visible spectrum--the colors of the rainbow. Each color has a unique wavelength that makes it irreducible, unable to be separated into other colors. White is the combination of all the visible colors.

RadioLab recently did a terrific show on color. It covers Newton's color experiments and the sequential emergence of individual colors in evolving languages.