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 Evolutionary Psychology: Emotion
Author Paul Kenyon
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Facial expression of emotion

duchenne1.jpg (9810 bytes)duchenne2jpg.jpg (23964 bytes)Research started by Duchenne de Boulogne who published  The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression in 1862.

Duchenne's pioneering work with an old man afflicted with almost total facial anesthesia influenced Darwin who published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals ten years later in 1872.

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Read Ekman, P. (1999) Facial Expressions. In T. Dalgleish and T. Power (Eds.) The Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. Pp. 301-320. Sussex, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  Available online
  • What is a human 'universal'?
  • Critically evaluate the research technique Darwin used to investigate the universality of facial expressions.
  • What are the technical problems associated with using photographs to study facial  expression of emotion?
  • Would you use a 'free' or forced-choice' paradigm in a study of facial expression recognition?
  • To what extent do Ekman's studies in Papua New Guinea rule out the possibility that cross cultural similarities in facial judgement studies are due to common learning experiences across cultures?
  • Are the findings of universal facial judgements an artifact caused by using posed facial expressions?
  • Give an example of how 'display rules' influence facial expression.
  • Why is it necessary to show some similarity between human facial expressions and those in closely related species?
  • What is meant by the term 'species-constant learning'?
  • To what extent is facial expression of emotion a human universal?

Basic emotions

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Read Ekman, P. (1999) Basic emotions. In T. Dalgleish and T. Power (Eds.) The Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. Pp. 45-60. Sussex, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Available online and consider the following questions:
  • Why have Ekman's views on basic emotions changed during his research career? What does this tell you about the scientific process?
  • Can social constructionism account for human universals?
  • Is Ekman's view that "our appraisal of a current event is influenced by our ancestral past." consistent with social constructionism?
  • What does Ekman mean by the term 'universal signal'?
  • To what extent is a mood different from an emotion?
  • Can an emotion exist without a 'universal signal', and vice versa?
  • To what extent are there physiological differences between emotions, and if there are, can the differences be explained in terms of social constructionism?
  • Are there similarities between Ekman's 'appraisal mechanisms', LeDoux's 'emotional processing systems' and ethologists  innate releasing mechanisms?
  • Does 'biologically prepared learning' contribute to the development of input events that 'universally' trigger emotions?
  • From an evolutionary point of view would you expect several emotions to be unique to humans?
  • Would you classify Ekman as a 'social constructionist' or an 'evolutionary psychologist'?

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Read Griffiths (2002) Basic Emotions, Complex Emotions, Machiavellian Emotions.Available online and consider the following questions:
  • How did Darwin study human emotions?
  • What experimental innovation did Ekman introduce to avoid a source of possible error in Darwin's studies?
  • What 'basic emotions' are found across cultures?
  • List three characteristics of basic emotions identified by Ekman
  • Can emotion occur in the absence of cognition?
  • Where in the brain are 'cognitive' and 'affective' computations carried out according to LeDoux's 'twin-pathway' analysis of fear?
  • What is Buss' explanation of sexual jealousy?
  • Compare and contrast Ekman views on basic emotions with those of the evolutionary psychologists Gaulin and McBurney.
  • Distinguish between primary and secondary emotions
  • What distinguishes 'somatic appraisal' from 'transactional' theories of emotion?
  • Explain, with examples, the terms 'audience effects' and 'cultural display rules'.

The brain and emotion

Read Rolls (1999). Précis of "The Brain and Emotion", available online, and consider the following questions:

What is the role of dopamine in reward?

dapath5.gif (13498 bytes)According to most textbooks when the dopamine pathway running from the  ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens in the forebrain is activated, the  release of dopamine into the forebrain nucleus accumbens is believed to cause feelings of pleasure. However this conventional view has been challenged by Dr. Mark Wightman and his colleagues (Garris et al, 1999) at the University of North Carolina (see Center Line (2000)). They confirmed   previous findings that:

However this effect does not last.

Therefore the release of dopamine may not be critical for reinforcement once the task is learned. Wightman has suggested that  dopamine may   be a neural substrate for novelty or reward expectation rather than reward itself.

'Human emotion is cortical, animal emotion is subcortical'?

You may have formed the impression that the cortex is the 'seat' of human emotions, wheresas subcortical areas control emotions in other animals. However this apparent difference may be the result of how emotion has been studied in humans and animals, rather than reflecting a fundamental dichotomy in how the brain controls emotion.

Berridge (in press 2001) argues that studies on emotions in humans and other animals vary in a number of dimensions:

  Human (and pimates) Animal (mostly rodents)
Brain areas studied
  • prefrontal cortex
  • cingulate cortex
  • amgydala
  • amgydala
  • nucleus accumbens & mesolimbic dopamine pathways
  • hypothalamus
  • ventral pallidum
  • septum
  • brainstem
Behaviours studied high-level emotional cognition - cognitive tasks involving words or pictures. Ethical considerations restrict use of more powerful stimuli. basic emotions elicited by innate or conditioned stimuli - fear, hunger, aggression, sex,
Experimental techniques employs noninvasive brain imaging techniques:
  • EEG
  • PET
  • fMRI

study brain-damaged patients:

  • stroke
  • tumor
  • surgery
  • injury
  • disease
involve direct manipulation of the brain
  • lesions
  • electrodes
  • drugs
  • single gene mutations
Experimental design correlation causation

Read Berridge (in press 2001) Comparing the emotional brain of humans and other animals. In Handbook of Affective Sciences, R. Davidson, K. Scherer, H. Hill Goldsmith (Eds.), Chapter 3: pp. 25-51., Oxford University Press, N.Y., 2003. Available online.

Consider the following questions:

This figure appears in Berridge (in press 2001).

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Read Evans (1999) From moods to modules: preliminary remarks for an evolutionary theory of mood phenomena. In Proceedings Naturalism, Evolution and Mind, Edinburgh. Available online

Economic wealth and happiness

Imelda Marcos was the  wife of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She amassed a huge collection of shoes which are now apparently in a museum!

In October of 2001 she was arrested and charged with corruption and amassing wealth illegally during her husband's regime.

It comes as no surprise that people who are struggling with poverty are not particularily happy. Nevertheless, despite a steady increase in personal income in America since 1956, the percentage of people who report feeling "very happy" remains steady at about 30%.

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Source Myers (2000)

Several explanataions have been given for why happiness is not generally linked to financial success:

  • the hedonic treadmill effect - we get used to an improved standard of living.
  • asymmetry of affective experiences - we react more to bad things than good things

(see Rossano, 2003)



Supplementary reading

 Copyright Dr. C.A.P. Kenyon 1994-2006