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Exploring Emotion Essay

3644 words - 15 pages

Emotions have developed along with the sophistication of the brain as an organ throughout the process of evolution. Instinctive feelings necessary for survival, such as thirst, hunger, and sex drive, are the oldest and most primitive “emotions”, and they are present in many non-human creatures. The monitoring systems in an animal’s body send signals to the brain when the body is in need of food or water, and this triggers the firing of neurons that in turn advise the creature to search for these necessities. Because these instinctual feelings are reflex related, they originate in the brain stem of primitive creatures (do Amaral). As animals progressed and their brains advanced from just a brain stem into the cerebellum and eventually the cerebral hemispheres, they began to experience more complex, affective emotions including love, friendship, and maternal care (Bekoff 861). Humans possess the most complex brains, and therefore it is believed that humans experience the widest range of emotions. Experimental evidence has shown that human emotions result largely from interactions between several different parts of the brain, known collectively as the limbic system (Thompson 29). The more psychological view of emotions claims an emotion is expressed in reaction to one’s individual interpretation of the surrounding environment. This explanation provides a slightly higher-level view of the issue at hand. However, how and why humans feel something during an emotional experience is still unknown and heavily debated. I believe that these feelings arise as part of the epiphenomenon of consciousness that is unique to living beings, and therefore the complete human emotional experience cannot be mechanically replicated.

William James was one of the first to study the neurological processes of human emotions in the late 1800s, and he concluded that an emotion is a consequence of the brain recognizing a physiological change in the body, such as increased heart rate and perspiration, caused by an outside stimulus (do Amaral). For example, a man walking down a dark street is startled by a stranger who jumps out in front of him. His body goes into fight or flight mode, his heart rate and blood pressure increase, and he starts to sweat. These physiological reactions are interpreted in the brain as “fear” or “danger”. James concluded that the body’s physical reaction occurs before the emotional response, as expressed in his saying, “We feel frightened because we’re running away”. (Rolls 59)

Thirty years later, Walter Canon and Phillip Bard came up with an alternative theory. They asserted that, when one is affected by a significant experience, one’s emotional response occurs at the same time as its manifestation as a physical reaction (Boeree). A sensory message travels to the thalamus (see diagram on last page) in the brain where it splits off and continues toward two separate regions of the brain. The message is...

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