Emotional Expression According to Charles Darwin: Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 9

NaturalVElectricalSmileCharlesDarwin1872

 

 

In previous posts in this series I have been looking at a model of the Insular Cortex and its role in the regulation of emotions. There has been a brief summary of this model to date and then there has been a look at the James-Lange and Cannon-Bard theory of emotions. We are still no closer to exhausting all of the possibilities and so in this post I will look at some of the insights gained by Charles Darwin and disseminated in his esteemed publication ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animal’. The interested reader is directed to the Gutenberg Organisation which makes public domain texts available and which makes this particular work available in several formats.

Darwin made a close study of emotions in both animals and humans throughout his life. Indeed in his work he references many people that he had known and who had provided him with anecdotes that he describes to illustrate his points. The book is broadly divided into the following categories

(1) General Principles of Expression

(2) The Expression of Emotions in Animals

(2) The Expression of Emotions in Humans

(a) Suffering and Weeping

(b) Low Spirits, Anxiety, Grief, Dejection, Despair

(c) Joy, High Spirits, Love, Tender Feelings, Devotion

(d) Reflection, Meditation, Ill-Temper, Sulkiness, Determination

(e) Hatred and Anger

(f) Disdain, Contempt, Disgust-Guilt, Pride

(g) Surprise, Astonishment, Fear, Horror

(h) Self-Attention, Shame, Shyness, Modesty, Blushing

The categories above are something of a simplification but Darwin’s treatment of the emotions in humans is preserved. Darwin’s choice of clusters of emotions is interesting and the classification of emotions is far from straightforward. Systems of classification range from a few primary emotions through to exhaustive lists and there is considerable variation across systems. Darwin refers to the facial muscles and their role in expressing emotions. He refers back to the work of the renowned physiologists Charles Sherrington as well as the work of Dr Duchenne. Indeed the photograph above which illustrates the difference between a natural and electrically stimulated smile is taken from the work of Dr Duchenne and was included in Darwin’s publication.

As a small distraction and in relation to Dr Duchenne’s work, the reader may find the video below of interest. In this video the facial muscles of four men are stimulated in time to music. The man in the top right hand corner finds it all rather amusing and his natural smile ‘breaks through’.

Returning to Darwin’s work – he laid out three principles in relation to the expression of emotions and I will simply paraphrase him here

I. The principle of serviceable associated Habits.—Certain complex actions are of direct or indirect service under certain states of the mind, in order to relieve or gratify certain sensations, desires, &c.; and whenever the same state of mind is induced, however feebly, there is a tendency through the force of habit and association for the same movements to be performed, though they may not then be of the least use. Some actions ordinarily associated through habit with certain states of the mind may be partially repressed through the will, and in such cases the muscles which are least under the separate control of the will are the most liable still to act, causing movements which we recognize as expressive. In certain other cases the checking of one habitual movement requires other slight movements; and these are likewise expressive.

II. The principle of Antithesis.—Certain states of the mind lead to certain habitual actions, which are of service, as under our first principle. Now when a directly opposite state of mind is induced, there is a strong and involuntary tendency to the performance of movements of a directly opposite nature, though these are of no use; and such movements are in some cases highly expressive.

III. The principle of actions due to the constitution of the Nervous System, independently from the first of the Will, and independently to a certain extent of Habit.—When the sensorium is strongly excited, nerve-force is generated in excess, and is transmitted in certain definite directions, depending on the connection of the nerve-cells, and partly on habit: or the supply of nerve-force may, as it appears, be interrupted. Effects are thus produced which we recognize as expressive. This third principle may, for the sake of brevity, be called that of the direct action of the nervous system

Whilst at first glance these appear rather simple, these principles have been set out by Darwin. They occur in the context of his lifelong study of nature and his deep understanding of biology and offer us insights to be revisited.

Insular Cortex Resources on this Site

Developing a Model of the Insular Cortex and Emotional Regulation: Part 1

Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 2

Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 3

Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 4

Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 5

Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 6

Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 7

Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 8

What does the Insular Cortex Do Again?

Insular Cortex Infarction in Acute Middle Cerebral Artery Territory Stroke

The Insular Cortex and Neuropsychiatric Disorders

The Relationship of Blood Pressure to Subcortical Lesions

Pathobiology of Visceral Pain

Interoception and the Insular Cortex

A Case of Neurogenic T-Wave Inversion

Video Presentations on a Model of the Insular Cortex

MR Visualisations of the Insula

The Subjective Experience of Pain

How Do You Feel? Interoception: The Sense of the Physiological Condition of the Body

How Do You Feel – Now? The Anterior Insula and Human Awareness

Role of the Insular Cortex in the Modulation of Pain

The Insular Cortex and Frontotemporal Dementia

A Case of Infarct Connecting the Insular Cortex and the Heart

The Insular Cortex: Part of the Brain that Connects Smell and Taste?

Stuttered Swallowing and the Insular Cortex

YouTubing the Insular Cortex (Brodmann Areas 13, 14 and 52)

New Version of Video on Insular Cortex Uploaded

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

15 thoughts on “Emotional Expression According to Charles Darwin: Building a Model of the Insular Cortex – Part 9

  1. Dr BL Lim

    Thank you for this interesting blog. We often describe the mood state of patients without really considering or describing the details of facial expressions or the muscles involved. In a way, humans can intuitively recognize an expression and to describe it verbally is really quite tough to do. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that we learn to recognize emotions at a non verbal stage of life.

  2. Pingback: Emotional Expression According to Charles Darwin: Building a Model of the Insular Cortex - Part 9 | Social Neuroscience Advances | Scoop.it

  3. Dr Justin Marley Post author

    Dear Dr Lim,

    Thank you for your interesting comments. That’s a really great point. I wonder what would happen if this was incorporated more formally at the verbal stage of learning. Would people learn to better express their emotions? Would it make any difference in alexithymia? Animals are able to understand each other’s emotions intuitively as well. Maybe expressions differ in their intuitiveness.

    Regards Justin
    p.s that’s a great website you’ve set up and an impressive list of accomplishments!

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