Review: Emotion Theory and Research

The article reviewed here is Emotion Theory and Research: Highlights, Unanswered Questions and Emerging Issues’ by Carroll Izard and freely available here. This is a 25 page review article on emotions. In the abstract, Izard writes that

Emotion feeling is a phase of neurobiological activity

The paper is divided into theoretical principles of emotions, the origin and nature of emotions, types of emotions, emotions and consciousness, unresolved issues and conclusions. In the Theoretical Principles section, Izard outlines the basic assumptions that she uses in constructing a search of the literature. I must confess, I do tend to become a little uncomfortable with the use of the term ‘consciousness’ however as I think of it as sufficiently vague to derail various models or explanatory processes.I would agree that consideration of the experiential aspect as per introspection is extremely important but only when it is sufficiently characterised with an appropriate language.

In the origins of emotions, Izard refers back to the classic discussion of emotions by William James and then moves onto contemporary theories including her own view that emotions are continuously present in consciousness. The idea that emotions can be activated by other psychological processes e.g memory but cannot be created by them is very interesting and worth reflecting on. In the section on Emotion feeling as neurobiological activity I thought perhaps the issue here was the need for separate and distinct languages for experience and neurobiology as per McLaren’s ‘Humanising Madness’. Izard goes on to describe the processes leading to emotions including the labelling of the experiences and the need to describe ‘feeling’ as a phase of emotions. Izard then considers the different categories of emotions as well as emotion-cognition schemas.

In the later section on evolution, I was unconvinced by the empathy theory of preventing con-specific predation with various examples seen of high empathy in chimpanzees but this form of predation still in evidence. The section on unresolved issues was particularly interesting

A related misconception is that once an emotion episode ends, the mind is free for purely rational processes. This notion persists despite eloquent arguments suggesting that there is no such thing as pure reason

as well as

Plausible arguments suggest that emotion feelings are phenomena that vary on a very wide dimension of intensity while retaining their functional/causal properties‘.

There are some summary points at the end of the article.

I thought Izard had covered a wide range of material in her discussion of emotions and I found the points towards the end of the article the most interesting. Izard is persuasive in her arguments the need for more research on emotions and recognition of their importance in cognitive processes. This article is a useful and relatively brief starting point for inquiry into the emotions.

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