Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Emotions: A Survey

by Conroy

The range of human emotions is really incredible. I say human emotions because I'm sure other species have emotions, they just don't experience as many and with so much nuance. A dog certainly knows affection, and a deer knows fear, but I doubt either feel resentment or envy. Even really intelligent species like chimpanzees and dolphins cannot know nostalgia or ambivalence.

What are emotions? Well there are numerous involved psychological and biological theories none of which are very interesting to me. Emotions, what we "feel", are clearly part of the make-up of the complex human mind. They may serve some fundamental purpose in our existence, are manifestations of our high cognition and deep perceptions, or are just byproducts of our brain's particular neurological and electro-chemical structure. Most likely parts of each of these and more. What I am certain of is that emotions are one of the core elements that make humans special. Emotions can be good and bad, productive and damaging, subtle or overpowering. I couldn't imagine an existence without emotion, nor would I want to. Emotions can be dark and enervating but also bright and rejuvenating. Emotions remind us that we're alive.

In this spirit, I decided to get a handle on the spectrum of human emotions. Independent of any other taxonomy, I grouped emotions into ten categories. Psychologists will undoubtedly find my system contradictory and incomplete, but so be it. Interesting is all I hope for. In no particular order:

[Definitions are available at dictionary.com. I've highlighted a few emotions that I find really interesting.]

Category 1 - Interpersonal Positive: Love, Trust, Affection, Compassion, Empathy, Sympathy, Pity.

Category 2 - Interpersonal Negative: Annoyance, Irritation, Resentment, Exasperation, Contempt, Disgust, Anger, Hostility, Hatred, Schadenfreude, Envy, Jealousy.

Category 3 - Personal Negative: Grief, Sadness, Self-pity, Disappointment, Frustration, Embarrassment, Humiliation, Homesickness, Loneliness, Nostalgia, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, Shame, Longing, Suffering, Torment, Repentance.

Category 4 - Personal Positive: Anticipation, Hope, Optimism, Wonder, Yearning, Relief, Cheerfulness, Contentment, Gratification, Happiness, Joy, Delight, Confidence.

Category 5 - Emotion of Action: Desire, Ecstasy, Enthrallment, Euphoria, Limerance (powerful romantic infatuation), Lust, Passion, Rage, Aggression, Enthusiasm, Zeal, Zest, Courage.

Category 6 - Emotions of Ennui: Ambivalence, Apathy, Boredom, Emptiness, Pessimism, Weariness, Submission, Patience.  

Category 7 - Emotions of Uncertainty: Angst, Anxiety, Confusion, Doubt, Nervousness, Suspicion, Worry.

Category 8 - Emotions of Shock: Surprise, Awe, Fear, Horror, Hysteria, Panic.

Category 9 - Emotions of Engagement: Curiosity, Interest, Concern.

Category 10 - Emotions of Superiority: Pride, Righteousness.

This list includes 89 emotions. Of course there is overlap between categories, pride can be good and bad, longing and yearning are negative and positive sides of the same coin. I can recognize feeling most of these emotions; I can't claim to have experience deep grief, torment, or meaningful repentance. I don't know that I've experienced ecstasy except in a fleeting sense, genuine limerance (and I think I'm past that age now), submission or awe (in its true meaning), or hysteria. And I don't think I can really call upon feelings of righteousness, but maybe we're all righteous now and again. These are some of the most extreme - but not basic - emotions on the list, so it's reasonable to assume that fewer people would experience them.

What a fascinating list though. No wonder psychological explanations for behavior seem like quicksand; how can we gain traction explaining a psyche capable of such variety?

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