The battle between reason and emotion has been a dominant theme in Western cultures for over 2000 years, such that the description of someone as "emotional" or "sentimental" has generally been taken in a negative way. No less an authority than Darwin argued that emotions were vestiges of our evolutionary history and, like the appendix in the gut, were no longer of evolutionary value—at least for Victorian males like himself at the top of the evolutionary tree! Fortunately the view that emotions are evolutionarily degenerate, blinding of reason, purposeless, and that they can lead the sensible Dr Jekyll to be taken over by the murderous Mr Hyde, is a view that has been challenged increasingly in the last 50 years in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. In fact, the dominant view now is that emotions are functional and purposive and have high evolutionary value in social mammals such as ourselves. So what has led to this change in zeitgeist in the approach to emotion? Perhaps we can begin with some illustrations before unpacking the history and theory of emotion in subsequent chapters.
The experience of happiness is one that people go to extraordinary lengths to attain, though its pursuit is full of dangers that we consistently and repeatedly ignore. Indeed, the American Constitution enshrines "the pursuit of happiness" as the only emotion worth pursuing. When feeling happy we perceive ourselves to be in control of situations and outcomes on which we have little effect, we believe ourselves to be invulnerable and drive too fast in the outside lane, we are convinced that the attractive person waiting at the bus stop is desperate for our attention, we know that this time we are going to be lucky, that this definitely is the winning set of numbers. Most of the time we "recover" from this unfortunate state—that is, just in time to buy the next lottery ticket with equal portentous certainty, or just in time to pass the next bus stop.
However, we prefer to believe that "irrationality" is reserved for the "negative" emotions such as anger or jealousy, as in the concept of "crimes of passion" where the individual is deemed to have diminished responsibility for his or her own actions. How many times has being "too happy" been used as a defence for a crime of passion? "I was just so happy I drove too fast and caused the motorway pile-up!" Such "irrationality", in the sense of believing or acting in a way that is contrary to a more appropriate interpretation of reality, can be an aspect of any emotion whatever form it might take. We will consider for example why that common ailment, love, is considered to have such potentially devastating or irrational effects on sufferers as captured in Dryden's phrase "My love's a noble madness". We may all (hopefully) have at some time experienced "love-sickness" with the whole range of painful emotions that accompanies it. Indeed, the French psychiatrist, Gaetane de Clerambault, has given his name to an extreme form of love-sickness in which the sufferer typically falls in love with a celebrity or a well-known public figure. In their fascinating account of de Clerambault's Syndrome, Franzini and Grossberg (1995, pp. 4-5) observed the following:
There is a long medical tradition, going back to Greek and Roman times, warning of the excesses of carnal love as potentially dangerous to one's physical and mental health. In fact, the Greeks often visited the love-stricken person, bringing gifts and earnest hopes that their friend would soon recover from love and return to his senses. The Roman physician Soranus sternly advised against allowing the mentally ill to indulge in love's pleasures, since such strong emotion would no doubt make them worse . . . Cicero went so far as to declare, "Of all the emotions there is none more violent than love. Love is a madness."
Franzini and Grossberg then provide an account of a famous American case, John Hinckley Jr, who, after a desperate series of phone calls and letters had failed to attract the attention of the film star Jodie Foster, decided to shoot the then president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, as a unique love offering to her! The Ian McEwan novel and film Enduring Love (2004) presented an unusual fictional version of the syndrome in which the male sufferer falls in love with a heterosexual male, with a hot-air balloon also playing a key role (an aspect that we much appreciated after our time in Barrie, Northern Ontario—see the preface to the first edition of this book).
At the opposite extreme, emotions and moods other than happiness and love have long been considered to make us think and act in irrational ways. Many such views often represent cultural or familial beliefs about the permissibility or otherwise of the expression of certain emotions. For example, the view in many cultures including our own that sadness is a "weak" or "feminine" emotion leads to problems in its expression in men; the Ilongot in the Philippines used to prescribe head-hunting as an effective means for their young men to overcome the unmanly feeling of sadness (Rosaldo, 1980). Notwithstanding these cultural caveats, there is good evidence that emotions do bias our perceptions, beliefs, and actions in characteristic ways, although, as we will argue in our detailed analyses in later chapters, bias does not imply that the outcome is therefore illogical, irrational, or unrealistic. Instead, under appropriate circumstances, a negative bias may lead to more accuracy than a positive bias: we may sometimes be more rational and logical when sad or depressed than when we are happy or well (see Chapters 4 and 7).
The important point to remember when considering the effects of emotion on our thinking, reasoning, and actions is that under appropriate conditions emotions are adaptive and useful. Contrary to two schools of thought—first, as noted above, Darwin's (1872) view that emotions are no longer of use but are vestigial, and second the Platonic and dualist view that emotions are irrational—we will take the view that emotions have crucial short- and long-term functions that enable individuals to adapt to changing social and physical environments. For example in happiness, seeing the world through rose-tinted spectacles and believing in personal invulnerability give us the confidence to sail over the edge of the world, climb Everest, and fly to the moon.
Unfortunately, though, the adaptive benefits of emotions can become submerged under the short-cuts or heuristic biases that they appear to offer. For example, certainty and the belief in our own invulnerability can threaten our lives and the lives of those around us. In his compelling study of military incompetence, Norman
Dixon (1976) argued that many of the great military disasters were often the consequence of one person's mistaken overconfidence or belief in invulnerability.
Sunday, December 7th, 1941, had been set aside by Admiral Kimmel (Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet) for a friendly game of golf with his colleague General Short, ninety-six ships of the American Fleet slept at anchor in the harbour, American planes stood wing-tip to wing-tip on the tarmac, American servicemen were off duty enjoying week-end leave. By the end of the day Pearl Harbor, with its ships, planes and military installations, had been reduced to smoking ruins, 2000 servicemen had been killed and as many more missing or wounded.
. . . the neglect of intelligence reports and gross underestimation of enemy capabilities, coupled in this instance with an assiduous misinterpretation of warning signals from Washington and amiable dedication to the task of mutual reassurance regarding their invulnerability, Kimmel and his circle of naval and military advisers achieved a state of such supine complacency that they brought upon themselves "the worst disaster in American history". (Dixon, 1976, pp. 398-399)
We are not suggesting that all beliefs in invulnerability arise only from feeling happy. Nor, of course, do such beliefs afflict only one side during conflicts:
So unthinkable was it that Japanese soldiers would ever surrender to the enemy that they were not instructed as to how they should comport themselves if they did. As a consequence Japanese P.O.W.s were a relatively fruitful source of information for Allied interrogators. (Dixon, 1976, p. 199)
Although these military examples may seem extreme and therefore unrelated to everyday life, we suggest on the contrary that they are typical of how certain positive emotions, in interaction with appropriate beliefs and models of the world, can lead to the appearance of irrationality for all of us. A famous example is provided by Winston Churchill who was widely considered to be "doom-mongering" in the 1930s about the build-up of military strength in Germany and about the intentions of the Nazis. At the same time it is clear that Churchill was in a period of depression. In his analysis of Winston Churchill's "Black Dog", Anthony Storr quoting Churchill's physician, Lord Moran, writes:
August 14th 1944.
"When I was young," he ruminated, "for two or three years the light faded out of the picture. I did my work. I sat in the House of Commons, but black depression settled on me. It helped me to talk to Clemmie about it. I don't like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible to get a pillar between me and the train. I don't like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second's action would end everything. A few drops of desperation. And yet I don't want to go out of the world at all in such moments." (Storr, 1988, p. 15)
As Anthony Storr comments perceptively about the role of depression in Churchill's life:
Many depressives deny themselves rest or relaxation because they cannot afford to stop. If they are forced by circumstances to do so, the black cloud comes down upon them. This happened to Churchill when he left the Admiralty in May 1915, when he was out of office during the thirties, when he was defeated in the election of 1945, and after his final resignation. He invented various methods of coping with the depression which descended when he was no longer fully occupied by affairs of state, including painting, writing, and bricklaying; but none of these were wholly successful. (Storr, 1988, pp. 16-17)
In Churchill's case it would appear that the successful pursuit of extremely ambitious political goals gave him some relief from a negative side of his self-concept that otherwise led him into depression. Churchill's famous comment "We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm" sums up his self-ambivalence and the role that this must have played in his depression. Indeed, we have argued that such patterns are common in depression in which the pursuit of an overvalued role or goal may hold off depression in a vulnerable individual, but the actual or perceived loss of that role or goal typically leads to depression (Champion, 2000; Champion & Power, 1995; see Chapter 7). Sometimes, however, the recovery from episodes of emotional disorders need not be so lengthy but can be quite sudden and dramatic. In his account of his personal experience of depression, Stuart Sutherland (1976) told of how after many months of struggle, he overheard a tune that was "Top of the Pops" and his mood suddenly lifted. He also recounts the story of another patient who had been hospitalised for 2 years with obsessive compulsive problems that were completely disabling. This patient was unexpectedly left a legacy of £30,000, upon which he immediately recovered and discharged himself from hospital! Given the cost of other forms of Health Service treatment, there may be a lesson for us here.
Our intention, however, is not to write a book about the Second World War, nor about the different pathologies of its participants. Our focus will primarily be on the individual and the development of a psychological theory of emotion. In carrying out this task, we do not wish to deny the fact that one of the important characteristics of emotion is its role in communication with others (e.g., Kemper, 2000). This social role has led some theorists to argue that emotion should be viewed solely in terms of its social functions. In contrast, our view is that while the social role is important, there are equally important psychological and biological levels at which it is also necessary to understand emotion. If the social role is the tip of the iceberg, then the psychological role forms much of the remainder of the iceberg's bulk. But as we hope to demonstrate throughout this book, all three levels of biology, psychology, and sociology interact in the occurrence and expression of emotion, but the core of emotion in our analysis is at the psychological level.
In order to understand the theoretical framework from which we will approach emotion, there are a number of questions that the passengers on the Clapham Omnibus might ask of themselves and each other in their attempts to understand their emotions. The first of these questions is what exactly is an emotion? We will approach this question through a consideration of the main ways in which other theorists have tackled it and then begin to consider the way in which we propose to address the issue.
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