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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The International Journal of Comparative Psychology is sponsored by the International Society for Comparative Psychology. It is a peer-reviewed open-access digital journal that publishes studies on the evolution and development of behavior in all animal species. It accepts research articles and reviews, letters and audiovisual submissions.

Volume 5, Issue 2, 1991

Research Article

On the Nature of Emotion

When James (1890) enlarged on his theory of emotion he bemoaned the descriptive nature of psychological works on emotion and wrote "They give one nowhere a central point of view, or a deductive or generative principle." (p. 448 of 1950 Dover reprint). Output of theories after James'publication remained high and continued into the 1930's (see bibliographyby Raines, 1929, 1930, 1931; and historical reviews by Gardiner, Metcalf, & Beebe-Center, 1937; and Hillman, 1960). Then, although theories continued to appear, general interest in emotion flagged and in psychology textbooks the subject was relegated to chapters on motivation. Interest revived in the 1970's and is now high again. In a textbookon emotion Strongman (1973) gave vignettes of about thirty of the better known theories all post-dating James. More appeared by 1980 (Plutchik,1980; Plutchik & Kellerman, 1980; and a bibliography by Rorty, 1980) and this continued unabated in the 80's. Many of these theories are very well known and are examined in the reviews cited. It is neither possible nor necessary to review yet again so many theories if the present one is to be stated, developed and its implications explored. Similarly, the data or phenomena of emotion are too familiar to require detailed presentation here and instead sources of relevant descriptions will be cited. In citing both theoretical and data sources I have tried to use the earliest references since I believe they should be given priority over more recent sources that are essentially saying the same thing but in different terminology or in more elaborate detail. Current sources are given where they are fundamentally or significantly "new."

On Theories About the Nature of Emotion

Professor Salzen presents us with his theory of emotion. At the outsetof his essay he tells us two things of importance for understanding whatis to follow. First, he asks, "Why add another grand theory of emotion?"His answer is that "the very multiplicity of theories suggest that nonehas a central point of view or a deductive or generative principle thatprovides a satisfactory or complete explanation of the phenomena ofemotion" (p. 47), We have some difficulty with such an assertion sincemultiplicity of theories do not, on scientific grounds, mean none arenecessarily satisfactory. An understanding of the property of light requiresat least two theories that happen to have the feature that if oneis true, the other is not. Wave and particle theories of light both serveto explain features of phenomena, and physics does quite well with multipleexplanation, even contradictory ones


Commentary on "On the Nature of Emotion"

One of the least satisfactorily explored fields of psychology is that of motivation, and a major part of that field, social motivation, is perhapsthe least understood of all. An ever present component of motivation isemotion, acting as a source of internal stimulation. Consequently, Salzen'spaper, on the nature of social emotions, deals with a very importantphenomenon. His paper not only presents his TASS theory in detail, butincludes an extensive review of the literature on emotion from Darwin'spaper up to the present.

Thwarted Action Needed -- Informational Theories of Emotions

The Russian psychologist L. Vygotsky wrote: "The path of definitionand classification followed by psychology over the course of several centuriesled to the fact that of all the chapters of this science, the psychologyof feeling appeared to be fruitless and tedious."The merit of E. A. Salzen, the author of "Thwarted Action State Signalling Theory," is that much more important. He has tried to suggesta synthetic theory of emotions that integrates their psychologic, neurologic,and evolutionary-biological aspects. While reading Salzen's paper,I became convinced of the similarity of a number of its theses with myapproach to the nature of emotions, elaborated by me since 1964 (Simonov,1991).