From the perspective of many psychologists, there is no set formal definition for emotion. We know that emotion is universal insofar as all humans experience and express emotion. There have been many studies, specifically over the past several decades that demonstrate that some emotions are expressed universally across time and culture. Just because there is not a universal definition for emotion, does not mean that there are not working definitions of what is emotion is, as a means to do the job in the meantime, until the global psychological field comes to a more overall agreement. On a very basic level, emotion is an affective change from a person's previous emotional state as a result of a huge spectrum of stimuli. There are a number of physical representations of emotion in the human body. Emotion occurs on a neurological level. Emotions show up in parts of the nervous system. Emotion can be classified or defined also as arousals to the nervous system as a result of external and internal stimulation. Emotion shows up in and is expressed through other parts of the body such as the voice, the musculoskeletal system, and in the face. The focus of the paper is the examination of facial expressions as a manifestation of emotion.
Emotions are changes in physiological arousal. The range of such changes can be subtle and can be extremely intense, as just about any person can attest to personally. Emotions can be slight, nonexistent, and overwhelming. Emotion has the capacity to motivate behaviors and behavioral responses from stimuli. People experience emotions as physiological changes that occur in response to an occurrence determine the experience of an emotion. In other words, we all feel emotions, yet we all feel them differently, although, there are commonalities in the emotions that all people feel. James and Darwin are early theorists upon emotion and their relation to facial expressions. [footnoteRef:0] James' theory was that emotions are the final result of a three part process: stimulus, response, and then the presence of the emotion. There are other theories that disprove older theories such as Darwin and James, contending that these theories missed an important aspect, which is context. [0: Russell, J.A. & Fernandez-Dols, J.M. (1997). Chapter 1 -- What does a facial expression mean? ]
Context, sometimes also referred to attribution,[footnoteRef:1] contributes a great deal to the interpretation and even the manifestation of an emotion. As will be presented later in the paper, context is key to understanding and codifying facial expressions and emotions. As aforementioned, there is a finite set of emotions that are universal, despite context.[footnoteRef:2] Yet, this number is quite small relative to the number of emotions and facial expressions that are a part of the full repertoire of the human face and human brain. Therefore, stimuli, context, response, and behavior will all be elements in consideration of the full paper. Emotions show up in the brain and even in the muscles. The muscles of focus of this paper are in the face. Facial expressions are contortions of the facial muscles in response to stimuli. The paper will theorize as to the degree to which facial expressions are connected to emotions. The paper will reference and analyze opinions that facial expressions are directly related to the expression of emotions and those who contend that the relation is not one-to-one and that facial expressions do not always "express" performing a variety of functions, some of which are related to felt or experienced emotions. [1: Adolphs, R. (2002). Recognizing Emotion From Facial Expressions: Psychological and Neurological Mechanisms. ] [2: Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and Emotion. ]
There are simple emotions. Emotions that are universal are fundamental and simple. There are also complex emotions. Complex emotions are those that vary the most depending on the context. There are emotions that are social and those that are non-social. Social emotions are those that are socially directed, driven, or derived. Nonsocial emotions are those that are experienced and expressed when the individual is alone (or feels alone) and is not thinking or emoting about other people. Social and nonsocial emotions are clearly more contextually based, whether there is an extreme presence or extreme absence of context. Simple emotions may also be called basic emotions, and again, these are universal, united in their meanings across culture and across context.
Taking a facial expression out of social context; eliminating the simultaneous speech, vocal clues, and body movements; freezing the expression in a still photograph; forcing attention to it; and asking for judgments by a detached uninvolved observer may remove many of the sources of cultural differences in the interpretation of facial expression. (Ekman et al., 1987, 717)
These universal emotions and expressions are presumed to be fixed within all of human culture and show up in some animals, too. Complex emotions can be emotions that are more refined and layered than the basic ones. Complex emotions are additionally considered as such because these may be the emotions that are culturally specific or unique to people for a variety of reasons, including brain chemistry, health history, and personality.
Moreover, just as the definition of emotion is up for debate or contention, so is the classification of emotions. The classification of emotions has not been agreed upon in a general sense. One of the greatest challenges to the classification of emotions is that the emotions of various cultures do not recognize the same emotions within their languages. International visitors and immigrants find have this experience when they visit to United States, for example. There are a number of emotions that exist in other cultures and other languages that do not exist in English or within an American social context; in this sense, universality of emotions as a theory shows limitations and stresses the importance of context in the classification of emotions.
…the study of the universality or relativity of emotional experience must go beyond issues of representation and labeling. Conversely, the case for universality has not yet been made either, because emotions have not been studied systematically and in a representative fashion across many different cultures. This is partly because it is difficult to study emotions even within a single culture. This problem is related to the manifold restrictions in terms of ethics, decorum, feasibility cost, and opportunity to study emotion, basically a private phenomenon, either in real life or in an experimental setting…it is close to impossible to study real emotions for many different subjects in different settings and in several different cultures…researchers actually suffer from a severe lack of normative data that could be used to seriously address the issue of emotion relativity or universality. (Scherer & Wallbott, 1994, 312)
In an effort to classify emotions and expressions of emotions such as facial expressions, psychologists, neuroscientists, and other professionals have created several models of emotion, such as circumplex, Plutchik's, PANA, and vector models.[footnoteRef:3] At this point in time, psychologists have yet to adequately answer questions such as "how many emotions exist?" And "how do we classify emotions?" Ekman[footnoteRef:4] made a famous list of basic emotions. Plutchik made a wheel of emotions. Parrot made a chart of classifications. There are a number of models floating around in the world, but there is a clear need for further research until some more generally accepted standards and definitions can be agreed upon by relevant professionals studying facial expressions and emotions. Though the lack of consensus may be confusing or frustrating, but the lack of consensus also clearly demonstrates a clear need for further research, experimentation, and innovation in this area. This lack or gap in the research and in this area validates the existence of this paper as well as the ideas the paper aims to explore and elucidate. [3: Browndyke, PhD, J.N. (2002). Neuropsychosocial Factors in Emotion Recognition: Facial Expressions. ] [4: Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and Emotion. ]
Just as interpretation of emotions and facial expressions is a learned behavior, expressing emotions is a learned behavior as well. People learn how to express many emotions. The basic and universal emotions are not learned. In this way, they are special. The universal emotions are instinctual, or even preprogrammed. More complex emotions and social emotions are learned. Emotions are a type of language, and all languages are learned, verbal and nonverbal, such as emotions and facial expressions. Learning to express emotions is important to wellness, just as learning to understand the emotions of the self and of others are important, too.
Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication and one of many forms of expression. If people are not taught how to express their emotions and importantly, to express their emotions in a variety of healthy way, there could be dire and longlasting consequences upon that person and upon those in the company of that person. People who are not taught to express their emotions and how to understand the expressions of emotions of others are in trouble. Unexpressed emotions are repressed. People who do…