Theories of Emotion Essay

There are many interpretations as to the origins of emotion. Scholars such as James (1884) and Lange (1887) independently formulated the notion that emotions are a result of a purely physical reaction to external stimuli. An opposite sequence of emotional reactions is offered by Cannon (1931) and Bard (1928). In their theory they claim that physical reactions such as sweating, increased heart rate, crying, etc. are a result of feelings such as fear or sadness, and not as proposed by James and Lange, a consequence of it.

Cambridge neuroscience professor Tim Dalgleish based his article “The Emotional Brain” (2004) on these and many other works. Beginning with Darwin’s theory of evolution, his piece represents a timeline of theories related to the way emotions and moods are embodied in the brain. The article provides an excellent overview of affective neuroscience, (the discipline concerned with exploring the neurological origin of emotion in the brain) its development, main discoveries and notions.

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The introductory part of the article states that quite a few scientific fields are involved in research on emotions. These include philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, neurology, and biology. An extensive part of the experiments focus on brain lesions and experiments related to the ability of animals and humans to register emotion as a result of the damage.

A way of classifying theories about the origin of emotions proposed by the article is their separation into single, dual and multiple system models. This helps to view the theories systematically. The Cannon – Bard theory is classified as a single system model. The implication here is that the same neural system is responsible for all emotions. The Multiple system models look at an approach of combining common brain systems throughout all emotions. And dual system models suggest that emotions can be broken up into a dual structure (some suggest that the left and right hemispheres of the brain are respectively responsible for positive and negative emotions, while others suggest that emotions may be split into approach and withdrawal components). This classification aids the understanding of the theories of the origins of emotions.

The article gives an excellent outline of the history and development of affective neuroscience. This is achieved not only by presenting the main theories and research in the field and classifying them, but by providing an outlook into the future of the discipline.

The main point being that more regions of the brain are involved in the processing of emotion than was initially thought. The author goes on to suggest that the future of the discipline lies within the integration of neuroscientific and psychological approaches toward the science of emotion.

The author does not impose a personal view on the dispute over whether separate centres of the brain are designated to serve given emotional functions, or whether they correspond to processes within the sensory or motor centres of the brain. The article merely presents the most significant evidence in all relevant fields concerning the origins of feelings and consequent reactions, the tone of the work being that of an informed but non judgemental analyst. The proposed view as to the future development of the field gives reason to believe that all the presented evidence served the purpose of bringing us closer to the discovery of how emotions work, but that we still have a long way to go.

Works Cited
Cannon, W. B. (1931). Against the James–Lange and the thalamic theories of emotions. Psychological Review, 38, pp. 281–295. Cited in Dalgeich (2004).
Dalgleish, T. (2004, July). The Emotional Brain. Nature Reviews, 5, pp. 582-589. Retrieved November 7, 2009 from <>
James, W. (1884). What is emotion? Mind Journal, 34(9), pp. 188-205.
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