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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Emotions - what ? ~ Paul Ekman module and Charles Darwin before !!


Communication is an art ~ in olden days, people used to write letters –  now rather  than mere words, usage of graphics and symbols, can enhance expression of feelings such as happiness, anger, surprise, sadness and more.   There are ‘emojis’ - the ideograms or smileys used in Japanese electronic messages and webpages, the use of which is spreading outside Japan.  Emoticons on the other hand are generally a limited set of icons which, by definition, express an emotion of one kind or another. 

In the Rajnikant starrer, Shankar directed blockbuster ‘Enthiran’ - Dr Vaseegaran, a scientist working on alternative intelligence develops a humanoid  robot  which gets rejected by sinister designs.  At one point of time, the robot ‘Chitti’ asks why he has not been provided with ‘emotion’.  Dr Vaseegaran reprogrammes it with human feelings and emotions so that it could  distinguish between right and wrong. However things go wrong when Chitti falls in love with Sana ( Aishwarya).  Towards the climax, the robot replicates itself multiple times and lengthy fight ensues.  ‘Emotion’ – what ?

In psychology and philosophy, emotion is a subjective, conscious experience characterized primarily by psycho-physiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states. Emotion is often associated and considered reciprocally influential with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation.  It also is influenced by hormones and neurotransmitters. Emotion is often the driving force behind motivation, positive or negative.  The physiology of emotion is closely linked to arousal of the nervous system with various states and strengths of arousal relating, apparently, to particular emotions. Emotions are a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence our behaviour.  Yet emotion is more of a feeling than any apt description in words. 

Read that the word “emotion” did not exist in the English language until the early 17th century. It made the hop from France to Britain when British linguist John Florio translated philosopher Michel de Montaigne’s essays.  In everyday life, the lack of a formalized definition of emotion may not matter so much.

Paul Ekman,  is an American psychologist who is a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions, has created an 'atlas of emotions' with more than ten thousand facial expressions, and has gained a reputation as "the best human lie detector in the world". He was ranked 59th out of the 100 most cited psychologists of the twentieth century. Ekman conducted seminal research on the specific biological correlates of specific emotions, demonstrating the universality and discreteness of emotions in a Darwinian approach.   However, the more popularized belief during the 1950s was that facial expressions and their meanings were culturally determined through behavioural learning processes. This was the belief of some anthropologists including Margaret Mead who had travelled to different countries examining how cultures communicated using nonverbal behaviour.

Through a series of studies, Ekman found a high agreement across members of diverse Western and Eastern literate cultures on selecting emotional labels that fit facial expressions. Expressions he found to be universal included those indicating anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Findings on contempt are less clear, though there is at least some preliminary evidence that this emotion and its expression are universally recognized.  Working with his long-time friend Wallace V. Friesen, Ekman demonstrated that the findings extended to preliterate Fore tribesmen in Papua New Guinea, whose members could not have learned the meaning of expressions from exposure to media depictions of emotion.  In the 1990s, Ekman proposed an expanded list of basic emotions, including a range of positive and negative emotions that are not all encoded in facial muscles. The newly included emotions were : Amusement, Contempt, Contentment, Embarrassment, Excitement, Guilt, Pride in achievement, Relief, Satisfaction, Sensory pleasure, and Shame.
Richard Hadlee traps Arunlal and appeals ~ pic : cricinfo.com

Ekman's famous test of emotion recognition was the Pictures of Facial Affect (POFA) stimulus set published in 1976. Consisting of 110 black and white images of Caucasian actors portraying the six universal emotions plus neutral expressions, the POFA has been used to study emotion recognition rates in normal and psychiatric populations around the world.  Ekman used these stimuli in his original cross-cultural research. Many researchers favour the POFA because these photographs have been rated by large normative groups in different cultures.  There are of course critics who do not fully subscribe to the views of Ekman.

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is a book by Charles Darwin, published in 1872, concerning genetically determined aspects of behaviour.  In this book, Darwin seeks to trace the animal origins of human characteristics, such as the pursing of the lips in concentration and the tightening of the muscles around the eyes in anger and efforts of memory. The Expression of the Emotions is also an important landmark in the history of book illustration.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

25th Feb 2015.

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