THE ORGANISMIC MODEL
Charles Darwin. Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) has offered a model of emotion for various other theorists and researchers. Darwin focuses on emotive expressions—that is, on visible gestures—and not on the subjective meanings associated with them. These gestures, he posits, were acquired during a prehistoric period and have survived as “serviceable associated habits.” Originally linked to actions, these emotive gestures become actions manque. The emotion of love, for example, is the vestige of what was once a direct act of copulation. The baring of teeth in rage is a vestige of the once immediate act of biting. The expression of disgust is the vestige of what was once the immediate act of regurgitating a noxious thing. For Darwin, there is no emotion without gesture although there may be gesture without action.
Darwin’s theory of emotion, then, is a theory of gesture. The question for later students thus became: are emotive gestures universal or are they culturally specific? Darwin’s own general conclusion was that they were universal.* The
* Darwin distinguished between facial expressions of emotion that are innate and universal and facial gestures (not necessarily of emotion) that are learned and thus culturally variable. He devised a sixteen-item questionnaire and sent it to thirty-six missionaries and others who had lived in non-Western societies. One question was: “Can a dogged or obstinate expression be recognized, which ischiefly shown by the mouth being firmly closed, a lowering brow, and a slight frown?" Based on his returned questionnaires, Darwin concluded that “the chief expressive actions” of human beings were innate and therefore universal. Despite his generally universalist interpretations, however, Darwin concluded that some nonverbal behaviors (such as weeping, kissing, nodding, and shaking the head in affirmation and negation) were not universal but culture-specific and “learned like the words of a language” (quoted by Dane Archer in Rosenthal et al. (1979, p. 352).
debate has been carried forward by those who argue that emotional expressions are probably innate (Ekman 1971, 1983; Ekman et al. 1972) and those who argue that they are modeled on language and therefore culturally variable (Klineberg 1938; Birdwhistell 1970; La Barre 1964; Hall 1973; Rosenthal 1979, p. 201). What is missing from both sides of this debate is what was missing in Darwin’s theory from the beginning: a conception of emotion as subjective experience and a more subtle and complex notion of how social factors impinge.
Taking another tack, but subject to the same critique, Randall Collins unites a Darwinian concept of emotion with a Durkheimian notion of ritual as a means of arousing emotion (1975, p. 95). He then argues (drawing on his conflict model) that men compete with each other for control of the ritual apparatus, which is a powerful tool for commanding people by controlling their emotions (pp. 59,102). Yet in this interesting development of Darwin, the same push-button model of emotion remains unquestioned.
Sigmund Freud. Freud’s thinking on emotion, or affect, went through three major developments. In his early writings he thought affect to be dammed-up libido indicating itself as tension and anxiety; affect was the manifestation of instinct. f At the turn of the century, he came to think of affect as a concomitant of drive. Then in 1923, in The Ego and the Id, he came to stress the role of the ego as a mediator between the id (drive) and conscious expression. Affects were now seen as signals of impending danger (from inside or outside) and as an impetus to action. The ego was assigned the capacity to postpone id drives, to neutralize or bind them (see Brenner 1974, p. 537).
Unlike Darwin, Freud singled out one emotion—anxiety—as the model for all others, reasoning that it was more important because the unpleasantness of anxiety led to the development of various ego defenses against that unpleasantness. As Brenner notes, “As analysts we recognize that anxiety occupies a special position in mental life. It is the motive for defense. Defenses serve the purpose of minimizing, or, if possible, preventing the development of anxiety” (1974, p. 542). Anxiety was initially defined in a way that bypasses the ego: anxiety was “the reaction to an influx of stimuli which is too great for the mental apparatus to master or discharge” (p. 533). Rejecting this model, Brenner suggests:
Anxiety is an emotion… which the anticipation of danger evokes in the ego. It is not present as such from birth or very early infancy. In such very early periods the infant is aware only of pleasure or displeasure…. As experience increases, and other ego functions develop (e. g., memory and sensory perception), the child becomes able to predict or anticipate that a state of displeasure (a “traumatic situation”) will develop. This dawning ability of the child to react to danger in advance is the beginning of the specific emotion of anxiety, which in the course of further development we may suppose to become increasingly sharply differentiated from other unpleasant emotions. (Brenner 1953, p. 22)
Freud’s focus on anxiety was part of his concern with massive, incapacitating, “pathological” emotions that exaggerate the normal case. Furthermore, important as it is to understand it, anxiety is not typical of all other emotions in several ways. We do not try to avoid joy or love in the way that we typically try to avoid anxiety. Anxiety is also atypical in that it is an emotion without a defined object; one is not anxious at someone in the same way that one is furious at or in love with someone.
For Freud, unlike Darwin, the meaning of a feeling (the ideational representations associated with affect) is crucial but often unconscious. As Freud explained, “To begin with it may happen that an affect or an emotion is perceived but misconstrued. By the repression of its proper presentation it is forced to become connected with another idea, and is now interpreted by consciousness as the expression of this other idea. If we restore the true connection, we call the original affect ‘unconscious’ although the affect was never unconscious but its ideational presentation had undergone repression” (Freud, 1915b, p. 110).* Thus the focus in Freud’s early writing on instinctual givens, on anxiety as the main connection the individual has with them, and on the unconscious as a mediator between individual understanding and instinct led him to conceive of social influences mediated through the ego and superego as relatively unimportant. Like Darwin, he had little to say about how cultural rules might (through the superego) apply to the ego’s operations (emotion work) on id (feeling).
William James. If for Darwin emotion is instinctual gesture and if for the early Freud emotion (affect) is the manifestation of dammed-up libido, for James emotion is the brain’s conscious reaction to instinctual visceral changes. As James noted in his Principles of Psychology (1890): “My theory… is that bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion” (cited in Hillman 1964, p. 50).
This theory has been at the heart of much controversy between the centralists (such as Cannon and Schachter) and the peripheralists (such as James and Lange), t James
* There is a lively debate on the question of whether, apart from ideas, feelings can be unconscious (see Pulver 1971). Motive and wish, as aspects of affect, are certainly assumed to be potentially unconscious. Fenichel (1954) and Greenson (1953), for example, hypothesize that boredom involves an unconscious attempt to convince oneself that one does not want to gratify an instinctual wish that is frightening, and therefore one has no wish to do anything.
t As Hillman points out, there was a difference between James and Lange. For James, emotion is conscious feeling and bodily change together at the same time. For Lange emotion is bodily change, the feeling of which is secondary in consequence (Hillman 1964, p. 50). For a careful exegesis of James, see Hillman (1964), pp. 49-60.
equates emotion with bodily change and visceral feeling. From this it follows that different emotions will be accompanied by different, not similar, bodily states. Manipulation of bodily states, by drugs or surgery, will also manipulate emotional states. Cannon’s 1927 experimental work (1929) refuted the James-Lange theory. He found that the total separation of the viscera from the central nervous system (which gives us our sensations) does not alter emotional behavior. The dog operated on could still, it was presumed, feel emotion. Further, the viscera are relatively insensitive and change slowly, unlike emotions (see Schachter and Singer 1962, 1974; Kemper 1978; and Chapters Seven and Eight). After Cannon’s work, psychologists sought to discriminate between emotional states according to cognitive factors. Thus, the Cannon research set the stage for future social psychology. Gerth and Mills note: “There do not, for example, seem to be noteworthy differences in the visceral accompaniments of fear and anger…. We must go beyond the organism and the physical environment to account for human emotions” (Gerth and Mills 1964, pp. 52-53). While “going beyond” does not mean ignoring the importance of physiology in emotion, it does mean working with a more intricate model than organismic theorists propose of how social and cognitive influences join physiological ones.