TWO MODELS OF EMOTION
Two basic models of emotion have emerged in the last century. From the work of Charles Darwin, William James, and the early Sigmund Freud, an organismic model appears.*
* McDougall (1937, 1948) and Tomkins (1962) have also contributed to the organismic model of emotion. Although Tomkins’s theory covers a broad range of
From the works of John Dewey, Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, and Erving Goffman, versions of an interactional model appear. The two models differ in several fundamental respects.
First, the organismic model defines emotion as mainly a biological process. For the early Freud, emotion (affect) is libidinal discharge, for Darwin it is instinct, and for James it is the perception of a psychological process. By virtue of the stress on instinct and energy, the organismic theorists postulate a basic fixity of emotion and a basic similarity of emotion across categories of people. For the interactionists, on the other hand, it is enough to say that emotion always involves some biological component. Whether the biological processes involved in fear, for example, actually differ from those involved in anger (James thought they do; Cannon proved they do not) is a matter of little theoretical interest to the interactionist, whose main concern is the meaning that psychological processes take on.
Second, in the organismic model, the manner in which we label, assess, manage, or express an emotion is seen as extrinsic to emotion and is therefore of less interest than how the emotion is “motored by instinct.”
Third, in the organismic model, emotion is assumed to have a prior existence apart from introspection, and introspection is thought to be passive, lacking in evocative power. As one psychoanalytic theorist reasoned:
Introspection provides abundant examples, one of which the reader, if he is so inclined, may notice in himself at this very moment. We know that a “feeling tone,” an affective quality, is always present as a part of our stream of experience, conscious or unconscious. Yet if this paper has captured your interest, it is probable that you have not been aware of your feelings during the past few minutes in which you have been reading it. If you
phenomena, it focuses on the relationship between drive and emotion. He distinguishes eight innate affects, which are said to be evoked by “innate activators” that serve as “drive signals.”
now set it aside for a moment and introspect, you will notice your own immediate feeling. You may be comfortable, slightly irritated, mildly depressed, etc., but some feeling will be there. The affect, until you noticed it, had been present but not in awareness: it was preconscious. (Pulver 1971, p. 351; my emphasis)
For the interactionist, it is highly questionable that the feeling had been present all along. How do we know, they ask, that the very focusing of attention and use of cognitive power does not in itself evoke the feeling? And if the act of attending to feeling helps shape the feeling itself, that feeling cannot be referred to independently of these acts. Similarly, for the interactionist, the act of management is inseparable from the experience that is managed; it is in part the creation of that emerging experience. Just as knowing affects what is known, so managing affects what is “there” to be managed. This reflexivity of expression is generally doubted by organismic theorists (see Lofgren 1968). In the organic, “discharge” theory of affects, the manifestation of an emotion is almost epiphenomenal because emotion is presumed to be linked to impervious organic givens. In sum, for the interactional theorists, emotion is open-ended whereas for the organismic theorists it is fixed.
Fourth, the organismic stress on instinctual fixity reflects an interest in the origins of emotion, a subject of little concern to interactionalists. Darwin, for example, traces emotion back to its phylogenetic origin and points to evidence of similarities between emotions in animals and in human beings. Freud traces emotion experienced in the present back to ideas whose origin often lies in childhood (Brenner 1974, p. 542). The interactional model, on the other hand, points attention away from origins and focuses instead on aspects of emotion that uniquely differentiate social groups of normal adult humans.
Each difference between the two models implies different links between social factors and emotion. In the organismic model, social factors merely “trigger” biological reactions and help steer the expression of these reactions into customary channels. In the interactional model, social factors enter into the very formulation of emotions, through codification, management, and expression.