A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

The Difference Between Feelings and Emotions – WFU Online Counseling

A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

Emotions and feelings are all traits we share as humans. According to an article in the publication Psychology Today, “emotions are multi-faceted experiences” of “internal subjective experiences, facial expressions and physiological reactions.” Teasing out the feelings and emotions that people have, and learning why they have them, is an important role for mental health professionals.

Those interested in exploring the difference between feelings and emotions — and understanding the mind, human behavior and strategic ways of helping mental health patients — usually complete advanced programs of study such as a master’s in counseling. This education is necessary to understand the difference between feelings and emotions from a clinical perspective. Let’s explore that difference, along with how emotions can impact daily life for many individuals.

Feelings versus Emotions

Many people use the terms “feeling” and “emotion” as synonyms, but they are not interchangeable. While they have similar elements, there is a marked difference between feelings and emotions.

Feelings. Both emotional experiences and physical sensations — such as hunger or pain — bring about feelings, according to Psychology Today. Feelings are a conscious experience, although not every conscious experience, such as seeing or believing, is a feeling, as explained in the article.


According to Psychology Today, an emotion “can only ever be felt…through the emotional experiences it gives rise to, even though it might be discovered through its associated thoughts, beliefs, desires and actions.” Emotions are not conscious, but instead manifest in the unconscious mind. These emotions can be brought to the surface of the conscious state through extended psychotherapy.

A fundamental difference between feelings and emotions is that feelings are experienced consciously, while emotions manifest either consciously or subconsciously. Some people may spend years, or even a lifetime, not understanding the depths of their emotions.

Range of Emotions

Throughout life, humans experience many emotions. This range of emotions is impacted by such factors as their behavior, the culture they come from and their previous traumatic experiences.

How Emotions Impact Behavior

According to a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Review (PSPR), emotion is a “feedback system whose influence on behavior is indirect.

” While according to the PSPR study, behavior is used to “pursue (or avoid) anticipated emotional outcomes,” behavior also “provides feedback and stimulating retrospective appraisal of actions, conscious emotional states [which] can promote learning and alter guidelines for future behavior.”

How Culture Shapes Emotions

According to an article from the Association for Psychological Science (APS), research conducted by APS Fellow Jeanne Tsai at Stanford University shows most people want to “feel more positive than negative.

” Yet the emotions that cause a positive experience are shown to change between cultures, according to the APS article. For example, the positive emotions that “European Americans typically preferred [were] excitement and elation” while Chinese populations “preferred calm and relaxation more.

” This difference is seen in media such as advertising, which utilizes the positive experience emotions to craft messages for maximum impact.

How Traumatic Experiences Impact Emotions

Traumatic experiences impact emotions both in the moment and over the long term. According to Psychology Today, “whatever the source, trauma leaves its imprint on the brain.

” For example, a study published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews found a link between greater brain activity in areas that process fear and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to Psychology Today, traumatic experiences impact our emotions, causing PTSD flashbacks, nightmares and increased fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and guilt.

The Next Step in the Mental Health Journey

Learning the difference between feelings and emotions is vital knowledge for any professionals in the mental health field.

Advanced education programs, such as Wake Forest University’s Online Master’s in Counseling –with a clinical mental health or school track–, are specifically designed to help professionals gain the knowledge and experience for a fulfilling and successful career. Discover today if a master’s degree in counseling is the right choice for you.

Recommended Reading

How to Improve Mental Health on a Daily Basis

Treatment, Therapy and Stress Management Techniques to Help Deal with Anxiety

Helping Students Thrive: The Role of a School Counselor


Association for Psychological Science, “Emotions in Context: What We Know About How We Feel”

Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, “Neurocircuitry models of posttraumatic stress disorder and beyond: A meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies”

Personality and Social Psychology Review, “How Emotion Shapes Behavior: Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather Than Direct Causation”

Psychology Today, “Can Emotions Be Controlled?”

Psychology Today, “21 Common Reactions to Trauma”

Psychology Today, “What’s the Difference Between a Feeling and an Emotion?”

Wake Forest University, Online Master’s in Counseling

Source: https://counseling.online.wfu.edu/blog/difference-feelings-emotions/

Feeling Our Emotions

A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

FOR CENTURIES, the fleeting and highly subjective world of feelings was the purview of philosophers. But during the past 30 years, Antonio R. Damasio has strived to show that feelings are what arise as the brain interprets emotions, which are themselves purely physical signals of the body reacting to external stimuli.

Born in 1944 in Lisbon, Portugal, Damasio has been chair of the University of Iowa's neurology department since 1986.

He and his wife, neurologist Hanna Damasio, have created one of the world's largest databases of brain injuries, comprising hundreds of studies of brain lesions and diagnostic images.

As profound as some of the damage is to Antonio Damasio's patients, all of it informs his understanding of how emotions and feelings arise and how they can affect mental illness.

In recent years, Damasio has become increasingly interested in the role emotions play in our decision-making processes and in our self-image.

In several widely popular books, he has shown how certain feelings are cornerstones of our survival.

And today he argues that our internal, emotional regulatory processes not only preserve our lives but actually shape our greatest cultural accomplishments.

—Interview by Manuela Lenzen

MIND: Professor Damasio, why are you so fascinated by the nature of human emotion?

Antonio R. Damasio: At first I was interested in all types of neurological injuries. If one area of the brain would lose its ability to function, the patient's behavior could change either dramatically or only subtly.

One day I asked myself, What is missing in a person who can pass an intelligence test with flying colors but can’t even organize his own life? Such patients can hold their own in completely rational arguments but fail, for example, to avoid a situation involving unnecessary risk. These kinds of problems mainly occur after an injury to the forebrain. As our tests prove, the result is a lack of normal emotional reactions. I continue to be fascinated by the fact that feelings are not just the shady side of reason but that they help us to reach decisions as well.

MIND: You differentiate between feelings and emotions. How so?

Damasio: In everyday language we often use the terms interchangeably. This shows how closely connected emotions are with feelings. But for neuroscience, emotions are more or less the complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli.

When we are afraid of something, our hearts begin to race, our mouths become dry, our skin turns pale and our muscles contract. This emotional reaction occurs automatically and unconsciously.

Feelings occur after we become aware in our brain of such physical changes; only then do we experience the feeling of fear.

MIND: So, then, feelings are formed by emotions?

Damasio: Yes. The brain is constantly receiving signals from the body, registering what is going on inside of us. It then processes the signals in neural maps, which it then compiles in the so-called somatosensory centers. Feelings occur when the maps are read and it becomes apparent that emotional changes have been recorded—as snapshots of our physical state, so to speak.

MIND: According to your definition, all feelings have their origin in the physical. Is that really the case?

Damasio: Interestingly enough, not all feelings result from the body's reaction to external stimuli. Sometimes changes are purely simulated in the brain maps.

For example, when we feel sympathy for a sick person, we re-create that person's pain to a certain degree internally. Also, the mapping of our physical state is never completely exact.

Extreme stress or extreme fear and even physical pain can be dismissed; the brain ignores the physical signals that are transmitting the pain stimulus.

MIND: The differentiation between emotions and feelings brings to mind 17th-century philosopher Ren Descartes’ idea of dualism—that the body and mind represent autonomous systems. But you reject that idea, as you explain in your book Descartes' Error. How should we see the relationship between mind and body?

Damasio: To me, body and mind are different aspects of specific biological processes. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza supported views similar to mine, regarding the body and soul question, shortly after Descartes’ time. In his Ethics he wrote: “The object of the idea which constitutes the human mind is body.” Spinoza thereby anticipated the findings of modern neurobiology.

MIND: Indeed, in your latest book, Looking for Spinoza, you describe the man as “a mental immunologist developing a vaccine capable of creating antipassion antibodies.” So is only a life free of passions a good life?

Damasio: Spinoza fascinates me not only because he was ahead of his time with his ideas on biology but also for the conclusions he drew from these ideas about the correct way to live life and set up a society.

Spinoza was a very life-affirming thinker. He recommended contrasting the negative emotions such as sadness and fear with joy, for example.

He understood this kind of practice as a way to reach an inner peace and stoic equanimity.

MIND: What are some of the other functions that feelings have, in addition to helping us make decisions?

Damasio: My interest now extends way past the question of decision making. In our lab, we are working more intensely with social feelings such as sympathy, shame or pride—they form a foundation for morality.

Neurobiol-ogy doesn’t simply help us to better understand human nature but also the rules of social interaction.

Yet to really grasp this, we need a broader research approach: along with cognitive and neurological sciences, many of the humanities could contribute, especially anthropology and sociology.

MIND: It seems your research also extends into defining consciousness. What role do emotions play? What role does the body play?

Damasio: Consciousness, much our feelings, is a representation of the body and how it changes when reacting to certain stimuli. Self-image would be unthinkable without this representation. I think humans have developed a self-image mainly to establish a homeostatic organism.

The brain constantly needs up-to-date information on the body's state to regulate all the processes that keep it alive. This is the only way an organism can survive in an ever changing environment. Emotions alone—without conscious feelings—would not be enough.

Adults would be as helpless as babies if they suddenly lost their self-image.

MIND: Animals also must possess consciousness, then?

Damasio: I do believe that animals develop a very basic self-concept—what I refer to as “core self.” But to have a broader self, such as we do, requires an autobiographical memory.

MIND: Do you believe that we will someday be able to create artificial consciousness and feelings?

Damasio: An organism can possess feelings only when it can create a representation of the body's functions and the related changes that occur in the brain. In this way, the organism can perceive them. Without this mechanism there would be no consciousness. It is unclear that this could ever develop in a machine or whether we really want machines with feelings.

MIND: Will research on emotions help lead to better forms of therapy for psychiatric illnesses?

Damasio: Without question. Emotional disorders form the core of most psychological illnesses—a good example of this is depression. Specific treatments will be developed in the future, such as new types of medicine that target distinct cellular and molecular systems. Other forms of therapy are also sure to benefit, from traditional psychotherapy to social intervention.

Source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feeling-our-emotions/

A neuroscientist who studies decision-making reveals the most important choice you can make

A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

The company you keep has an enormous effect on your happiness for surprising reasons, a neuroscientist claims.

Alexey Ponomarchuk/Strelka Institute/Flickr According to Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University who has been studying decision-making for over a decade, the surest way to maximize happiness has nothing to do with experiences, material goods, or personal philosophy.

It's all about who you decide to spend time with. But “it's not just advice to choose your friends carefully,” Cerf told Business Insider.

There are two premises that lead Cerf to believe personal company is the most important factor for long-term satisfaction.

The first is that decision-making is tiring. A great deal of research has found that humans have a limited amount of mental energy to devote to making choices. Picking our clothes, where to eat, what to eat when we get there, what music to listen to, whether it should actually be a podcast, and what to do in our free time all demand our brains to exert that energy on a daily basis.

(Cerf has actually made it a personal policy to always pick the second menu item on the list of specials when he's out to eat, for just that reason.)

The second premise is that humans falsely believe they are in full control of their happiness by making those choices. So long as we make the right choices, the thinking goes, we'll put ourselves on a path toward life satisfaction.

Cerf rejects that idea. The truth is, decision-making is fraught with biases that cloud our judgment. People misremember bad experiences as good, and vice versa; they let their emotions turn a rational choice into an irrational one; and they use social cues, even subconsciously, to make choices they'd otherwise avoid.

But as Cerf tells his students, that last factor can be harnessed for good.

His neuroscience research has found that when two people are in each other's company, their brain waves will begin to look nearly identical. One study of moviegoers, for instance, found the most engaging trailers all produced similar patterns in people's brains.

“The more we study engagement, we see time and again that just being next to certain people actually aligns your brain with them,” their mannerisms, the smell of the room, the noise level, and many other factors, Cerf said. “This means the people you hang out with actually have an impact on your engagement with reality beyond what you can explain. And one of the effects is you become a.”

It's apparent in people's behavior, too. Buzzkills bring people's moods down; fast-talkers cause the pace of conversation to pick up; comedians get people feeling light, or funny.

From those two premises, Cerf's conclusion is that if people want to maximize happiness and minimize stress, they should build a life that requires fewer decisions by surrounding themselves with people who embody the traits they prefer. Over time, they'll naturally pick up those desirable attitudes and behaviors. At the same time, they can avoid the mentally taxing low-level decisions that sap the energy needed for higher-stakes decisions.

Following Cerf's restaurant policy, he said he also s to avoid picking the restaurant. Instead, he prefers to make one decision — who to eat with — and pick someone who he trusts. Chances are that person will pick a place Cerf enjoys, which means the second special option is also more ly to leave him feeling satisfied.

In other words, he avoids making two smaller decisions by making one larger one.

The same can apply for people who want to exercise more, watch less TV, take up a musical instrument, or become more sociable. In all cases, Cerf said, the most important decision is who you surround yourself with.

Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/neuroscientist-most-important-choice-in-life-2017-7

A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

Do you also have a problem with emotions and feelings? Getting them confused, or thinking they are two words for the same experience?

Do you also sometime surprise yourself with utterly childish behavior? You thought you were this adult, but suddenly, the blue you miserable, everyone makes you miserable and you feel you have failed at life.

Welcome to the club. You are not alone, and thankfully there are some clever people around to explain ourselves to ourselves.

For the first time ever, I understand the difference between feelings and emotion.

I learned the nitty gritty of this important distinction from a Ted Talk given by Dr. Alan Watkins, founder of Complete Coherence. We’ve been talking about it all day at the Hack Spirit office.

His talk is about understanding why you feel what you feel so that you can take control and not feel a victim. We have to understand that no one can make us feel anything, we create that ourselves.

A neuroscientist by background and an international expert on leadership and human performance. Watkins takes us through the key phases of human development and explains why poor emotional control is holding us back.

In his talk he comes to a point in our development, round about midlife, where we experience what is called “the disease of meaning”. We suddenly wake up to the realization that we have followed all the rules, and yet we are unhappy. Why? Watch the video and see him eloquently give us the answer.

Here’s the key point.

Emotions and feelings not the same. Emotions are energy in motion – composite biological signals a fast beating heart or sweaty palms.

Watkins says we all have emotions every single moment of every single day but we don’t necessarily feel it. Feelings are the awareness in our minds of the energy.

So the energy is there, but we don’t necessarily feel it and that’s where we are stuck: we have not really learned to understand our own emotional life.

It gets even more interesting.

If we want to transform our lives, we have to understand that ultimately emotions will predict our health, personal sense of well being, success, fulfillment, motivation and decisions. If you don’t know anything about them, then life is a little bit of a lottery.

Learn how to reduce stress, cultivate healthy relationships, handle people you don't and find your place in the world.

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Despite the number of people who are deciding to stay single for the rest of their lives, the majority of the population is still searching for that someone special to spend the remainder of their days with.

If you are considering marriage, or if you want to get married in the future, there are some things you should know that could help you maintain a successful marriage for years to come.

Here are 7 brutal facts that I believe everyone should know about relationships before getting married.

1) You’re not attached at the hip

Once you get married, it might be hard to forget that you lived an entire life without this person and you could go on to live an entire life without them again.

For newlyweds, it can be a real eye opener when one partner remembers what it’s to have independence and it can be taxing on a relationship when someone tries to regain that independence but still wants to be married.

2) Get excited about your partner’s good news

If you want to find lasting success in your marriage, don’t be jealous about your partner’s success. If your partner has good news, consider it good news for everyone and celebrate accordingly.

Everyone pulls their weight equally these days – we can’t afford not to – so don’t feel left behind if your spouse is moving up the corporate ladder or is finding success outside of your relationship.

3) Your partner should be your best friend

Sure, you have best friends outside of your marriage, but if you want your marriage to work, your spouse should be your go-to person for the majority of the good, the bad, and the ugly in your life.

If you can’t trust your spouse with information about you, then maybe they shouldn’t be your spouse.

4) Age plays a big part in divorce

Studies show that couples that are closer in age are more ly to stay married. And it’s no wonder. Why a big age difference might not matter when you are 20 and 30 years old, when you start reaching higher numbers, life phases can change quickly.

It’s hard to imagine a 35 year old having anything in common with a 55 year old, and they are more ly to get divorced because of it.

5) Resentment can come everyday things chores

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Roman Kosolapov

When you get married, you might as well face facts that everyone in the household is responsible for everything in the household.

This actually one of the main themes we talk about in Hack Spirit’s eBook on the most important secrets for a healthy relationship,

The fact of the matter is, if you want to maintain a happy marriage, both partners need to do their fair share of the chores. It seems silly, but resentment builds up fast when one partner feels undervalued or exploited for what they do around the house.

6) Waiting to get married can be beneficial

People who wait to get married until they are at least 23 years old are more ly to find success in their marriage. Wait, who are these people getting married before 23 years of age? Seriously, that’s so young.

7) Being “in love” doesn’t last forever

A lot of couples report the “honeymoon phase” lasts about a year and then they settle into their relationship and have to find new and interesting ways to connect with each other.

If you want to create spice in your marriage, you need to stay open to communication, spend time together, and make sure you don’t become resentful of one another. It’s not always easy, but it can be worth the effort.

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Page 3

If you’re me, you get annoyed at the “fairy tale” successful life stories.

They usually go something this:

– I had a dream.

– So then I achieved it!

– Voila! And here I am now giving you advice.

And the author ALWAYS skips over the hard parts to make themselves look smarter than they really are.

Give me a break.

I’m 29 now. And while I still have a lot to learn, I know that true success is a lot harder than these success stories make it seem.

So today, I’m going to go over 10 brutal truths about success that mainstream media simply won’t tell us.

1) You’ll never be a perfectionist

Perfectionists have such high standards that they fail to get anything done. If you’re going to rise to the top, you simply have to accept that nothing you ever do will be perfect.

Being a perfectionist can stop you from acting because you become scared of failure.

You need to learn to move on once any step is complete. It’s the only way you’ll climb to the top of the mountain.

2) At some point, you have to put yourself first

Somewhere along the way, you have to make a decision to put your needs and wants and desires before anyone else’s.

You can’t please everyone, and to achieve something beyond yourself, you need to make sure you’re functioning at your highest capacity.

Lots of us do it, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when you realize what you have to give up in order to find success.

3)  Sometimes you need to finish last

Sometimes, you have to fall on your face so you could see what you were doing wrong in order to come up with a game plan to do things right.

Maybe sometimes you’ll need to fail on purpose because you’re not ready to take the next steps forward on the success meter. It happens to the best of us.

4) You need to be willing to do what no one else will

You might have to go through your fair share of sleepless nights, risking money and time for the glory you seek.

It’s not the end of the world when you stick your neck on the line for something you want, and in hindsight, you’ll realize it’s all worth it when you get there.

5) You will need someone’s help

You’ll need to talk to others and learn from others to achieve success. This can look different for everyone, but somewhere along the way, you’ll need someone’s help for something and you have to make connections that will carry you through.

Perhaps Simon Sinek says it best: “Only you can take responsibility for your happiness…but you can’t do it alone. It’s a great paradox of being human.”

6) You need to act more than you plan

Successful people all have one thing in common: they just started.

Rather than sit around and wait for more time to pass, you have to get on the gravy train early and start working toward your goals.

It might mean that you spend a good deal of your life pursuing your goals, but the success you’ll find is probably worth it.

7) Being a leader is not a goal, it’s an evolution

Successful people become leaders because they are looking at the bigger pictures all the time.

They don’t focus on the things they can’t control and they don’t worry about the details. They move quick and fail fast.

This makes them excellent leaders, and they know that you can’t just take respect from someone, you have to earn it.

8) You need to be your own best cheerleader

People are going to doubt you and not everyone will support you. People have their own lives to worry about and may even resent your goals because it doesn’t fit in the stereotypical box they’ve created for you.

But remember this: You don’t need them, especially if they’re bringing toxic energy. You need to pave your own path forward and back yourself 100 percent.

9)  Success is an outcome, not a motivator

Wanting to be “seen as successful” should never be the reason for anything you do.

You need to work for something larger than yourself. Whether it’s helping others or creating change, working for a goal that doesn’t revolve around your ego will allow you to achieve truly great things.

10) There’s no shortcut

While others grease the wheels and try to cut corners, you’re going to need to burn the candle at both ends to keep your business going or keep your goals in check.

People will only ever see the outcome of your efforts, not the sum of your efforts.

You’ll wish more people knew what it took to get to where you are today. And you wouldn’t be alone in wishing that.

Learn how to reduce stress, cultivate healthy relationships, handle people you don't and find your place in the world.

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Source: https://hackspirit.com/neuroscientist-reveals-crucial-difference-feelings-emotions/

What are emotions and feelings, and how to measure them?

A neuroscientist reveals the crucial difference between feelings and emotions

Before the 1990s, the study of the human brain focused essentially on rational thinking, at the expense of emotional experiences. It was understood that rational thinking was the main function of the brain, and emotions blocked this function.

But thanks to the work of scientists such as Antonio Damasio and the development of new neuroimaging techniques, it has been demonstrated that emotions are crucial at the time of making “correct” decisions.

This shatters the long-held view that that emotion and reason are dichotomous, (with reason being seen as the superior factor).

Phineas Gage worked for the railway industry. One day, an iron rod was driven into the left side of his face, behind his left eye, and straight through the upper part of his skull. The rod destroyed part of his frontal lobe- the area responsible for tasks related to reasoning, attention, planning, sequencing, and reorientation of behavior.

Surprisingly, Phineas survived this experience and, although he was able to recover most of his mental functions, he was no longer himself. He became irascible, moody, aggressive, incapable of finishing tasks and impatient; these drastic changes in personality rendered him incapable of being a functioning member of society.

Elliot, a successful lawyer, suffered a brain tumour on the top of his forehead. It was surgically removed but, similarly to Gage, there were drastic changes in his behaviour.

Intellectually he was brilliant as always: his logic, memory, attention and other remaining cognitive abilities did not suffer any changes. However, Elliot managed his time very poorly, got lost in unimportant details and no longer understood the concept of priorities.

Furthermore, Elliot was completely indifferent not only to what had happened to him, but to tragedies in general.

Over many years, Antonio Damasio investigated patients similar to Gage and Elliot [Ref.] who had sustained injuries to the frontal lobe that did not affect memory, language, attention or any other fundamental rational process, but who had suffered changes to other behavioural aspects connected to emotions, such as motivation.

What is interesting about his studies is that these types of patients were not capable of acting as they had done previously: they were not capable of maintaining their employment, did not follow schedules, were easily distracted, spent too much time on irrelevant tasks and were unable to focus.

But, above all, were incapable of making simple decisions.

Although a lack of emotional control can lead to inconvenient behaviour, these studies demonstrated that the absence of emotions equally led to a situation of irrational behavior during decision making.

In other words, emotions have a fundamental role in decision making and behaviour, acting as the catalyst when selecting the most suitable way of acting.

Emotion and reason navigate in parallel and are mutually dependent in ensuring one´s ability to function correctly, adapt to surroundings, and respond to the demands of different environments.

Difference between feelings and emotions

To explain how emotions influence our decision making, it is important to understand the difference between emotions and feelings, and the meaning of the somatic marker concept.

In 1872, Charles Darwin published his study on the expression of emotions in animals and humans, where he argued that emotions motivate people to respond quickly to a stimulus from their environmetl, which in turn increases the probability of survival.

At that moment, he made the case that emotions lead us to react physically. For example, if we encounter a bear, we experience fear and this fear makes us run.

However, in 1884 the psychologist William James proposed revolutionary, albeit controversial ideas on emotions and feelings [Ref.].

James understood that, as a response to a stimulus or experience, a physiological reaction is caused (a change in physical state- perspiration, breathing, higher pulse rate, etc.

) and this reaction generated an emotion or emotional state (cognitive, social, contextual and environmental evaluations). In other words, if we encounter a bear, first we run and then we feel fear. At that time, James’ ideas were not successful.

However, Damasio was able to reassess them at a later date and his findings still inform modern neuroscience.

Emotions are neuro-physiological reactions unleashed by an external or internal stimulus (emotions are physical). Feelings are a self-perception of specific emotions, being a  subjective expression of emotions (feelings are mental).

According to Damasio, what he calls primary emotions are automatic and innate physiological reactions that, as proposed by James, are produced by a stimulus (an emotional response).

These emotions, which are also present in animals, are basic to our survival because they allow us to achieve useful objectives, such as hiding from a predator or fighting against a competitor. However, the process continues after the body reacts. This defines primary emotion. The next step is to feel the emotion connected to the original stimulus (conscious thought).

Through these mental associations and reactions, we obtain more flexible emotions, our previous personal experience beliefs (subjective experience). Experiencing emotions enables us to:

  1. Connect the emotion with the specific object or experience that caused it.

  2. Predict the presence of emotion in a specific context.

  3. Use our knowledge and demonstrate prudence regarding similar objects/experiences.

  4. Investigate the object/situation, discover the vulnerabilities and exploit this knowledge.

  5. Generate new, more complex emotional reactions, learned from and dependent on sociocultural factors and variables (secondary emotions).

Thanks to emotions, when we see a bear at the zoo we don’t run away (which would be the primary emotional reaction) and are capable of combining the stimulus (bear) with the situation (zoo) to remain calm. Basically, feelings are sparked by emotions, and this difference is important as our survival depends on avoiding danger.

Emotions and feelings give rise to “somatic markers”, which influence our decision making.

Emotions and feelings mark the different options available for our decision making, either as alarms to prevent options that could unleash negative emotions or as invitations to those that are most probable to generate positive emotions. Through previous learning and experience, somatic markers enable us to:

  1. Predict the positive or negative results associated with a decision.

  2. Decrease, from this prediction, the number of options before starting a mental cost/benefit analysis.

  3. And, with high reliability, increase the efficacy and precision of the final decision.

In the case of patients Elliot who have lost their somatic markers, the person becomes trapped in a closed loop and keeps trying to analyse rationally a decision that is, in theory, simple. Basically, they lack the required emotional “push” to make a decision.

How to measure emotions

There has been more and more interest in the objective measurement of emotions (especially in the field of neuromarketing), because of their fundamental role in human decision making. As previously explained, emotions are the result of physiological changes or reactions, and therefore, in principle, could be measured and objectified.

This starts to be possible thanks to new brain imaging technologies and biosensors that enable us to measure objectively physiological reactions.

These technologies can objectively measure physiological reactions, such as pupil dilation (eye-tracker), skin conductance (GSR), heart rate (ECG), electrical brain activity (EEG) and even activation in deeper parts of the brain the limbic system (fMRI).

However, decoding and representing emotions is not a simple task. When speaking about structural models for the representation of emotions, we can explain these through two predominant models: the discrete model and the valence-activation-dominance continuous model [Ref.].

  • Discrete model of emotion

Nowadays, it is normal for us to refer to emotions in a discrete mode: I feel happy, I am afraid, I am satisfied, etc. However, if we think about this representation, we realise it is very limited.

The main problem is whether there are universal discrete emotions (i.e., cross-cultural emotions).

It seems there is a degree of acceptance regarding the basic emotions proposed by the psychologist Paul Ekman (Fear, Surprise, Sadness, Joy, Anger, and Disgust) since he confirmed that different cultures (extending to preliterate aboriginal tribes in New Guinea) used the same facial expressions when displaying these emotions [Ref.].

However, these six discrete emotions are clearly insufficient to capture the emotional richness that humans present and which influence our decisions to such a great degree.

Besides, there are discrete emotion expressions in some languages that cannot be translated into others- we might not show this emotion because we haven’t had the necessity of developing it, or simply haven’t had the need to express it.

There are still many questions without answers in the study of emotions.

  • Continuous model of emotions: valence-activation-dominance

Another way of representing human emotions employes the continuous valence-activation-dominance model. Valence represents the positive-negative hedonic tone, activation represents the level of calmness or excitement, and dominance represents the perception of control exercised on the stimulus, which could be high or low.

Although this is not the habitual manner of expressing emotions in our day-to-day lives- it would be extremely odd to say“I feel high positive valence and high activation” (continuous model).

However, one might say “I feel euphoric” (discrete model); this model is currently employed in the scientific field to represent the true nature of emotions, as nobody goes from happiness to euphoria in an abrupt manner.

It is much more of a continuous process where one progressively becomes happier, and finally, ends up feeling euphoric.

In any case, independent of the emotional representation model employed, it is important to understand that from the moment physiological change is registered, decoding nowadays is solely correlations.

For example, the emotion of fear is correlated to an increase in heart rate and breathing frequency. If a brief calibration exercise is carried out, it can also be observed how the person’s brain, in a specific moment, reacts to fear.

This enables neuroscientists to search for links and connect the fear experienced by this person to other stimuli.  

In summary, reason and emotion are both required for making decisions that help us adapt to our surroundings. Reason, or emotion, by themselves, would not enable us to do this.

Thanks to the latest advances in technology we can objectively measure these emotions and understand how people react to different stimuli.

We have a wide, exciting field of investigation that will enable us to further understand our decision-making processes, to delve into the concept of emotional intelligence (popularized by Daniel Goleman) and, in general, allow us to learn more about ourselves as human beings.

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Source: https://www.bitbrain.com/blog/difference-feelings-emotions