Emotions – What are they and how are they identified?

An emotion is the body’s response to what is going on around us through stimuli that activate senses and thoughts. According to António Damásio, emotions are a set of complex chemical and neural responses that create a pattern, whose main objective is to maintain our wellbeing and keep us alive. Lisa Feldman Barret said in her TEDTalk, How emotions are made: the secret life of the brain, that “emotions are not simple reflexes, but complex elastic systems that respond both to the biology we have inherited and to the cultures we live in now, emotions are a cognitive phenomena shaped by our bodies, our thoughts, our concepts and language”.

Through a scheme based on Bisquerra (2009), Manuela Queirós explains that emotions have 3 components: neurophysiological, cognitive and behavioural. The first one is based on what a person feels, for example, breathing and heartbeats; the second one, on  thoughts and feelings; and the third one is based on actions, such as facial and verbal expressions and behaviour. According to specialists, there are 6 basic human emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise and one of the ways to identify these is through facial expressions. Some specialists, such as Darwin, believed that these are universally expressed in the same way.

Watch the following videos to learn more about emotions and facial expressions:

  • The history of human emotions

  • Are there universal expressions of emotions?