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Emotion is a subjective experience that involves a biological response as well as a cognitive one. In the field of psychology, David G. Meyers (2007) describes emotion as involving “…physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience.” Klaus Scherer (2005) outlined the processing model of emotion as consisting of cognitiveappraisal – the assessment and interpretation of an event or object –bodily symptoms – the involuntary physiological response to the cognitive assessment –action tendencies – the motivations that prepare an individual to act –expression– the facial and vocal cues that express the emotion and intention of action – and feelings – the subjective experience of the emotional state. An emotion must first be triggered by an event, interpreted through cognitive processes (e.g., fear occurs in response to a perceived threat), then experienced biologically and expressed through socially learned physiological responses. There are, however, those who disagree with the inclusion of cognitive appraisal, as they would argue that cognition and emotion are entirely separate. Scherer’s processing model of emotion is founded on work done by William James, Carl Lange, Philip Bard, Walter Canon, etc. on the relationship between the physiological response to emotion and the subjective experience of an emotion.

In spite of the differentiation of “emotion” and “feeling” in the field of psychology described above, I will continue to use the word “emotion” to encompass all aspects of the processing of emotion, because this is how it is used in the works that I am about to discuss. In the wider understanding, human emotions are commonly associated with the abstract self, separate from the body. People often consider emotions to be expressions of their “authentic” self. However, approaching the understanding of emotions with an eye to embodiment reveals that emotions are created, experienced and expressed in socially constructed and embodied processes. We experience emotions through embodied experiences – the face heating up and reddening with embarrassment, for example – and we signal them to others with embodied expressions – the mouth turning upwards into a smile to convey happiness or pleasure.

Emotions are influenced by social norms, roles, relationships, and power structures, and emotions also serve to keep those norms, roles, relationships, and power structures in place (Milgram, 1974; Kemper, 1978; Collins, 2004). Individuals’ emotional responses are governed by their learned social norms – disgust, for example, at the violation of social norms by others, or shame at the violation of norms by oneself. In turn, these emotional responses inspire the individual to take action to maintain the norms.

As to the authenticity of emotions, work has been done to explore individuals’ abilities to manage their emotions, directing their bodies to either express, or, on a deeper level, experience the emotions that are appropriate or most effective in a given situation (Hochschild, 1983). In addition to managing emotions from within, groups or communities can endeavour to construct an emotional experience for members. In the case of religious emotion, for example, Riis and Woodhead (2010) argue that religious communities carefully build what they term an “emotional regime,” in which members are expected and encouraged to experience certain emotions (often different emotions, depending on their role in the community) to build an appropriate emotional tone.

Engaging with theories of embodiment while considering emotions allows for a different understanding of how emotions are constructed or created, and thus a different understanding of how they are experienced as authentic or inauthentic expressions of self. An embodied approach to emotion raises questions about the gap between experienced and expressed emotion, as well as the influence of self and others on individual emotion.

Works cited

Hochschild, Arlie. The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1983.

Hoschshild’s research on flight attendants laid the foundation for this work examining “emotion work,” or work done to manage the performance – and, in some cases, the experience – of certain emotions, in accordance with “feelings rules,” about the emotions one owes to others in certain situations. Hochschild distinguishes between “surface acting” and “deep acting.” In “surface acting,” one manages one’s performance of emotions, for example, by smiling to suggest happiness or contentment, whereas “deep acting” requires more emotion work to create or suppress certain emotions.

Meyers, David G., ed. Social Psychology. 8th edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007.

Riis, Ole and Linda Woodhead. A Sociology of Religious Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Riis and Woodhead argue that religion is not an individual experience, as they endeavour to demonstrate that the emotional experience of religion is constructed over repeated interactions of the individual with and in the religious community. The authors claim that emotion is central to religious experience; although no specific emotion is inherently religious, they categorize any emotion inspired by the emotional program of a religion as “religious emotion.” They explain that emotion is tied to the past experiences and future expectations as well as to the present and demonstrate how a religious community constructs what they refer to as an “emotional regime” in order to provide and draw out an array of emotional responses for and from community members in different roles.

Scherer, Klaus. “What are Emotions? And How can they be Measured?” Social Science Information. 44:4 (2005), 695-729.

Scherer’s article attempts to resolve what he terms the “fuzziness” surrounding the words “emotion” and “feeling” in academic research. He refers to the inclination in the humanities to claim that emotions “are what people say they are,” but points out that even this emic definition is difficult to agree on. Scherer attempts to differentiate between emotion and other affect states by considering what characteristics are inherent to emotion. He suggests a component process definition of emotion, which he defines as “an episode of interrelated, synchronized changes in the states of all or most of the five organismic subsystems in response to the evaluation of an external or internal stimulus event as relevant to major concerns of the organism” (Scherer 2005).