In a remarkable departure from the usual “idiot child of evolutionary biology” fare provided by evolutionary psychology, from Was Darwin Wrong About Emotions? (ScienceDaily Dec. 13, 2011), we learn,
Contrary to what many psychological scientists think, people do not all have the same set of biologically “basic” emotions, and those emotions are not automatically expressed on the faces of those around us, according to the author of a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science. This means a recent move to train security workers to recognize “basic” emotions from expressions might be misguided.
Anyone who has managed a large number of people from diverse backgrounds will soon discover this fact. One can just smell the lawsuits to come from security interventions based on crackpot evolution theory.
“What I decided to do in this paper is remind readers of the evidence that runs contrary to the view that certain emotions are biologically basic, so that people scowl only when they’re angry or pout only when they’re sad,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University, the author of the new paper.
But Barrett (along with a minority of other scientists) thinks that expressions are not inborn emotional signals that are automatically expressed on the face. “When do you ever see somebody pout in sadness? When it’s a symbol,” she says. “Like in cartoons or very bad movies.” People pout when they want to look sad, not necessarily when they actually feel sad, she says.
A very good point. Actors are expected to “show” emotions that the audience can interpret. But that’s an elaborate repertoire. One reason most people “can’t act” is that their real display repertoire doesn’t travel well enough, and they can’t master the repertoire.
Some scientists have proposed that emotions regulate your physical response to a situation, but there’s no evidence, for example, that a certain emotion usually produces the same physical changes each time it is experienced, Barrett says. “There’s tremendous variety in what people do and what their bodies and faces do in anger or sadness or in fear,” she says. People do a lot of things when they’re angry. Sometimes they yell; sometimes they smile.
And occasionally they show no apparent reaction but later go postal …
“Textbooks in introductory psychology says that there are about seven, plus or minus two, biologically basic emotions that have a designated expression that can be recognized by everybody in the world, and the evidence I review in this paper just doesn’t support that view,” she says. Instead of stating that all emotions fall into a few categories, and everyone expresses them the same way, Barrett says, psychologists should work on understanding how people vary in expressing their emotions.
Hope she’s got tenure.
But she may escape the Inquisition because, we are told, Darwin’s sacred text “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” does not actually contain the claim attributed to him. Barrett tells us, “Darwin thought that emotional expressions — smiles, frowns, and so on -were akin to the vestigial tailbone — and occurred even though they are of no use.” Which is equally nonsense, but not the same nonsense.
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