What are Emotions, Feelings and Sensations? Composite or Hierarchical models?

October 23, 2014 § 6 Comments

A visitor to this blog, Aghar just asked “I have this question: What is a feeling, emotion, and sensation? are they different things?”. Thanks for asking!

So I started reflecting visually…

An emotion is comprised of a flow of visceral sensations and changes in the body. There are basic emotions, like anger, fear, sadness disgust and surprise. When these are experienced in combinations and over time, feelings result. For example, “I’m angry with you this minute, and I feel contempt for you lately.” My sketchy diagrams are drawn from existing preconceptions and aligns with this article as well as this wiki entry.

In this view, emotions are elements sort of like Tetris blocks building into composites of a feeling whole.

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion.

Going through my modest pile of (touchable!) emotion books I found Antonio Damasio who is informed by ongoing neuroscience research. In this interview with MIND magazine he is asked:

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.

“Feelings support yet another level of homeostatic regulation. Feelings are a mental expression of all other levels of homeostatic regulation.” Antonio Damasio, Looking for Spinoza, Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain, 2004, figure 2.2, p37

Damasio’s diagram shows a hierarchy from physiological process at bottom to feelings at top.

Emotions are adjustments by organisms to their environment and signal whether it’s functioning is below neutral, neutral or optimal. They carry meaningful messages on how we are getting along. Feelings are how our minds interpret and perceive these feedbacks. On a day-to-day level I find this model a useful way to approach my experiences. I guess that we could experience the same “somatosensory” information and emotions, but then interpret and experience them as different feelings, depending on our multitude of differences.

So is the set of “sensations, emotions and feeling” complete?

MIND: It seems your research also extends into defining consciousness. What role do emotions play? What role does the body play?
Damasio: Consciousness, much like our feelings, is based on 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.

Are feelings combinations of basic emotions (felt over time), or are they self adjusting emotions registered in our mind? Is this like comparing apples to oranges?! I’d love to hear your views on this.

( Note: I just discovered a nice article on 6seconds covering the same topic: www.6seconds.org/2015/01/02/emotion-feeling-mood/ )


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§ 6 Responses to What are Emotions, Feelings and Sensations? Composite or Hierarchical models?

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