Emotions are what make our lives meaningful
Without emotions, our reactions would be spontaneous and robotic. Emotions are a central part of what it is be human. They impact everything we do and colour our everyday experiences. Having a knowledge of the process of emotions and how they are evoked can enhance our understanding of the user experience and what makes people enjoy engaging with technology (Desmet, 2007).
Although emotion is a common word in our language, historically there has been quite a bit of debate and discussion on its definition and the exact nature of emotions still remains a bit of a mystery.
How do we begin to understand emotions?
According to basic Psychology (Simply Psychology, Eysenck 2012), four actions happen when we experience emotions
- There is some form of expression, typically facial e.g the eyebrows are raised and close together, the eyes open wider, lips pulled back
- There are changes to autonomic nervous system. If we are excited we experience a faster heart rate and start sweating
- We experience a subjective feeling state such as being nervous, frightened etc.
- Emotions are generally a precursor to a change in behaviour e.g run away
Do these happen at same time or one after the other?
One of the original debates on emotions was whether physiological changes evoke our emotions or the experienced of emotion evoke physiological changes.
As William James (James-Lange Theory 1890) put it –“we do not weep because we feel sorrow; we feel sorrow because we weep.‘ Almost a decade later the Lazarus Appraisal Theory (1982) overrode this theory, stressing that cognitive appraisal was the important part in emotional experience. That the emotion we experience depends on the way in which we interpret the situation.
They contend that the brain is the most important organ involved in emotion.
Does this mean that emotions are always logical? What about other organs such as the heart? Or instinct?
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell contends that our reaction to situations is not logical or rational but very much instantaneous and based on instinct. He says that our emotion may even precede our conscious awareness of making a decision on how to react. That we are acting on emotion and may not even be aware of that emotion or the fact we have used it to guide us in our decisions.
It is difficult to interpret or deconstruct emotion if we are not even consciously aware of them.
So what do we know about emotions? –Some points I have collected while reading about this topic
- Emotions are essential as they control human relationships which are a necessary part of human life
- Emotions regulate our behaviour, feelings can be signpost to actions – we feel fear so we run away, they are essential to our survival.
- The more emotional experience, the more we remember it ( increased levels of dopamine in the brain) as this is necessary to remind us not to repeat mistakes and harm ourselves (Walter,2011)
- Understanding the emotions of others in social group is also essential. If we do not understand the emotions of others in our group of primates, we cannot keep peace, share food, build alliances and friendships to share what the group can jointly create (Dunbar, 1997).
- Facial expressions, tone, body language gives others clues what we are thinking and feeling. Tone of voice another clue
- Our mouths and hands are very expressive
- We are physically affected by the emotional experiences of others. Smiles are contagious. 🙂
Part II of this blog post emotional experience will discuss emotion in UX and look at some of the different ways of measuring emotion in the online experience