National Geographic released an entire special issue on the topic of emotions. The magazine’s authors pose the following questions: What are emotions? How do they arise and what is their purpose? What is emotional intelligence? Are emotions universal or do they depend on culture and context? What are the different sources of positive and negative emotions such as hope and fear?
Where emotions came from?
There are several leading theories on the origins of emotions. The bottom-up theory claims that emotions form in the inner parts of our brain responsible for instinctual and physical reactions, then develop further in the prefrontal cortex. On the other hand, the top-down theory says emotions form in the analytical prefrontal cortex, then cause physical reactions. The higher-order theory of emotional consciousness presents another alternative; emotions are formed in both the prefrontal cortex and the subcortical level but are ultimately determined by the higher level. Meanwhile, the theory of constructed emotion maintains that emotions are constructed holistically by the entire brain as it calculates how to run your body most efficiently. Despite these differing opinions, we know for certain that there are many factors (DNA, sleep habits, etc) which influence emotions and that emotions work alongside reason, rather than against it.
What is Love according to Nat Geo authors?
Some of the emotions described in the magazine are hope, the brain’s anticipation of a positive reward which is the reason placebo medication can make patients feel better, empathy, a mirroring of others’ pain and suffering which can be trained through meditation or consciously chosen, fear, which arises in the amygdala, helps us protect ourselves from danger, and can be both innate and learned, and love, a mix of lust, romance, and attachment driven by our evolutionary need for reproduction. Other topics covered include emotional intelligence, facial expressions, and body language, and the regulation of emotions such as anger.
Emotional intelligence consists of the ability to assess the emotions of ourselves and others and regulate these emotions to solve problems accordingly. It has been linked to professional and personal success in life.
Body language and facial expression can tell a lot about a person’s emotional state and are both universal and dependant on culture and identity, but the former is harder to fake. The regulation of intense emotions is important because it can help keep your behavior within social norms while allowing you to let off steam. Strategies like meditation, compassion, and stepping back can be used to anticipate emotions before they happen and reappraise the situation to have an appropriate reaction.
Unfortunately, National Geographic did not touch upon the causes of mass emotions. Our Foundation hopes to use our research to fill this gap.