Emotions are Social Behaviors
Behavior in human groups is regulated by displays of status, intentions, body
states, needs and distress. Emotions are obvious displays that add dynamics to
human interactions. The face is the bulletin board of emotions, complemented by
sounds, head movements, arm and hand gestures. The goal of polite society is to
maintain a neutral state with little or no display of emotions.
Anger is the dominant emotion and displays of anger disrupt social
gatherings. Polite humans learn proper conduct that minimizes conflict.
Elaborate polite greeting and parting behaviors are required. The interaction of humans in public spaces is controlled by a variety of
rules, devices and enforcement that minimize the opportunity for anger to
emerge. When one person becomes angry in gatherings, others act to minimize the
tendency for anger to lead to fighting.
The primary dynamic of dominance and submission is always at work when humans
interact. Emotions are the outer language of dominance and submission. Feelings
represent the evaluation of dominant and submissive behaviors as monitor images
Crying and laughing are not usually listed as emotions, but should be;
indeed, these highly communicative behaviors are prototypes of emotion. Smiling
and grimacing are also emotional behaviors. Both are transitional to emotions
that are more energetic. Smiling is often a signal that all is well and may
progress to laugher.
Grimacing is a signal that not all is well and may lead to crying or anger.
Children who are unsure about what is happening may go though the whole
repertoire of emotions in rapid succession. A grimace; then a hesitant laugh;
and then a flood of tears may follow a tentative smile if the right reassurance
is not forthcoming.
Human relationships thrive on shared pleasurable experiences. Eating together
is bonding. Food pleasures are the easiest, most available form of
self-gratification. Eating and drinking together indicates social acceptance and
tends to cement social relationships. Intimate relationships often begin with
dinner invitations. Lovers feed each other the way doting mothers feed babies.
You could argue that hunger, thirst and eating are deeply embedded in the
production of feeling and emotional behaviors.
Hunger and thirst are the
oldest and deepest motivations to venture into the world to find good things to
eat and drink. Drinking water and other beverages is a special kind of eating.
Hunger is an inside feeling; appetite is the drive, hunting for food is the
seeking behavior, eating is the consummatory behavior and satiety is the feeling
of gratification that follows. Eating food involves pleasurable sensations,
mostly in the mouth and internal chemical signals that regulate brain states.
The right signals from food produce gratification and a temporary suspension of
Sounds, Music, EmotionsSounds are used ubiquitously in the animal world
to communicate. Animals listen for sounds that inform them about events
happening at a distance. They make sounds to send messages to each other. If you
sit anywhere in nature and listen, you begin to hear a symphony. Some sounds
mark and defend territory, other sounds are mating signals, other
sounds are emotional expressions, yet other sounds are warnings. Birds sing to
declare ownership of territory, to attract mates, and to send messages to family
members. Wolves howl on clear moonlit nights to speak to each other and to
express a deep feeling and sensitive humans who hear them sing also share that
Sounds link animals in social groups. The continuous uttering
of repetitive sounds is a common method of parent and infant communication.
Infant Canada Geese, for example, emit a peeping every second or so and their
parents emit a low pitch short” honk” every four or five seconds. This auditory
link is more important than a visual link in keeping the family unit together.
When the geese flock flies together, there is continuous honking that links the
group. Since they cannot maintain visual contact in a V- flight formation, sound
communication allows the group to stay together.
involves sounds that declare specific meanings such as the alarm cries of
squirrels and monkeys, bird songs that regulate mating and social activity and
human grunts, shouts and cries that attract attention, signal danger and express
emotion. Rhesus monkeys, for example, make 15 sounds
that are associated with facial expressions. Monkeys in danger make short, sharp
threatening calls with eyes wide, ears flat, mouth wide open. Relaxed monkeys
'coo', with lips pouting and open. Monkeys identified threat calls with facial
expressions, just as human infants match voice to face, starting at two months
old.[i]All animal share fundamental strategies of
sound communication. The general plan of communication using sounds and
written symbols involves a supramodal, movement-modeling capacity that can
create and retain schemas of action in the world and that some of these schemas
are expressions that we refer to as emotions, some as language and some as
music. The production of words involves specific adaptations of the human vocal
tract that compromise other functions such as breathing and swallowing. The
brain is adapted to coordinate airflow with all the sound-shaping movements that
articulate sounds. Sound shaping movements are coordinated with other
communicative movements of the eyes, face, head, arms and trunk. Speaking is a
whole-body, kinetic activity. In most languages, pitch and volume variations
form part of the semantic meaning. In all languages, pitch and volume variations
carry emotional meaning, linked to the semantic content.
Humans have a strong
tendency to bond to sounds early in life and prefer to hear or sing simple songs
they learned earlier. Popular songs can be repeated throughout their life with
the same strong feelings of identity and comfort. Simple melodies have the
greatest appeal and widest audience because they are easy to remember and
resemble the simple phrases of ancient animal communication. Songs, of course,
combine words and music and are potent in eliciting emotional responses. The
combination of words and sounds reveals the relationship between music and
spoken language. Without music, religious meetings would be boring and movies
would be disappointing. A singer communicates emotionally with the audience,
using gesture to emphasize the emotional values of a song.
soothing to humans and group chanting can induce euphoria that some humans call
a “religious” or “mystical” or “spiritual” feeling. The benefits of chanting are
independent of the meaning of the words, although meaning can enhance the
experience of chanting. Words used in chants are simple and often have a musical
quality of their own. Repeating the same phrase rhythmically has a
trance-inducing power. If you combine chanting with dancing or just holding you
arms in the air, swaying back and forth, you become euphoric and feel bonded
with others in your group. Music-induced trances work at Woodstock, folk
concerts, rock concerts, support groups, churches, all night voodoo dances and
on camping trips, sitting around a campfire.
Ghazanfar, A. A. & Logothetis, N. K. Facial expressions linked to monkey calls.
Nature, 423, 937 - 938, (2003).