The Relation Between Emotion and Its Expression

Harvey A. Carr
University of Chicago

This paper proposes a conception of the nature of an emotion in relation to its expression which constitutes somewhat of a compromise between the theory of James and the older view which it displaced.

The popular view assumed that some inner or central emotional experience follows the act of perception, and that this emotion is succeeded by a complex series of organic disturbances. The inner activity is the emotion and the resulting organic change is the expression of that emotion.

James denied the existence of any centrally conditioned process intervening between the perception and the organic activities which may properly be termed an emotion. James asserted that the terms emotion and expression must refer to distinctions within the series of organic activities aroused by the perception, and that these activities are sensory and peripheral in character. As is well known, James dichotomized these psychophysical activities into their conscious and their material aspects. The experiential or non-material aspect is termed the emotion, while the material or physiological aspect is the expression of that emotion. As a consequence of this usage of terms, and of the acceptance of the prevalent doctrine as to the relation of consciousness to afferent and efferent nervous impulses, James was forced to the paradoxical conclusion that the emotion is not the cause but the result of its expression.

Our view agrees with that of James in maintaining that the terms emotion and expression must refer to distinctions within the total series of organic activities, and that these processes are peripheral and sensory in character. We

( 370) shall, however, adopt radically different mode of division from that employed by James.

These organic activities may first be divided into three sets of psychophysical processes—the act, the emotion, and incidental by-products of the emotion. In anger, the term act is applied to those activities immediately concerned in combat —the fighting activities. Flight or running away is the act in fear. The term emotion refers to all those prior and accompanying organic processes whose function it is to render the act more efficient. The emotion and the act are to some extent independent variables; theoretically one can fight without being mad, and one can become angry without fighting. Likewise one can run away without being afraid, and fear without indulging in flight. The nature of the emotion and its functional relation to the act have been well depicted by Cannon. In general the emotion consists of those processes by means of which the total energy of the organism is mobilized and concentrated for the service of the act. The function of anger is to increase the efficiency of the fighting activities. A cause and effect relation obtains between the emotion and the act. The increased efficiency and sometimes the initiation of, the act are thus a result of the emotion. The total series of processes involved in the organic disturbance may also contain other components which are to be regarded as the incidental but necessary by-products of the emotion or the act, but which contribute in no way to the efficiency of either. The trembling of anger or certain digestive and nutritive disturbances incident to the vasomotor shift may be adduced as hypothetical examples.

These three groups of activities—the act, the emotion, and their by-products—constitute the whole of the organic processes. There is no fourth class which can be termed the act of expression. The term expression implies a dichotomy of the same organic activities from another standpoint, viz., their relation to some observer. An emotion can express itself only by producing some effect upon an observer. With-out an observer the term expression is without meaning.

The emotion can express or manifest itself to an observer

( 371) in three ways: (a) It expresses itself indirectly through its observable effects upon the act. Such characteristics as the determination, vigor, and persistence of the fighting act are observed and become the sign and symbol of the emotion of anger which produced them. The increased efficiency of the act thus constitutes both a result and an expression of the emotion. (b) Any of the observable by-products of the emotional situation also constitute a mode of expression. To an observer they may symbolize the existence of the inner emotional disturbance of which they are a result. (c) The emotion also manifests itself to an observer in a more direct fashion. Certain essential components of the emotional processes, such as the flushed face, the frown, and the deeper breathing in anger, are directly observed and constitute 'another mode of expression. The emotional process as a whole is not observed; only certain surface aspects of the total process are perceived. These perceived aspects are interpreted by an observer in terms of his experience and knowledge and hence become the visible symbols or manifestations of the emotion as a whole. A part thus becomes the symbol of the whole, and a symbol is a mode of expression. Good usage, I think, will justify this meaning of the term. We may thus legitimately assert that the emotional activity manifests or expresses its nature to an observer by means of these surface or observable features.

Our conception may now be compared with that of James. Both are actuated by the same purpose. Both attempt an expository definition of the popular meaning of two terms. Both attempt a definition of emotion and expression in descriptive and empirical terms. Both agree that emotion and expression must refer to certain aspects of the organic activities involved in the emotional situation. The two views ascribe radically different contents to these terms. James's analysis was dominated by the subjective conception of the province of psychology which prevailed at that time. An emotion as a psychological phenomenon must be defined in purely conscious terms; the physiological aspect of the process must be discarded. This subjective emotional experience

( 372) can naturally express itself to an observer only through behavior or physical means; the behavior, material, or physiological aspect of the process must then constitute the only avenue of expression. With this conception, emotion and expression must refer to the psychic and the physical aspects respectively of the organic reaction to the emotional stimulus, and in virtue of these definitions the emotion must be a result and not a causal antecedent of its expression. Our hypothesis rejects the purely subjective point of view in psychology, and consequently discards this psychophysical dichotomy of James. Both emotion and expression are regarded as psychophysical processes, or rather they are regarded as real functional activities of a human organism irrespective of the fact whether they do or do not contain a conscious component. According to our analysis, these terms have been so defined in relation to each other that one can say that the expression is a result of the emotion.

James's theory of emotion contains two more or less distinct doctrines whose validity must be separately estimated. One of these, to my mind, is correct, and the other fallacious. The first doctrine asserts that the term emotion refers to certain aspects of the organic activities and that these activities are essentially sensory in character. We have sub-scribed to this feature of the theory, and we believe that it constituted a genuine and important contribution to the psychological thought of the time. This aspect of the theory, it is well to note, is open to empirical verification; James's various factual proofs and the recent experimental attempts at a disproof are relevant to this aspect of the Jamesian doctrine. Needless to say, we believe that the factual evidence at the present confirms James's contention.

The second aspect of James's doctrine consists of the following features: (I) the assumption that emotion and expression refer to the psychic and the physiological components respectively, (z) the acceptance of the prevalent assumption as to the relation of the psychic to its physiological correlates, and (3) the final conclusion that the emotion is the result of its expression.

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It must be at once admitted that this conclusion is logically valid and unassailable from the standpoint of the prior assumptions. Neither is the proposition susceptible to experimental proof or disproof. James's formidable list of factual proofs is not relevant to this phase of the argument. His conclusion is logically implicit in his assumptions; it represents merely the result of a deductive analysis of what was contained in his premises. James assumed the truth of this conclusion when he made his preliminary definitions. A rejection of oneof these assumptions constitutes the only avenue of escape for those who dislike the final conclusion.

This aspect of James's theory contains, to my mind, two essential defects. (1) The conclusion contradicts common sense, and this contradiction is due to the fact that James ascribes to the term `expression' a meaning which is directly antagonistic to the significance usually attached to it. As previously noted, the term expression popularly signifies some effect of the emotion upon an observer, and James has arbitrarily so defined the term as to reverse this causal relation. (z) James's analysis and conclusion are also lacking in pragmatic value. His mode of treatment gives us no analytical comprehension of the functional interrelations between the various constituents of the organic activities, nor of their nature and significance in relation to mental life and conduct. The conclusion resulting from James's mode of analysis is logically true and valid, but the knowledge it represents lacks genuine significance and worth.

In spite of varied criticism, James's theory has enjoyed an enviable reputation for many years. Several factors have probably contributed to this result. (1) Unless the two phases of the argument are differentiated, one is compelled either to adopt or reject the theory in toto, and undoubtedly to many minds the advantages of the theory outweigh its deficiencies. (2) As we have noted, James was driven to his psychophysical distinction by the adoption of the subjective conception of the province of psychology. Likewise, James's theory will of necessity make a strong appeal to those whose thought is dominated by this attitude of mind, and the

( 374) conventional definitions of the subject matter of psychology have, until recent years at least, been couched in subjective terms. If emotion is a psychological phenomenon, it must be defined in conscious terms. Expression, on the other hand, must be conceived in behavioristic or physiological terms, because expression must refer to some effect upon an observer.(3) The paradoxical character of the conclusion is a third factor. The popular mind is somewhat prone to judge the value and worth of a science upon the basis of the novelty and startling character of its discoveries. The wonders of a science are paraded in proof of its amazing progress in attaining its ends. These discoveries are frequently wonderful and startling simply because of their novelty and unexpectedness, —because they contradict or modify prevailing conceptions and opinions. Psychology as a young and growing science must also produce its miracles in order to secure popular acclaim to its worth and greatness, and what can be more wonderful and miraculous than the discovery and labored empirical demonstration of a truth which directly contradicts the common sense opinion of mankind? As psychologists, I fear, we have been somewhat susceptible to this influence, and this suggestible attitude of mind has probably been strengthened to some extent by our experience in the classroom. I know of no doctrine in psychology which is comparable with that of James's theory of emotion from the standpoint of inculcating in the mind of the average undergraduate a wholesome awe and respect for the achievements of our science. This chapter of James almost invariably makes a profound impression upon the student mind, and the reason is not far to seek, for it consists of a very clever and brilliant exposition, and a persuasive logical and empirical demonstration of the truth of a proposition which many students accept with some degree of mental reservation.

In place of James's psychophysical analysis, this paper suggests a threefold division of the organic activities on the basis of their causal interrelations. The act refers to those processes of adaptation to the objective situation. The emotion refers to those activities which increase the effective-

( 375) -ness of the act. The remaining processes consist of incidental by-products of the emotion or the act. There is no coordinate fourth group of processes which can be termed the expressive activities. The term expression implies a dichotomy of these same activities from a different standpoint—their relation to an observer. The larger and more important portion of the emotional group of processes can not be directly observed; their nature and existence must be inferred from those aspects of the organic activities which are susceptible to immediate observation. Certain aspects of all three of the previously enumerated classes constitute a sign or symbol of the existence of these hidden operations, and consequently become the means by which these latter manifest or express themselves to an observer.


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