In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Emotion

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Handbooks and Textbooks
  • Journals
  • History of Emotion
  • Specific Emotions
  • Darwin and His Influence
  • Body, Emotion, and Mood
  • Appraisal and Cognitive Approaches
  • Emotions in Child Development
  • Emotions as Relational
  • Cultural Variation
  • Emotions and the Brain
  • Emotion and Personality
  • Emotional Disorders of Childhood
  • Emotional Disorders of Adulthood
  • Emotion in the Arts
  • Regulation of Emotions
  • Therapy and Emotional Well-Being

Psychology Emotion
Keith Oatley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0131


Emotion is central to our experience of others and of ourselves. Since the early 1950s it has come fully onto the agenda of psychology, and takes its place firmly alongside such functions as perception, memory, and thinking. A human emotion occurs typically when an inner concern is affected by an event in the outer world, usually about another person. Sometimes, of course, the inner concern meets an inner event, a thought, but the more frequent cause, a meeting of inner and outer makes emotion of special importance in psychology. The best current conception is that when a concern is affected by an outer or inner event, an emotion is the process that then gives urgency and priority to one goal or course of action and thought, while relegating others to a background for some period. Often the emotion has bodily accompaniments, some of which occur in readiness for the urgent action. Imagine you are crossing the road, holding the hand of a five-year-old child. A car screeches to a halt right beside you. You stop your road-crossing, grab the child, and jump back onto the curb. You look to make sure that the child is alright. Your heart thumps in your chest. You can’t help thinking about the implications of what has happened. The concern is for safety of the child and yourself. The event is being nearly run over. The emotion is fear. The urgent priority is to reach safety. Emotions of other kinds, too, typically involve patterns of action, bodily changes, and patterns of self-sustaining thought, which often are about our relationships with others. In our relationships, emotions of affection, of anxiety, and of conflict are fundamental to our social lives. Questions that have directed thinkers on emotions over the centuries include how the urgency, sometimes the seeming inexorability, of emotions might be modified, how individual lives are affected by emotions, and how friendships, families, and societies are shaped by them. Although emotions are psychological, their significance has become important also in psychiatry, sociology, economics, anthropology, philosophy, history, and literary study.

General Overviews

Useful overviews of emotion take several forms, one being edited books with many contributors. Feelings and Emotions is one such series of books. The first of these was the Wittenburg Symposium, with proceedings published in Reymert 1928. The most recent, fourth in the series, was the Amsterdam Symposium, with proceedings in Manstead, et al. 2004. As well as multi-author volumes, there are books on distinct topics in emotion research, for instance Corrigan 2008 on religion and emotion. Some works, such as Griffiths 1997, argue that the term “emotion” refers to processes that are too heterogeneous to be considered together, but Izard 2010 shows that, although there is some disagreement about definitions, there is considerable agreement among researchers about functions and causes of emotion.

  • Corrigan, John, ed. 2008. The Oxford handbook of religion and emotion. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    In this book’s first part are chapters on emotion in specific religions, in the second part are chapters on emotions of religious life such as hope, in the third part are chapters on emotional states such as religious ecstasy, and in the fourth part are historical perspectives.

  • Griffiths, Paul E. 1997. What emotions really are. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226308760.001.0001

    Griffiths reviews the literature on various kinds of emotions and argues that emotion as it is currently conceptualized groups together psychological states that are very different and, hence, are not comparable.

  • Izard, Carroll E. 2010. The many meanings/aspects of emotion: Definitions, functions, activation, and regulation. Emotion Review 2.4: 363–370.

    DOI: 10.1177/1754073910374661

    Izard surveys thirty-five leading researchers on definitions, functions, and causes of emotion. Although there is disagreement about the definition of emotion, researchers agreed about functions and causes. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Manstead, Antony S. R., Nico H. Frijda, and Agneta Fischer, eds. 2004. Feelings and emotions: The Amsterdam Symposium. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511806582

    This work is the fourth in the series Feelings and Emotions. Its contributors include a good selection of the psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, and neuroscientists who have been influential in research on emotions at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.

  • Reymert, Martin L., ed. 1928. Feelings and emotions: The Wittenberg Symposium. Worcester, MA: Clark Univ. Press.

    This work is the first of the series Feelings and Emotions. Some principal psychologists of the time from America and Europe present papers here. They enable us to see something of how emotions were understood in the first part of the 20th century.

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