Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Mixed emotions

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Mixed emotions:
What are mixed emotions, what causes them, and how can they be managed?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Emotions give people the ability to communicate with each other through nonverbal and verbal gestures. Charles Darwin noted that people worldwide are able to recognise emotions, regardless of their cultural background. Some cultural backgrounds have cultural-specific signals and greetings, however language does not play much of an impact of understanding emotions. This book chapter provides a broad overview on what mixed emotions are and each of the core emotions from Paul Ekman's model on facial expressions. The core emotions outlined are: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, interest, joy, surprise and contempt with a brief summary and what each emotions look like. The mixed emotions discussions mention The James Lange theory of emotions and compound emotions by Du, Tau and Martinez from Ohio State University. The James Lange theory involves the event (stimulus), arousal (physiological response) and interpretation which leads to the emotion. Compound emotions are similar to the wheel of emotions by Plutchik with more specific emotions in the middle of the core emotions. The managing strategies for mixed emotions are suppression, reappraisal and situation modification.

What are mixed emotions?[edit | edit source]

Fig. 1 Mixed Emotion Picture

Definition of what mixed emotions mean

"Short-lived, feeling-purposive-expressive-bodily responses that help us adapt to the opportunities and challenges we face during important life events" (Reeve, 2018).

Identifying the key mixed emotions and what they look like

People experience emotions due to a response to a significant life event, that is specific and short-lived. Moods are different from emotions, they are long-lived, influence cognition and can be unclear. The brain region responsible for emotions is the amygdala, especially for fear, anxiety and anger.

(Reeve, 2018)
(Reeve, 2018)

The six basic core emotions by Paul Ekman:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Sadness
  • Interest
  • Joy
  • Surprise
  • Contempt

There are many emotions that individuals experience. The majority of emotions are sub-emotions from the basic core emotions. The best example of the sub-emotions is by Robert Plutchik. The self-conscious has five emotions: shame, guilt, embarrassment, pride and triumph (Tracy & Robins, 2004). The cognitively complex has eight emotions: envy, gratitude, disappointment, regret, hope, schadenfreude, empathy and compassion (Pekrun & Stephens, 2010).

Emotion stems from arousal of feelings through facial movements, the facial temperature change and glandular activity in the facial skin (Haidt et al., 2012). Ekman analysed Darwin's theory of all humans display emotions through facial features in the same way throughout different cultures (Ekman, 2009). One of the ways to identify emotions is facial expressions, people have eighty facial muscles and thirty six facial expressions (Du et al., 2014).

Fig. 2 Wheel of emotions by Plutchik

Fear[edit | edit source]

"A basic, intense emotion aroused by the detection of imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that mobilises the organism by triggering a set of psychological changes" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

Fig. 3 Core Emotion: Fear

What does fear look like?

Fear can also include the fear response; fight-or-flight response which the amygdala is responsible for. Feeling fear is when an individual experiences an event (car accident for example) that makes them feel scared from a threat or danger (Ohman & Mineka, 2003). Physical features include display high eyebrows, raised eyelids, lips slightly stretched and jaw drop. Fear involves the raising of their heart beat, sweating (head, armpits or palms), freezing, trembling and the abrupt drop of their skin temperature because the blood is flowing to the legs to get adrenaline ready for running, this is also known as the fight-flight response (cortisone) (Haidt et al., 2012). Having fear for long periods of time can cause anxiety, phobias (specific situations or events from a particular object or place) and post-traumatic stress disorder (resulting from extreme danger) (Ohman, 2008).

Anger[edit | edit source]

"An emotion characterised by tension and hostility arising from frustration, real or imagined injury by another, or perceived injustice" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

What does anger look like?

The fear emotion is located in the brain region of the amygdala. The individual would display their eyebrows pulled down and together, eyes would be opened wide and staring and lips would be pressed together. The individual would experience an event that makes them feel upset (for example, road rage), the heart rate would increase and also the skin temperature (Haidt et al., 2012). The individual can also demonstrate yelling or screaming, anger can quickly turn into aggression for 10% of the time (Tafrate Kassinove & Dundin, 2002).The function of anger is to help overcome obstacles by asserting and maintaining control (Maan Diong et al., 2005). The anger emotion displays the most energy compared to the other basic emotions and it is also healthy to experience (Levenson, 2011).

Disgust[edit | edit source]

Fig. 4 Core Emotion: Disgust

"A strong aversion, for example, to the taste, smell, or touch of something deemed revolting, or toward a person or behaviour deemed morally repugnant" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

What does disgust look like?

Disgust is a primitive function to protect the human body from harmful substances (Rozin & Fallon, 1987). The disgust emotion is located in the brain region of the left amygdala, the left inferior frontal cortex, and the insular cortex. The individual would experience an event (unpleasant smell or irritating noise) the heart rate and skin temperature would decrease (Haidt et al., 2012). The individual would display lowered eyebrows, big wrinkle on the side of the nose and the bridge of the nose, the lip would be raised which forms an arch and the lower lip would be raised and protruding (Ekman, 1988). The function for disgust is to ensure the individual removes or gets away from any contaminated or spoiled objects (Tybur et al., 2004). Conditions that are related to disgust is obsessive- compulsive disorder, phobias and eating disorders (Olatungi & Sawchuk, 2005).

The emotion of disgust has several domains by (Haidt et al., 1994)

  • Food
  • Bodily waste (for example, blood or faeces, animals, sexual behaviours, poor hygiene, contact with death or corpses, violations of the exterior body like or deformities),
  • Contact with distasteful people
  • Moral offences (for example, child abuse, incest, infidelity and more)

Sadness[edit | edit source]

"An emotional state of unhappiness, ranging in intensity from mild to extreme and usually aroused by the loss of something that is highly valued (e.g by the rupture of a relationship)" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

Fig. 5 Core Emotion: Sadness

What does sadness look like? The sadness emotion is located in several brain regions in right occipital lobe, left insular, left thalamus, amygdala and the hippocampus. The individual would experience an emotional event (breakup, someone dying) that makes them feel sad and upset. The heart rate would increase, skin conductance would be decreased, constricts breathing and the lacrimal glads would active for crying (Reeve, 2018). The individual would display the inner corners of their eyebrows pulled up and together, the upper eyelids would be drooped down and the eye would be looking down and the corner of the lips would also be lowered (Ekman, 2019). The function of the emotion of sadness is too alleviate and to prevent distressful circumstances. Sadness is important when a person is grieving, however long periods of sadness can produce depression (Bonanno et al., 2008).

Fig. 6 Core Emotion: Interest

Interest[edit | edit source]

"An attitude characterised by a need or desire to give selective attention to something that is significant to the individual, such as an activity, goal, or research area" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

What does interest look like?

The emotion of interest is present everyday, individual would experience an interest for a certain time then find a new interest to focus on (Izard, 1991). The function for interest is for skill development and engagement (Thoman, Smith, & Silvia, 2011). The interest emotion is located in the brain region of the limbic system, anterior insula and right inferior frontal gyrus. The individual would display the eyebrows would be pulled up, eyes would be opened wide, the corner of the lips would lower and the top of the lip would be raised (SlideToDoc, n.d).

Joy[edit | edit source]

Fig. 7 Core Emotion: Joy

"A feeling of extreme gladness, delight, or exultation of the spirit arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

What does joy look like? The emotion of joy, is when an individual experiences success on a task, personal achievement, gaining respect or love or affection (Ekman & Friesen, 1975; Izard, 1991; Shaver Schwartz, Kirson, & O’Connor, 1987).The emotion of joy, is located in several brain regions in the right frontal cortex, the precuneus, left amygdala, and the left insula. Individuals would experience an event (wedding or birth) that would produce the emotion of joy, the heart rate, skin temperature and skin conductance were low and stable (Reeve, 2018). The individual would display their eyes would be narrowed and a wrinkle would start to show on the side of the eyes, the cheeks would be raised, the lips would be pulled back and the teeth would be showing indicating a smile (Ekman, 1988). The function of joy is to assist relationships and strengthen them, engage in social activities and maintain social interaction (Langsdorff, Izard, Rayias, & Hembree, 1983). Another function of joy is to preserve psychological wellbeing, especially when something bad happens (Joiner Pettit, Perez, & Burns, 2001).

Fig. 8 Core Emotion: Surprise

Surprise[edit | edit source]

"An emotion typically resulting from the violation of an expectation or the detection of novelty in the environment" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

What does surprise look like?

The surprise emotion is located in the brain regions of inferior frontal gyrus and hippocampus. The individual would display similar facial features, for example when they show interest with only few differences. The eyebrows would be raised, but not drawn together, the upper eyelids would be raised but the lower eyelids would remain neutral and the jaw would drop down (Ekman,1988). An individual would experience the emotion of surprised for presents or surprise birthday party for example.  

Contempt[edit | edit source]

Fig. 9 Core Emotion: Contempt

"An emotion characterised by negative regard for anything or anybody considered to be inferior, vile, or worthless" (American Psychological Association, n.d).

What does contempt look like?

The emotion of contempt means being morally superior towards another person. Contempt is similar to disgust, although the facial expressions are different (Ekman & Friesen, 1986; Ekman & Heider, 1988; Matsumoto, 1992; Matsumoto & Ekman, 2004).The contempt emotion is located in the brain region of the limbic system. The individual would display the tightened and raised lip corner and the eyes would remain neutral (Ekman, 1988). The function of contempt is to sustain social hierarchy and some events include a toxic marriage, where one individual enforces rules to maintain dominance (Gottman & Silver, 1999). An individual would feel superior compared to the other person, they would disrespect others, mock them and sarcastic.

Knowledge Check: 

1 Lacrimal glads are responsible for crying:


2 The wheel of emotions is by Paul Ekman


3 The facial expressions for anger is, eyes staring, eyebrows pulled down and together and skin temperature increases


What causes mixed emotions?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

What causes each emotion?[edit | edit source]

Emotions start when a significant life event occurs and then distinct patterns of neural activity start to form. There are a few theories when it comes to emotion: the biological perspective, cognitive perspective and neurological perspective. The cognitive perspective involves appraisal, emotion knowledge and attribution (Gross, 2002). Appraisal means how significant the event is and emotion knowledge means the ability to differentiate between various basic emotions (Gross, 2002). Attribution explains why the event outcome occurred (Reeve, 2018). The biological perspective refers to the body response when an event occurs causing the emotion, it emphasises main emotions like anger or fear (Gurney, 1884). The neurological perspective involves the neural activity in the brain, in response to emotion (Gurney, 1884). The biological perspective involves the automatic nervous system, subcortical brain circuits and facial feedback (Sato et al., 2004).

One study used a fMRI ("measures the small changes in blood flow that occur with the brain activity" (Radiology (ACR), 2018) and analysed the facial expressions to emotions (Sato et al., 2004). The study used two types of controlled stimuli (1) static facial expressions which means certain specific facial structures associated to that emotion (2) dynamic facial images and the results found the left amygdala was activated in response to fearful stimuli (Sato et al., 2004).

What is the purpose of emotions?[edit | edit source]

The main purpose of emotions is the coping functions which means individuals can adapt better to life event (Reeve, 2018). Another reason is the social functions involved, making social interactions better and communication (Ekman & Friesen, 1969). There are multiple benefits for experiencing emotions like sadness to cause reparative behaviour and make the individual more caring towards others.

What happens when an individual experiences multiple emotions at once?[edit | edit source]

Complex emotions occur when an individual feels happy (positive) and sad (negative) at the same time, caused by an event (for example starting a new job, the individual may experience feeling excited but also nervous at the same time). It happens when an individual experiences different emotions and physiological reactions for the same event (Gurny, 1884). Complex emotions are harder to identify and recognise than basic emotions (Ekman et al., 1999). Emotion differentiation happens when someone appraises the same event at two different times (Gurney, 1884). The amygdala is responsible for the appraisals and appraisals occur after the stimulus exposure happens around (1 1/2 seconds)[factual?]. Another theory is there are four core emotions for example: happiness, sadness, fear and anger overlap causing a Venn diagram and it would create a compound emotion (Du et al., 2012). A compound emotion can occur when two or more core emotions happen simultaneously (Duet al., 2012). The theory provides more specific definition of emotions in result of an event, rather having a timeline of emotions before and after the event occurred, assuming each emotions would have a physiological response.[Provide more detail]

How are mixed emotions managed?[edit | edit source]

There are a few managing strategies for mixed emotions: reappraisal, suppression and situation modification. Reappraisal was researched by James Gross and it means modifying the emotion or maintain emotion regulation (Gross, 2002). Another managing strategy is suppression which was also researched by Gross and it means decreasing unwanted behaviour, physiological responses includes rise in blood pressure, electrodermal response and heart rate (Gross, 2002). Situation modification is another managing tool which involves problem-focused approach from a significant life event, for example someone apologising for their actions (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Is it healthy having mixed emotions? If so for how long?[edit | edit source]

Mixed emotions are normal to have and people that recognise between positive or negative emotion are more resilient especially when people experience more positive emotion (Pitzer & Bergeman, 2013). Individuals will also recover faster when experiencing a loss (Pitzer & Bergeman, 2013). As people age, the individual would understand the positive and negative aspects of an event more maturely (Labouvie-Vief, 2015). Individuals would also tolerate complex and conflicting emotions, try to problem-solve (Labouvi-Vief, 2015). Complex emotions are healthy to have and strengthen interpersonal relationships (Ekman, 2010). When individuals age to midlife the ability of tolerating conflicting emotions changes (Charles et al., 2017). Long term effects of negative emotions like fear, anger or sadness for example can cause mental illness (depression or anxiety) and physical problems[factual?]. Whereas, positive emotions produce long-term effects such as greater well being and health, as well as life longevity.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter discussed each core emotion: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, interest, joy, surprised and contempt. Each section of emotions analysed what the emotion looks like (facial features and non verbal cues) and what happens in the brain when an individual experiences that emotion. Managing strategies for mixed emotions were also discussed, including reappraisal, situation modification and suppression for emotion regulation. Mixed emotions are normal to have, particularly positive emotions make people more resilient compared to negative emotions. During a human lifespan, adults understand emotions and problem-solve more efficiently. It is possible to experience more than one emotion which multiple theorists tried to explain. For a particular event, like starting school, a child may feel happy (positive) or fearful (negative) and experience physiological reaction which is known as the James- Lange theory of emotion. Another theory is compound emotion which is extracted from the core emotions and provides specific emotions, imagine a Venn diagram with the core emotions or the wheel of emotions.

Summarising what has been found and further research opportunities[edit | edit source]

There is not a clear answer how mixed emotions occur. It is possible to experience mixed emotions towards an event, like going to school for the first time. Does each emotion switch simultaneously? Or perhaps each person experiences emotions differently and one explanation cannot be defined. For future research, psychologists should analyse each core emotion and see how each emotion interacts with one another. After analysing the core emotions, psychologist should also examine sub-emotions, and if core emotions and sub emotions could produce mixed emotions[explain?].

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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Charles, S. T., Piazza, J. R., & Urban, E. J. (2017). Mixed emotions across adulthood: when, where, and why? Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 15, 58–61.

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Pitzer, L. M., & Bergeman, C. S. (2013). Synchrony in Affect Among Stressed Adults: The Notre Dame Widowhood Study. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69B(1), 29–39.

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Tafrate, R. C., Kassinove, H., & Dundin, L. (2002). Anger episodes in high- and low-trait-anger community adults. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(12), 1573–1590.

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Tybur, J. M., Lieberman, D., Kurzban, R., & DeScioli, P. (2013). Disgust: Evolved function and structure. Psychological Review, 120(1), 65–84.

External links[edit | edit source] (YouTube - All about the feels: CrashCourse Psychology) (Paul Ekman Group: Universal Facial Expressions) (Interactive Tool for Understanding Emotions) (Wikia)