Briefly Noted What is Emotion? History, Measures, and Meanings

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Kagan, Jerome (2007) New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9 78-0-30012474-3. xiii + 271 pp.This book demands our attention more than 100 years after the 1884 publication by William James of an article with virtually the same name: “What is an Emotion?” The present book's first chapter, “What are Emotions?,” deals with many of the same issues which concerned James, but does so in the light of an additional century's worth of research fueled by major technological advances. Much of its interest, like that of the earlier publication, derives from its distinguished author, an emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard and former director of its Mind/Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. He also gave us, An Argument for Mind, like this a retrospective bringing together of his views about an important set of issues in psychology.Chapter I is essential to the author's argument about the nature of emotions as it provides an historical and philosophical framework for understanding the topic. Clinicians with the time and persistence to work through the remaining densely packed chapters will be amply rewarded. Chapter IV, in particular, a discussion of normal variations in emotional experience offers a breath of fresh air for psychiatrists entrapped by the DSM categories of increasingly minute “disorders.” The author's erudition is impressive as is his security in synthesizing the flood of research in recent years as a basis for future investigation.Along with the substantive material one notes, almost peripherally, hints of his own feelings about the field, for example, his asperity about extrapolating from rat research to humans and a preference for Jung over Freud. More evident are his annoyance at investigators who persist in regarding brain profiles (based largely on neuro-imaging advances) as emotional states, and his distaste for “semantic bickering” in the task of figuring out the relationships among the 6 constituents of the concept of emotion: provocative events, brain states, detected feelings, appraisals, semantic labels, and actions. Highly recommended for psychiatrists dealing with and studying affective disorders.

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