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Five Dimensions of Emotion

 

Explanations > Emotions > Five Dimensions of Emotion

Pleasure | Focus | Direction | Intensity | Arousal | So what

 

How do you measure or classify emotions? Here are four variables scales along which emotions can be placed. When you classify emotions (or anything), you start to make more sense of them, aiding communication, discussion and general understanding. From this can also stem interventions, where you use your knowledge to deliberately change emotions.

Pleasure (positive, negative)

Emotions can be positive, pleasant and giving good feelings. Emotions may also be negative, unpleasant and cause discomfort. Any emotion can be placed on a scale between extreme pleasure and extreme discomfort, with a zero point between where neither positive nor negative feelings are experienced (such as the way surprise is often experienced).

While we may wonder about the value of negative emotions, they are designed by evolution to keep us alive. For example fear helps us avoid danger while anger helps us defend ourselves. Positive emotions also have evolutionary benefit, such as love that bonds people together and pride that drives learning.

Aristotle first talked about pleasure and pain as fundamental drivers and these have been taken up many times since. The basic effect is that we move towards pleasure and away from pain. Many basic persuasive methods are based on negative emotions, but can be ineffective or have problematic side-effects, such as when people coerced into action take subtle revenge on those who seek to control them.

 

Positive emotions Negative emotions
Happiness, liking, respect, hope, contentment Sadness, anger, fear, shame, disgust

 

Focus (internal, external)

Emotions may have a primary focus inside us or outside us, for example being about ourselves or about the outer world. Sometimes these are very much about one or the other and at other times they may be a bit of both. A highly outward emotion is anger, as we project bad feelings toward others. A highly inward one is contentment, for example in the way a meditating person feels.

People who are more introverted may have more internally focused emotions, while extraverts spend more of their time and emotions in the outer world, particularly with other people. When we interact with others, we have external emotions about them. Their actions and other external events can lead to thoughts and feelings that can become increasingly internal, such as when we think about what we might do and how we may feel about this.

 

Internal emotions External emotions
Shame, contentment, surprise, pride Anger, fear, liking, disgust

 

Direction (attraction, repulsion)

Emotions often have direction, bringing us together with things or pushing us away from them. For example love is an attractive emotion, while fear is repulsive. We can reduce distance by moving ourselves towards object of interest or bringing it close. Likewise we can act on repulsion by pushing it away or removing ourselves from its proximity.

Direction is often about other people, such as when we like or dislike them. It can also be about things and situations of danger or attraction. Greed, for example, may pull us towards money, while fear may push us away from a dangerous place. We can even be attracted or repulsed by an idea, such as within our own internal musings or in response to the rhetoric of politicians.

 

Inward emotions Outward emotions
Pride, shame, contentment, admiration, embarrassment Anger, fear, disgust, contempt

 

Intensity

Intensity is about how strongly we feel emotions. This is a uni-polar dimension, as it can range from close to zero, for example when we feel flat or just a bit irritated, to very intense, such as feelings of grief or extreme anger. Pleasure and Locus are bi-polar scales as they have two poles with a 'zero' in between. Many emotions have words for high and low intensity, such as the more intense 'anger' and the less intense 'irritation'.

Intensity can be highly energizing, and it can also be paralyzing. In extreme, the strength of emotion can overcome us, blotting out our external senses as we focus on the inner experience. Negative intensity can be dangerous and lead us into actions we later regret, such as when hate leads to murder. Strongly positive emotions can be wonderful, such as the joy of new love.

 

Low intensity emotions High intensity emotions
Irritation, contentment, mild surprise, dislike Hate, grief, joy, disgust

 

Arousal

Arousal is about activation, the energy and motivation that the emotions give us towards taking action. It is uni-polar and similar to intensity, but it is not the same. You can experience an intense emotion, such as joy, but not be motivated to act. Likewise, arousing emotions such as curiosity may not be particularly intense.

Lower arousal emotions lead to inaction, perhaps because we are feeling flat, with low intensity, or because the emotion has an inward direction. Higher arousal emotions lead either to external action or intense thinking, such as when we pay close attention to a threat or item of personal interest. We may not seem to be doing much, but our minds are working overtime.

The states of high and low arousal are also known as hot and cold. This temperature metaphor reflects how we often feel. An aroused person may be red-faced, reflecting the activation of their body.

 

Low arousal emotions High arousal emotions
Depression, contentment Anger, curiosity, fear

 

So what?

When you are trying to understand what people are feeling, modify your perception using these dimensions. For example if they are happy, consider the positivity (how good do they feel?), direction (happy at what?), intensity (how happy?), and arousal (how energized are they?).

See also

Emotional Arousal, Hot and Cold Emotions, Modalities of Emotion

 

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