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A Description of the Book: Understanding Emotions

This book is intended to give undergraduate university students a broad understanding of the biological, cognitive, and social influences on emotions. Later sections of the book will also introduce students to some situations when we need to control our emotions and to show how we may do so. It is assumed that the reader will have an understanding of basic psychological concepts and terms, usually through having taken a first-year psychology course at university. However, others who are curious about the reasons behind emotions are welcome to explore the book.

The book is divided into five sections: biological foundations; cognitive foundations; social influences; specific emotions; and finally, emotional problems and techniques for controlling one’s emotions. At this time, only the section on biological influences has been completed. The biological foundations section introduces readers to the logic of, and evidence for, an understanding of emotions in terms of evolutionary psychology. This naturally leads to an introduction to the nervous systems that give rise to our bodily feelings. In turn, brain circuits and the influence of hormones are discussed. Finally, because about half of the personality differences with our population are related to genetic differences, the relationship between personality and emotions will be explained. Two of the topics within the biological foundations section that have broad appeal to students are excitation transfer theory and alexithymia. Excitation transfer theory describes how the strength of our emotional experience at a given point of time might be influenced, without our awareness, by an emotion that we just experienced earlier (e.g., several minutes ago). Alexithymia refers to a certain people who cannot describe and do not understand emotions to the same extent as do the rest of us.

The cognitive foundations section is half completed. It starts by describing how we have built in biases to attend to emotional information in the world. For example, very anxious people often automatically focus their attention on the negative things in the environment. Following this is a discussion of the work of Ekman and others on specific facial expressions (e.g., how the eyebrows and\or eyelids move) associated with each emotion, and a discussion of the difficulties most people have in perceiving and using this information. This expands into a discussion of what we often think and do during the stages of interpersonal (sexual) attraction in social settings such as bars. In these social settings people consciously use a variety of nonverbal signals to entice others and also transmit and also receive a variety of unconscious nonverbal signals that indicate their degree of attraction. When completed, the cognitive section will then proceed to the generally accepted notion that our emotions are usually determined by our appraisals: how we consciously or unconsciously believe the situation affects us personally. A major theme in the discussion of facial and other nonverbal expressions will be the interplay of both conscious and unconscious processes. The cognitive foundations section will close with a description of how emotions affect memory (including a discussion of repressed memories) and decision making.

The social influences section will discuss how socialization influences what and how much we feel in a given situation. This section will focus on examples of how culture, family, and gender affecting one’s emotional experiences. After the background provided in the first three sections (biological, cognitive, and social), the fourth section will discuss specific emotions in some detail. The fifth section will discuss how problems in the emotional interactions between parents and their children can lead to serious negative consequences, such as delinquency in some cases. This will be followed by a discussion of the nature of stress and how stress can cause physical and mental health problems. One example that will be used is sexual harassment in high school (which frequently affects half of the student population), sexual harassment among students when dating, and the psychological consequences of these events. Finally, an introduction will be given to the characteristics associated with high emotional intelligence and how we can constructively deal with our emotions when needed.

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