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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 sections on the biological influences and the cognitive influences have 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 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 (i.e., several minutes ago). Alexithymia refers to individuals who cannot describe and do not understand emotions to the same extent as do the rest of us.

The cognitive foundations section starts by describing how our emotions can influence what we attend to in the world. For example, very anxious people often automatically focus their attention on the negative things in the environment. Another attentional bias we have is to focus on facial expressions of emotions. Following this section on attention 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. This expands into a discussion of 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 receive a variety of unconscious nonverbal signals that indicate their degree of attraction. A major theme in the discussion of facial and other nonverbal expressions will be the interplay of both conscious and unconscious processes. The cognitive section proceeds 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. The cognitive foundations section closes with a description of how emotions affect memory, a discussion on repressed memories, and how the emotions we feel influence the decisions that we make.

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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