Theory and Research on Human Emotions: Volume 21


Table of contents

(16 chapters)

My goal in this volume is to communicate the range and diversity of work in the sociology of emotions. Most of the papers fall within the normal parameters of the Advances in Group Process series, but I have also included several articles that normally would not be part of the series. My intent is, in essence, to stretch the definition of “group” to larger-scale social structures, although the focus is on how culture and social structure interact with the activation of emotions in people. I have also sought to stretch the study of emotions in the opposite direction: toward the physiological processes generating emotional responses. There is a clear bias toward theoretical papers, although several articles report research findings as they bear on a particularly theory.

Of contemporary interest in the sociology of emotions and social psychology of self is the question of the reciprocal relation of affect or emotion and self. This question is pursued by asking how affect or emotion impacts the identity theory variables of commitment, identity salience, and role performance as well as by asking how these identity theory variables impact persons’ affective responses. Brief reviews of the general literatures on emotion, the symbolic interactionist literature (from which theoretical frame identity theory derives) on emotion, identity theory itself, and characteristics of social sentiments and emotional outbursts allows the development of expectations about the interrelation of sentiments and emotional outbursts and identity theoretic variables.

Identity verification is the ongoing process of controlling perceptions of self-relevant meanings in a situation so that they correspond to the meanings held in the identity standard that defines who one is in the situation. Identity control theory posits that when a disturbance to this process occurs leading to a lack of such correspondence, a person’s identities are not verified. As a result, they engage in behavior that serves to counteract the disturbance and change meanings and resources in the situation so that one’s reflected appraisals or perceived self-relevant meanings once again match the meanings held in one’s identity standard (Burke, 1991, 1996; Stets & Burke, 1996, 2003). Accompanying this cognitive-behavioral process, there is an affective response to the discrepancy between perceptions and standard (Burke, 1991, 1996). Prior work has shown that when the discrepancy is large or is increasing, negative emotions result; and, when the discrepancy is small or decreasing, positive affect results (Burke & Stets, 1999; Cast & Burke, 2002; Ellestad & Stets, 1998; Stets, 2003; Stets & Tsushima, 2001).

This research continues to advance the role of emotion in identity theory by examining how the external social structure influences internal identity processes to produce negative emotions. According to identity control theory, negative arousal emerges when one experiences identity feedback that is non-verifying, persistent, and from a source who is familiar compared to unfamiliar to one. While other research has not definitively supported these relationships (Stets, 2003, 2005), the current research examines whether the identity theory hypotheses are conditioned upon one’s status in the social structure. Using the diffuse status characteristic of gender where the status of male is high and the status of female is low, I investigate the role of status (both as the recipient and source of non-verifying identity feedback), persistence, and familiarity in producing negative emotions. The data are based on a laboratory experiment that simulates a work situation and invokes the worker identity. Workers of high or low status are the recipients of identity non-verification that is persistent or non-persistent and that is from a familiar or unfamiliar other. Managers of high or low status and who are familiar or unfamiliar with the workers are the source of persistent or non-persistent identity non-verification. The results reveal that the status of actors both as the recipient and source of identity non-verification are significant for negative emotions, suggesting that status effects need to be incorporated into the theoretical development of emotions in identity theory.

After a vigorous debate in the late 1970s, the sociology of emotion put aside most discussion of whether or not the physiological arousal associated with emotion labels is differentiated. Since this early period, scholars have made great progress on two fronts. First, theories about the interrelationship of identity, action and emotion have specified a family of new concepts related to emotion. Second, a large corpus of research on the physiological correlates of emotional experience emerged. In this chapter, we review the well-developed control theories of identity and emotion, and focus on the key concepts that might relate to different physiological states. We then review the general classes of physiological measures, discussing their reliability, intrusiveness and other features that might determine their usefulness for tracking responses to social interaction. We then offer a highly provisional mapping of physiological measures onto the concepts that they might potentially measure, given past research about how these physiological processes relate to environmental stimuli. While any linkage between concepts and measures must be speculative at this point, we hope that this review will serve as a stimulus to theoretically guided research that begins to assess the validity of these new measures for sociological use.

After a brief review of the origins of this work, a theory of the emotional/relational origins of male violence is outlined, and illustrated by episodes in Hitler’s life. Drawing on earlier work on aggression and violence, I propose that three conditions lead to rage and violence: (1) No affectional attachments. (2) A single overarching obsession. (3) Complete repression of shame. Key features of the theory are illustrated by details in Hitler biographies. This case suggests a way in which emotions unite leaders and led, leading to collective violence. Finally, a method that would provide a preliminary test of the theory is suggested.

Expectation states theories linking status and behavior enhance our understanding of how social structures organize behavior in a variety of social settings. Efforts to extend behavioral explanations anchored in state organizing processes based on emotions and sentiments have proceeded slowly. This chapter presents a theory of how emotions organize observable power and prestige orders in groups. Emotions are conceptualized as transitory, intense expressions of positive and negative affect communicated from one actor to another by interaction cues. These cues become the basis of long-lasting sentiments conceptualized as liking and disliking for other actors. Sentiments become the foundation for differentiated social structures and hence, performance expectations. This chapter describes how such a process may occur and develops theoretical principles that link emotions, sentiments, and performance expectations.

In order to deepen our understanding of contemporary social structures, we must often trace their distant origins in our evolutionary past. The origins of two structures are analyzed here. Both religion and collective ascription are shaped in part by a common imperative to access rewarding emotional arousal release protected by a special set of arouser screening rules. Only certain enhanced arousers with an attractive ratio of contrast values to access costs can regularly tap these emotional reservoirs. In these two cases, it is the larger social group context that must supply the enhancements. The result is that some group processes are marked by emotional dynamics deeply rooted in the pursuit of these extraordinary arousers.

It is the general purpose of this chapter to introduce assumptions, postulates and hypotheses concerning the social nature of human emotions. I will propose some universal social causes of emotion categories by integrating Kemper’s (1978) power and status dimensions in dyadic relations to universal structures of human groups. These structures, of Self and Other meeting or not meeting expectations and receiving rewards or not, predict specific emotion categories. Power and status dimensions are added to the model and defined in terms of expectation/sanction (E/S) states, and are proposed to be universal as well. Furthermore, changing E/S conditions produce corresponding changes in power/status relations, and changes in emotion categories. These changing social structural conditions cause individual anxieties to emerge. Extending Kemper’s theoretical conceptualizations, gaining or losing power-advantage or status-advantage predicts syndromes of universal anxiety emotions.

Although the rational and the emotional are often thought to be in conflict, this is not always the case. Here I examine two instances, Max Weber’s ideal-typical depiction of bureaucracy and James Coleman’s proposal for a rational reconstruction of societal institutions. In the case of Weber, it is clear that the disciplined, steady and affectless performance of official duties by bureaucrats can only be possible because of an underlying foundation of emotions, both positive and negative. In the case of Coleman’s proposal, which is based on money bounties as incentives for performing important societal tasks, a multitude of deleterious and defeating emotions inhere in this ultra-rational scheme.

The centrality of emotions to all significant social, indeed human activities is now broadly acknowledged. Nevertheless, discussion of emotions in core activities of science, as distinct from the motivation of scientists, is undeveloped. In reviewing the role of emotions in science the paper shows that emotions provide consciousness of objects of scientific relevance. It is also shown that emotions necessary to scientific activities are typically experienced nonconsciously. These two issues, of emotional consciousness and nonconscious experience of emotion, raise a number of questions for the study of both consciousness and emotions.

This paper uses systems theory to clarify the crucial point that there is a basic, inborn, bodily motivation, and that a social theory of the self cannot simply be a theory of process. By bridging across current neuroscience, cognitive science, and systems theory, I propose a self that is fundamentally emotional energy seeking. There are other bodily needs (food, drink, etc), but these satiate quickly, and although they can override everything else at moments when they are low, they are not the central switching mechanism, the top of the hierarchy in the subsumption architecture of the self. Basing the formation and ongoing processes of the self in the motive to maximize emotional energy can explain the seeming conflict between tendencies towards self-consistency and the potential for creativity and change. It also allows us to detail the mechanisms that underlie the process of individuals drawing on culture as a resource and in turn diffusing new symbols and meanings into the larger culture.

When individuals routinely lack access to interactions that build emotional energy (EE), they use indirect routes to maximize EE. They build strategies around attempting to minimize the loss of EE. I refer to these indirect routes as defensive strategies. Defensive strategies reflect what psychologists refer to as an internal locus of control – placing control over one’s circumstances within one’s self rather than outside in one’s environment. While an internal locus of control may help an individual to adapt to their current situation, it also helps to preserve the status quo. I focus on the case of staying with an abusive domestic partner as an illustration of the social dynamics that underlie apparently self-destructive behavior and the preservation of abusive interaction patterns, including: the formation of defensive strategies, the emotional and cognitive implications of relying on defensive strategies, the situations that are likely to lead to the cessation of defensive strategies in favor of proactive strategies, and the social implications of defensive strategies.

Why do emotions matter? Across the centuries the same answer has been returned; they are the salt of life without which it would lack savour. Thus, St Augustine asked rhetorically if we would not consider a general apatheia to be the worst of human and moral defects. Today, Elster repeats this refrain: “simply, emotions matter because if we did not have them nothing else would matter. Creatures without emotion would have no reason for living nor, for that matter, for committing suicide. Emotions are the stuff of life” (Elster, 1999, p. 403). However, it is a different question to ask about their purpose in relation to other things and other doings, but a necessary one because salt has to flavour something else. The answer developed here is that emotions are commentaries on our concerns. Emotions are about something and those somethings are the things we care about most or cannot but care about to some extent. As commentaries, emotions tell us how much we care and how we are doing in relation to concerns which are not reducible to our feelings about them.

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Advances in Group Processes
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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