Emotion (glossary entry)
Emotion is something that an individual feels internally ("inside their head") and which also produces physical effects that can be seen by others (facial expressions, changes in breath and vocal intonation, etc.)
Examples of specific emotions are:
- mad : anger, rage, etc.
- sad : grief
- glad : joy, happy lightness, euphoria
- afraid : (includes "anxious" but without the thought that usually accompanies it)
- ashamed : (again, without any accompanying thought)
Actors have a special ability to summon any emotional state, together with its physiological manifestations, effortlessly and at a moment's notice.
In their training actors notice that there are some things that are commonly called "emotions", but which cannot be summoned as easily.
Some "emotions" were called open and instinctive by Darwin; the others were described by Freud as hidden or repressed1. There are a lot of meanings for the word "emotion". Here I just mean those neorological or "brain" states that usually arise "on their own" in response to stimuli from outside or from things in the mind (like thoughts or memories), but which can be summoned at will by actors. They are summoned not by force (which is "pantomime") but by much more subtle techniques (like those taught by Stanislavski).
The "big five emotions" (in colloquial circles) are the five I listed above: mad, sad, glad, afraid and ashamed. Here are a few less common states that can be summoned by actors2:
- loving (or empathetic, etc.)
- hurt (this is like "bruised", not "in grief" which is a form of sad)
- surprised (somewhere between fear and joy)
- contempt (or disgusted, like the "attitude" often exhibited by models on the runway in a fashion show)
There are two more I have found on my own (not mentioned elsewhere) that can be produced the same way, making the list complete:
- calmness : using the same acting ability, but using it to turn off an unwanted emotion. The facial muscles relax in response, and the actor can then substitute a desired emotion. I have also heard new-agey folks describe this technique with jargon like observer self and higher mind
- the facial expressions of erotic/sexual arousal can be faked (I suppose adult-film actors deal with this often)
What is Not Emotion
A reader saw my list of emotions above, and asked: what about love, motivation, [and] challenged?
The subject of this page is non-mental emotion: not ideas, or thoughts, or what happened to someone yesterday.
To give an example:
A parent loves their son (a child), and their son is outside playing in the cold. The parent is afraid the child will get frostbite. Then the child comes inside and sees that they're okay. Parent and child smile and hug each other.
In this example, emotions exhibited by the parent are: fear, happiness and relief. Everything else is not an emotion. Someone observing all of this take place can infer the existence of "love", "motivation" and "challenge" by watching the events unfold and fitting the pieces together. See modeling.
1 : Oliver Sacks, Face-Blind: Why are some of us terrible at recognizing faces?, New Yorker magazine, 2010 August 30.
This page was written in the "embarrassingly readable" markup language RHTF, and was last updated on 2012 Jun 26. s.27