We tend to use the term “emotions” easily, but do we really know what it means and what it implies, especially on a psychological level?

Emotions are a subject of study in various fields, not just psychology. For example, they are being a very important pillar of the understanding and development of artificial intelligences.

What are emotions?

Etymologically, the term emotion means “the impulse that induces action”.

However, in psychology, we define emotion as that feeling or perception of the elements of reality or imagination. This feeling we are talking about is expressed physically, either through physiological functions or through behavioral reactions.

Finally, at a purely biological level, emotions are considered neurochemical and cognitive processes that are related to the architecture of the mind, and that They have been developed and perfected, responding to different survival and reproduction needs.

All emotions have two components:

  • Quantitative: describes the magnitude with which we feel an emotion.
  • Qualitative: describes the emotion itself, such as love, affection, joy, fear, insecurity, etc.

What are they for?

Emotions establish many fundamental adaptation behaviors for our body, for example, promoting survival. However, emotions have negative effects capable of altering behavior and even how we relate.

We must also emphasize emotional expressions, that is, the external demonstration of what one is feeling at a given moment.

What does psychology study?

There are three dimensions to which psychology gives relevance:

  • Cognitive: is what processes and gives meaning to any event or interaction that comes from the environment. This cognition, however, can occur irrationally, processing something incorrectly.
  • Affective: are all those both positive and negative emotions that occur in our relationships.
  • Behavioral: those behaviors that are observed at the same time as emotions.

The physiological process

During each emotional process, different physiological processes are also unleashed, the way in which we externally demonstrate all our emotions. However, do we really understand what happens in our body when we feel an emotion?

What are they due to?

Currently, there are several explanatory models in the form of theories:

  • James and Lange: says that emotional feelings are a consequence of and follow bodily activation.
  • Cannon and Brand: establishes that the activity of the thalamus causes emotional feelings at the same time as physiological activation.
  • Schachter: states that emotions are produced at the moment in which physical activation is cognitively interpreted.

The physiological part

All those changes that take place in the Central Nervous System (CNS) are considered a physiological component. These changes occur because they are related to the cognition processes that we talked about previously.

During each emotional process, Rosenzweig and Leiman consider certain points of the CNS to be more active:

  • Cerebral cortex: activates, regulates and is capable of integrating emotional reactions.
  • Hypothalamus: activates the sympathetic nervous system and is related to emotions such as fear and anger, and also participates as an activator of the > thirst and desire.
  • Amygdala: is related to anger, pleasure, pain and fear.
  • Reticular formation: filters and interprets the information perceived by a person, processing physical patterns in order to recognize cognitive structures that are not directly perceptible.

Basic emotions

Although there are several lists of basic emotions, we are going to try to unite them as much as possible and explain them correctly. To do this, we will use five tools:

  • Background: explains when the emotion appears.
  • Function: what the emotion is for.
  • Body: what happens to us physiologically during it.
  • Cognition: what happens in our mind and thoughts.
  • Action: what drives us to do.


  • Background: appears when we like something and/or it makes us feel good.
  • Function: brings encouragement and helps us reproduce and do what makes us feel good.
  • Body: expands.
  • Cognition: positivity and optimism.
  • Action: laugh and smile, make jokes and share the experience.


  • Background: It generally occurs in the face of losses or bad news.
  • Function: make us aware of losses or things we long for and accept the loss.
  • Body: produces slowness, contracts the body, and can cause chest pain and knots in the stomach and throat.
  • Cognition: reflects on life and elaboration of the grieving phase.
  • Action: it isolates us and requires us to rest.

Love, affection and attachment

  • Background: It usually occurs in front of someone we admire or protect.
  • Function: produces security and brings you intimately closer to the other person.
  • Body: relaxes.
  • Cognition: positivity, optimism and tranquility.
  • Action: establishes social relationships.


  • Background: appears before a threat or danger, whether real or imagined.
  • Function: protects us, warning us of dangers.
  • Body: Tenses the body, activates the legs, increases heart rate and can cause pain in the stomach.
  • Cognition: anticipates danger and looks for solutions.
  • Action: It is usually escape, avoidance, blocking or seeking help.


  • Background: It is an emotion that appears in situations that are unexpected or strange to us.
  • Function: helps us orient ourselves and know what to do in a new situation.
  • Body: produces tension in the body and face.
  • Cognition: is capable of directing cognitive processes to a new situation.
  • Action: facilitates exploration and interest in this new situation.


  • Background: in the face of damage or loss of something that we want to recover.
  • Function: It fulfills a self-defense function, overcoming obstacles and inhibiting reactions that bother us from other people.
  • Body: activates arms and legs, tenses muscles, and can produce tachycardia and hyperventilation.
  • Cognition: we interpret the situation as abuse and plan how to defend ourselves.
  • Action: the tone of voice becomes serious and a physical position of attack/defense and blocks is adopted.


  • Antecedent: occurs when something is repulsive to us. Also with stimuli that we understand as harmful to our health.
  • Function: Ensures survival and protects us.
  • Body: Tenses the facial area and can over-activate or produce pain in the stomach, hyperventilation and/or tachycardia.
  • Cognition: what we perceive as unpleasant is evaluated negatively and we reject certain stimuli.
  • Action: the body tends to escape, avoid and reject the stimulus.


  • Background: It is an emotion that occurs when we feel safe.
  • Function: allows us to take perspective and evaluate our resources.
  • Body: gives peace of mind and lets us rest.
  • Cognition: focuses attention on the present and makes reasoning calm and effective.
  • Action: facilitates connection with oneself and others.


  • Background: It depends on individual and social values and appears when we break their norms.
  • Function: Facilitates the repair and learning process.
  • Body: Tenses the stomach and chest and produces a feeling of a lump in the throat.
  • Cognition: allows you to search for solutions and evaluate antecedents and consequences.
  • Action: mainly, in order to repair the damage.


  • Background: It is a social emotion, which also depends above all on the social values of our environment. It occurs when we consider that we are damaging our appearance or the image we reflect to others.
  • Function: inhibits or prevents behavior that may cause social rejection.
  • Body: facial flushing, heat, body stiffness and stomach pain appear.
  • Cognition: anticipates social rejection and evaluates the possibilities.
  • Action: makes us want to hide or run away.

Emotions are very well represented in the Disney movie for children “Inside Out”, in case we want to begin to identify and manage them in a early age.


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