People experience emotional states lasting for days, weeks, months, and even years, as the sadness that follows bereavement. Emotional states that last for more than a few hours are referred to as moods, particularly when the subject is unaware of how the state started. Moods tend to be of lower intensity than emotions, perhaps punctuated by waves of more distinct emotion (Oatley 23). So, for the purposes of description, we see emotions as discrete states of some intensity, typically noticeable to the self (accessible), to others (observable), or from recordings of autonomic nervous system indices, and lasting for finite periods.
"Emotions are changes in action readiness, and other cognitive changes accompany them" (Ortony 121). Moods are emotional in that, like episodes of emotion, they are based on exactly the same kinds of readiness. They last longer than the few seconds of a facial expression or the minutes or hours characteristic of an episode of sadness, fear, or anger. Unlike emotions, moods are continuing "background states" that remain largely unaffected by external stimuli (122). An emotion can be dissipated by a kind word or amusing anecdote, while a mood will stubbornly linger, well-nigh impervious to any attempts to relieve it.
The phenomenon of an emotion occurring for no apparent reason, as a
free-floating emotion mode, is not common, but it is significant. It occurs
when a control emotion mode is set up but without conscious semantic information
about its cause. Keith Oatley performed a study asking 57 students to keep
structured diaries in which they recorded details of five successive episodes
of emotion that happened in their ordinary lives. They found that happiness,
sadness, anger, and fear all occasionally occurred without any cause discernible
to the subjects. Some 6.3% of all emotion episodes were of this free-floating
kind. They did not ask systematically about disgust/hatred (63).
The most striking of such acausal states, widely described in clinical literature, is free-floating anxiety. It involves an overwhelming feeling of dread that something nameless is about to happen. The sufferer does not know what will happen or what caused it. Only the feeling of dread and perhaps the bodily accompaniments of fear occur. Corresponding to this, in the diary study of everyday emotions, Oatley found that fear/anxiety was the most common of the emotions to occur without apparent cause (63).
"Johnson-Laird's communicative theory is the only cognitive theory of emotions that gives a principled account of moods," says Oatley. It asserts that moods are based on control signals maintaining the system in a particular state, like sadness or irritability, beyond any immediate event in the outer world and even beyond memory of what caused it (64). Moods depend on the dissociability of control emotion signals from semantic information about causation. For instance, irritability is a mood that can be maintained in which a person feels angry but may not know why. Perhaps he or she waits for an occasion when an outburst of anger at somebody or about something can occur.
Moods that occur intensely and are maintained over a period of a week or more, without apparent connection to external events, are regarded as psychopathological. Each mood disorder is primarily associated with one of the basic emotions, although such states typically include symptoms that are not emotional (Oatley 64). The most researched of the mood disorders are characterized by two emotional extremes: the vehement energy and euphoria of mania or the despair and lethargy of depression (Gleitman 583).
Corresponding with happiness is the pathological state of mania, occurring without any special outside reason to be happy. People in such states feel expansively euphoric, often infectiously so. They perform actions unconstrained by fear of social consequences. Manic episodes in people known to Oatley have included giving away money, possessions, and large presents even though they had little money, and in one case, driving fast and elatedly down one-way streets in the wrong direction, saying that "one should not be concerned about petty social constraints" (65). A ceaseless torrent of activity continues unabated over many days and sleepless nights which will eventually exhaust the patients and their health if not sedated.
Moods of sadness with bursting into tears many times a day occur in depression. But depression is not just an emotion. It includes other features, such as a loss of self esteem. In many ways, says Gleitman, "major depression is the polar opposite of mania" (584). People who are depressed may feel utterly dejected, their outlook hopeless. They usually lose interest in other people and believe they are utterly sinful or worthless. They often exhibit various physical symptoms, including loss of appetite and weight loss, fatigue, sleep disorders, and loss of interest in sex. Depression can sap a person of their health as well. If gone untreated, it can lead to suicide. "Some attempt the act, and more than a few succeed" (585).
Fear also has its psychopathological extensions: phobias, panic attacks, generalized anxiety states, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Phobias are intense, irrational fears of specific objects or circumstances. A panic attack is a strong autonomic disturbance with an irresistible urge to escape to safety. Anxiety states may have no apparent object. Obsessive compulsive disorders involve ruminations, or checking and rechecking actions. In all cases, clinicians believe that the fear is inappropriate to possible causes.
Anger can occur in several pathological states, for instance, in some that are diagnosed as paranoid. Such states may often involve people ruminating along the lines of "What I would like to do if only I could get my hands on . . ." (Oatley, 65). Hatred/disgust occurs psychopathologically in anorexia nervosa. It includes a revulsion from anything that might make the sufferer fat and sometimes leads to starving to death.
"Phenomena in which control signals can occur separately from semantic content provide additional information on which emotions might be basic and what their properties are" (Ortony 123). Unfortunately, they also make for theoretical difficulty with regard to emotions of hatred and disgust, because these seem to need an object; by definition, they seem to need semantic content. One must hate something, be disgusted at something. Oatley solves this problem by "supposing that such emotions are capable of being aroused independently of events and sustained as moods, but then attributed to some object or other" (66). More generally, disdainful moods without a fixed object occur in psycho pathological states with schizoid features.
Bad as well as good moods spice life and build character. The key is balance. We often have little control over when we are swept by emotion. But we can have some say in how long that emotion will last. Psychologist Dianne Tice of Case Western Reserve University asked more than 400 men and women about their strategies for escaping foul moods. Her research, along with that of other psychologists, provides valuable information about how to change a bad mood (Goleman 50).
Of all the moods that people want to escape, rage seems to be the hardest to deal with. When someone in another car cuts you off, your reflexive feeling might be of rage. One of the worst strategies of dealing with rage is ventilating; it is a myth that it will make you feel better. Outbursts of rage pump up the brain's arousal system, leaving you more angry, not less (Goleman 51).
A more effective technique is reframing, consciously reinterpreting a situation in a more positive light. When the driver cuts you off, you could change your way of thinking to "Maybe he had some emergency." This is one of the most potent ways, Tice found, to put anger to rest. Going off alone to cool down is also an effective way to defuse anger, especially if you can't think clearly. Tice found that a large proportion of men cool down by going for a drive. A safer alternative is exercise, such as taking along walk. One should not waste their time by pursuing their train of angry thoughts. Their aim should be to distract themselves. The techniques of reframing and distraction can alleviate depression and anxiety as well as anger (Goleman 51).
"The extent to which emotional upsets can interfere with mental life is no news to teachers," says Goleman (78). People who are anxious, angry, or depressed do not deal with new information efficiently and, therefore, cannot learn when in these states. For people going through a divorce -- parents and children alike -- their minds do not stay focused on the comparatively trivial routines of the day. For the clinically depressed, thoughts of self pity and despair, hopelessness and helplessness, override all others. When emotions overwhelm concentration, the ability to hold in mind all information to the task at hand gets swamped.
See also EMOTION
Gleitman, Henry. Basic Psychology. 4th ed. New York, Norton:
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York, Bantam Books: 1995.
-------- "What's Your Emotional IQ?" Reader's Digest Jan. 1996: 50-52.
Oatley, Keith. Best Laid Schemes: The Psychology of Emotions. Cambridge, Cambridge UP: 1992.
Ortony, Andrew, Gerald L. Clore, and Allan Collins. The Cognitive Structure of Emotions. Cambridge, Cambridge UP: 1988.