Character emotions are sometimes hard to get exactly right. Emotions and feelings can be subjective and culturally based. Even gender can determine how a character might respond emotionally to a comment or situation. Then there is the entire show the reader, don’t tell the reader portion of writing a story. As an author I thought it would be wise to do some research on human emotion. Mainly I wanted to understand 1) what are the emotions a human being may experience and 2) if there were specific physiological responses to certain emotions that were universal.
Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. This blog post will be in several parts for just this reason.
What are the emotions that a human being may experience?
There is some scientific debate on the subject. Most theorists have a short list of what they call primary or basic emotions. Their lists can range from two emotions to eleven or more. These theorists believe that as we experience events we may combine one or two emotions to create emotions beyond basic joy and anger. For example, according to certain theorists, anger plus disgust equals contempt.
According to W. Gerrod Parrot (2001), there are six primary emotions (love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness and fear) which are then comprised of secondary and tertiary emotions. These secondary and tertiary emotions are more specific in scope. For example, the secondary emotions for love are affection, lust and longing. The tertiary emotions for love/lust include arousal, desire, lust, passion and infatuation. (Click on the highlighted link for a chart.)
What are specific physiological responses associated with each major emotion?
This is where the real research began. The information I found focused on classifying emotions or the study of facial expressions. I will discuss romantic love today.
RomanticLove: With emotion we realize that we are responding to stimuli – in this case - the object of our affection. We see and interact with someone and suddenly there is an attraction, longing, and maybe lust. We have assessed this person unconsciously through sight, sound, smell, touch and maybe taste if we are lucky. Our bodies, those wonderful machines, will begin to use those handy neurotransmitters adrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin and testosterone to lure us in for a night or a lifetime.
But what does love feel like in our bodies? Initially, adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin take over and we may feel sweaty, light headed, and preoccupied with the other person. Our hearts race, our mouths may become dry when our love interest is near. We have too much energy and we can’t sleep. We may feel lust. We are deep in attraction.
Oxytocin and vasopressin take over if the bond is strong. We are urged to cherish and protect. These hormones keep the physiological effects we experienced in the attraction and lust phase going when we see our partner. After twenty years our heart still races, our eyes still dilate, we still want to touch. We think about our partner with worry and affection if we are away from each other too long. We are in love.
Well, at least our characters are in love. What other physical reactions have you noticed go hand and hand with romantic love?