Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Emotion Part 2


By Stormie Kent

            This is part two of the emotion series. To read the first post click here.

            As writers, we are constantly trying to portray character emotions correctly. In an attempt to do this, I’ve jumped into the world of human emotion. There are many theorists and theories about the subject. In the interest of time, and word management, I’ve chosen the human emotion theory of Professor W. Gerrod Parrott, to start my journey.

What are the emotions that a human being may experience?

            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 anger are irritation, exasperation, rage, disgust, envy and torment. The tertiary emotions for anger/rage are some emotions you might expect like anger, fury, and wrath. The tertiary emotions for anger/rage also contain more nuanced emotions like bitterness, scorn and resentment. All of these secondary and tertiary emotions stem from anger. (Click on the highlighted link for a chart.)

What are specific physiological responses associated with each major emotion?

            I will discuss anger today.

Anger: In response to an event, the amygdala in our brains initiates a fight or flight response in our bodies. Our interpretation of the event helps determine the emotion. Let's try it out. 

I’m spunky character, A. My ex-husband confronts me in my office, and informs me that, in a hostile takeover, he now controls the company my great-great-grandfather built during the Reconstruction Era. I could be sad, but I think I'll save sad for later. I'm angry. What’s going on in my body?

            According to Harry Mills, Ph.D., initially, anger  makes my body tense. Then a rush of energy floods my system, thanks to the neurotransmitter chemical ,catecholamine. I am ready to protect myself from any immediate danger. (Unless my ex is violent or enjoys tossing around paper-weights and staplers, this is unnecessary.)

            While catecholamine is rushing through my system, my heart races, my blood pressure rises and my breathing becomes more rapid. Just in case I need to defend myself, blood enters my limbs, and causes my face to flush. My attention is totally focused on my nemesis. Let’s call him Evil Ex-husband.

            By this time, the neurotransmitters and hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline trigger arousal in my body. It causes me to remain angry with my ex for days, and probably fuels the actions that lead to great internal and external conflict.

            What do I look like as I face down Evil Ex-husband? If I have a poker face, my features are smooth and blank. Unfortunately, I’m a hot-head. My eyebrows pull down and in, making a crease between them. My eyes narrow and lock onto Evil Ex-husband. My nostrils flair, and my lips tighten. I square my body, and ball up my fists.

In the seconds in takes all of these chemical and physical responses to happen, I can choose to completely loose it, and smack him, or my prefrontal cortex (responsible for judgment) can inject a note of reason. I can show him the door. Then, I can run for my lawyers.

            What other physical reactions have you noticed go hand and hand with anger? I really look forward to hearing from you. I had fun reading your responses to Emotion Part 1: Love.


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, Stormie - one of the hardest things for me to write is emotion and to make it powerful, rather than over the top.

When I get angry, I tend to get super calm, super quiet, icy if you will. I don't scream and throw things, I stare (the 'if looks could kill' kind). That's what I try to convey on the printed page. Less is more and all that. :)

Stormie Kent said...

Thanks Tina,
I'm more of the poked bear. I start of calm. Some people have called me cold. Then, if people don't heed the warnings given...it can get a little messy.

jean hart stewart said...

Interesting column, Stormie. I get quieter and quieter and sometime exlode latter, sometime hold it all in. Do you think writers let off steam with their characters?

Stormie Kent said...

Hi Jean,
I know I allow my characters to do things I only wish I could. It is fantasy no matter how realistic the genre.

Fiona McGier said...

I yell and rage very loudly. I'm a "red-hot" kind of anger, that explodes then usually dissipates quickly. My Mom was like that, so I guess that's where it comes from. My husband (and my Dad) were the "white-hot" kind of angry, where it takes a very long time to get to the explosion, and there is lots of evidence that it's coming, but if it gets to that point, everyone around better run for cover! (Though husband has never been violent that I know of.)

Other people's anger frightens me. I used to run away from the schoolyard chants of "fight...fight!" and I still avoid any situation that appears to be escalating in intensity. I prefer equanimity.

Stormie Kent said...

Hey Fiona,
Some people say it is healthier to release your anger sooner rather than later. I don't know if they mean yelling though. We all cope with anger differently. I think the worst tertiary emotion for anger is bitterness. That's anger to a situation or at a person where you feel powerless. Very unhealthy.