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Affect guides behavior, helps us make decisions, and has a major impact on our mental and physical health. Affect is guided by arousal—our experiences of the bodily responses created by the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.
Emotions are the mental and physiological feeling states that direct our attention and guide our behavior. The most fundamental emotions, known as the basic emotions, are those of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. A variety of secondary emotions are determined by the process of cognitive appraisal. The distinction between the primary and the secondary emotions is paralleled by two brain pathways: a fast pathway and a slow pathway.
There are three primary theories of emotion, each supported by research evidence. The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion proposed that the experience of an emotion is accompanied by physiological arousal. The James-Lange theory of emotion proposes that our experience of an emotion is the result of the arousal that we experience. The two-factor theory of emotion asserts that the experience of emotion is determined by the intensity of the arousal we are experiencing, but that the cognitive appraisal of the situation determines what the emotion will be. When people incorrectly label the source of the arousal that they are experiencing, we say that they have misattributed their arousal.
We communicate and perceive emotion in part through nonverbal communication and through facial expressions. The facial feedback hypothesis proposes that we also experience emotion in part through our own facial expressions.
Stress refers to the physiological responses that occur when an organism fails to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats. When it is extreme or prolonged, stress can create substantial health problems.
The general adaptation syndrome describes the three phases of physiological change that occur in response to long-term stress: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Stress creates a long-term negative effect on the body by activating the HPA axis, which produces the stress hormone cortisol. The HPA reactions to persistent stress lead to a weakening of the immune system. Chronic stress is also a major contributor to heart disease.
The stress that we experience in our everyday lives, including daily hassles, can be taxing. People who experience strong negative emotions as a result of these hassles exhibit more negative stress responses those who react in a less negative way.
On average, men are more likely than are women to respond to stress by activating the fight-or-flight response, whereas women are more likely to respond using the tend-and-befriend response.
Attempting to ignore or suppress our stressors is not effective, in part because it is difficult to do. It is healthier to let out the negative thoughts and feelings by expressing them, either to ourselves or to others. It is easier to respond to stress if we can interpret it in more positive ways—for instance, as a challenge rather than a threat.
The ability to successfully control our emotions is known as emotion regulation. Regulating emotions takes effort, but the ability to do so can have important positive health outcomes.
The best antidote for stress is to think positively, have fun, and enjoy the company of others. People who express optimism, self-efficacy, and hardiness cope better with stress and experience better health overall. Happiness is determined in part by genetic factors such that some people are naturally happier than others, but it is also facilitated by social support—our positive social relationships with others.
People do not often know what will make them happy. After a minimum level of wealth is reached, more money does not generally buy more happiness. Although people think that positive and negative events will make a huge difference in their lives, and although these changes do make at least some difference in life satisfaction, they tend to be less influential than we think they are going to be.
A motivation is a driving force that initiates and directs behavior. Motivations are often considered in psychology in terms of drives and goals, with the goal of maintaining homeostasis.
Eating is a primary motivation determined by hormonal and social factors. Cultural norms about appropriate weights influence eating behaviors. The desire to be thin can lead to eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Uncontrolled obesity leads to health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and some types of cancer. It is a leading preventable cause of death worldwide. The two approaches to controlling weight are eating less and exercising more.
Sex is a fundamental motivation that involves the coordination of a wide variety of behaviors, including courtship, sex, household arrangements, parenting, and child care. The sexual response cycle is similar in men and women. The sex hormone testosterone is particularly important for sex drive, in both men and women.
Sexual behavior varies widely, not only between men and women but within each sex.
The vast majority of human beings have a heterosexual orientation, but a smaller minority is primarily homosexual or bisexual. The love and sexual lives of homosexuals and bisexual are little different from those of heterosexuals, except where their behaviors are constrained by cultural norms and local laws.