Some Notes for a Theory of Emotion

Some Notes for a Theory of Emotion

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    Some Notes for a Theory of Emotion

    By Dr Margaret Lowenfeld

    It has been said that man cannot become fully cognisant of any experience until he has given to that experience a name. The reverse is also unfortunately true, Names exert a curious hypnotic effect upon the mind, forcing thought into accepted paths and blocking the road to fresh thinking.

    Nowhere is this more true than in the study of emotion. Part of the difficulty workers in this field experience is the coruscation of terminology that has surrounded it. Emotion cannot be directly touched, it can only be seen in its effects. It is even difficult to introspect accurately about emotion because few minds can call emotion into being at will. All that can be done is imaginatively to call up situations capable of arousing an emotion, and from there read backwards from the effect to the cause.

    Difficulties next arise concerning the name to give to that observed. Shall we term it affect? feeling? sensation? Or shall we posit existence of ‘instinct’ and link up our observations to that hypothesis? It is as impossible to demonstrate in man the existence of instinct if the term be used in the usual sense, as to make direct contact with the actual stuff of emotion.

    This difficulty and the problems that are associated with it are matters of academic interest to the university psychologists but to the psychotherapist they are of central importance. Psychotherapy is concerned with the affective processes in man, and problems connected with emotion are the material in which it works. The psychotherapist is faced, not with problems concerning the theoretic nature of emotion as such, but with the study of currents of emotion which have become pathological. He is concerned not with the definition of emotion, but with the reorientation of definite emotional trends in a definite patient.

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