Conscious Feelings of Emotion
As we discussed in the recent lecture, there are three components to an emotional
1. Physiological Responses: Increase in heart rate, pupil dilation, skin conductance, etc.
2. Overt Behaviors: Freezing, startle, crying, laughter, etc.
3. Conscious Feelings: Subjective reporting of happiness, laughter, anger, sadness,
disgust, fear, etc.
It is clear that all animals experience both 1 & 2. That is, whether it is a rat, a blowfish,
or a human, we can measure physiological responses like changes in heart rate in
response to fearful stimuli. We can also observe actions like freezing or running away
from a fearful stimulus and this occurs in all species. What we do not know about an
animal is whether it experiences conscious feelings of emotion. We only know this
about humans because we are able to ask them and they can verbalize those emotions.
In the lecture and book we discussed examples like Tina the Elephant, the Chimpanzee
Baby Shower, and Killer Whales. Do not use those examples in this discussion.
Instead, I would like you to think carefully about your experiences with animals (pets,
animals in nature shows, visits to the zoo or aquarium, etc.). Do you believe that
animals experience conscious emotion? Do they get sad, happy, angry, afraid, jealous?
Try to think about this like a Behaviorist. That is, can you rule out that the behavior you
see is not just an overt behavior that has been conditioned? Can you be sure the
animal experiences the conscious emotion? There is no correct or incorrect response
here. I want to know what you think. Give me evidence, however. I want to know WHY
you think they can or can’t experience emotion and why you believe that evidence
represents CONSCIOUS feelings and not merely overt behaviors in response to
This is my daughter at the Detroit zoo acting very surprised by something. When she was much
younger I would sometimes see her looking at herself in the mirror and making funny faces. On
more than one occasion, she would make angry faces in the mirror for so long that she would
come away actually upset and ready to fight with anyone about anything. It got to the point that
I wouldn’t let look in the mirror while I brushed her hair. It would turn out bad for everyone
involved. Looking back on that time it occurs to me that this might be a genuine example of the
James-Lange theory in action. It would seem that her conscious experience of emotion (anger)
came only after she interpreted the physiological responses her body was having (angry faces).
Can you think of an example of when you or someone you know seemed to show a behavior
that would fit the James-Lange theory of emotion.