Historical beliefs about emotion in the body
Chapter 7 endnote 31, from Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:
Westerners think of emotion as an experience inside an individual, in the body. [...] Various scholars throughout history have also located emotion in the body.
Scholars of antiquity believed that events within the core of the body play a central role in emotion. We don’t need a complete history here, but let’s consider some highlights. Plato located “desire” in the belly. Aristotle placed emotion in the heart. From Homer onward in classical Greek and Roman times, emotions and other states were often located in the heart or the diaphragm. Greek medicine had the concept “sympathy” (sympatheia) to explain why people experienced emotion in different body parts.
In medieval Christian theological writing, emotions were located in the body because they worked against the intellect and active will. The body was considered the portal for evil, the root of feelings that were difficult to control and would lead to damnation.
The Enlightenment saw a dramatic revolution in ideas about the human mind, but emotion still remained in the body. For example, Descartes famously separated mind from body and in doing so, concluded that emotions were irrelevant to reason and wisdom (described by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in Descartes’ Error). At the end of the Enlightenment, scholars kept emotions in the body, now because they were part of our animal nature, set in opposition to our more uniquely cognitive human abilities.
Consistent with these folk beliefs and early scholarly writings, scientists also have long speculated that interoception (as the perception of bodily change) is the basis of emotional experience: from adherents to the classical view such as Carl Lange and John Dewey, to anti-essentialists like William James, to the nascent constructionists of the “Dark Ages” (chapter 8). All of them wrote that objects and events in the world trigger bodily reactions (say, a pounding heart and perspiring hands) that are perceived as emotional experiences (say, fear, anger, or romantic passion), though they didn’t use the word “interoception.”
In modern times, modern neuroscience has either kept emotions in the body (e.g., Damasio) or in the parts of the brain that control the body (e.g., Cannon and Papez). They study the neurobiology of interoception and its implications for emotional experience, and most of them continue to assume that the body sends specific information to the brain during each emotion. For example, the neurologist Antonio Damasio proposes that the body sends specific sensory information to the brain for each type of emotion, so that anger, sadness, etc., each have their own somatic marker (chapter 8). Damasio and many other scientists even assume that body sensations alone are sufficient for emotion, so if you’ve explained the circuitry for receiving those sensations, you’ve explained the nature of emotion. (In their view, emotional experiences from elation to sorrow are not part of emotions, i.e., they are epiphenomenal to emotion, and require their own, separate explanation.)
What is still missing in the science of emotion, then, is an explanation of how highly variable patterns of bodily sensations, once represented in the brain, are transformed into instances of emotional experience and emotion perception. This explanation is a centerpiece of the theory of constructed emotion.