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Emotions in Medical Psychology and Sociology

Table of Contents

Definition and components of emotion

definition: An emotion describes a subjective meaningful human reaction to a physical stimulus. Situations, actions or concrete objects can individually have a negative or positive meaning.

The four components of the hypothetical construct emotion

  • Physiological component
  • Affective component
  • Cognitive component
  • Behavioral component: Expression (facial expressions / gestures) and motivation

Differentiation of the terms feeling, mood and affect from emotion

  • feeling: subjectively affective component, medium duration and medium intensity
  • Mood: longer lasting, less intense
  • affect: very short, violent surge of emotions ("murder in affect")

Classification of emotions

Emotions become divided into primary or basic emotions and secondary emotions. The current standpoint of science values ​​that Origin of primary emotions as genetic a.

Children born blind also show the social smile.

The six primary emotions

  • joy
  • Sadness
  • trouble
  • Fear / fear
  • surprise
  • disgust

The Facial expressions of the basic emotions are the same across cultures. There was a coding system calledFacial Action Coding System (FACS) which lists the individual muscle groups that are responsible for describing the respective emotion. So the basic emotions can always be certain facial expression be assigned!

Secondary emotions: mixed emotions or “learned” emotions

The genetic basis is largely responsible for the development of the primary emotions, social and cultural influenceshowever, shape the further experience of emotions.

A culturally specific example is the situational appropriateness of emotions. Anger is either released or controlled. Social roles also shape emotional behavior. For example, boys are still being taught that crying is not adequate male behavior.

Image: “Differentiation of emotions according to Ortony, 1988” by Volker Mehlhorn. License: CC BY 3.0

Measuring emotions: quality and intensity

Qualitative dimensions in the measurement of emotions (according to W. Wundt)

  • Pleasure-displeasure
  • Arousal-calming
  • Tension solution

Psychophysiological methods

Emotions can be measured based on muscle activity. Allocation is possible through FACS.

Classification of basic emotions and facial expressions according to Ekman and Friesen (1978)

Basic emotionsfacial expressions
happinessTense lower eyelid, raised corners of the mouth
surpriseRaised eyebrows, raised upper eyelid, open mouth
troubleLowered eyebrows, furrowed forehead, raised upper eyelid, tense lower eyelid
disgustTense lower eyelid, raised upper lip
fearEyebrows partly raised / partly lowered, furrowed forehead, raised upper eyelid, open mouth
sadnessEyebrows partly raised / partly lowered, corners of the mouth lowered
contemptCorner of the mouth raised and tense on one side

Neurobiological basics of emotions

In the following we present you the anatomically important correlatesfor the generation and processing of emotions.

  • Parasympathetic and Sympathetic: Control of the physiological component by catecholamines (noradrenaline and adrenaline).
  • Frontal lobe area: Lesions in this cerebral area lead to disturbances of social behavior: Social interaction is only possible to a limited extent or inappropriately. Facial expressions and gestures are also reduced if the frontal lobe is damaged (poker face).
  • Hypothalamus and Limbic System: Control of the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. (The limbic system was named "la grande lobe limbique" after P. Broca and does not form an anatomical, but a functional unit for emotion, drive and learning.)
  • Amygdalae (almond kernels): If the amygdalae are removed on both sides, the fear is reduced and otherwise threatening stimuli are no longer perceived aversively. Without amygdalae, there is no fight-and-flight response to conditioned fear stimuli!
  • Hippocampus: Responsible for comparing expectations and actual sensory information. He counteracts mismatches with a behavior-stopping system. Without the hippocampus, vital avoidance behavior is severely impaired.

Emotion theories

James and Lange theory "We don't cry because we are sad, but we are sad because we cry."Physical changes are the cause of emotions.Template:Object perception - triggering physical reactions - perception as emotion
Cannon and Bard theoryEmotions are only possible via stimulus perception / stimulus perception of the brain.Template:Perception of the object - activation of the thalamus - simultaneous physiological and emotional arousal (pre-programmed reflex)
Two-component theory according to Schachter and Singer "Without cognition, no emotion"An unspecific physiological arousal must take place as a prerequisite for emotions.Template:Stimulus - unspecific physiological excitation - cognitive evaluation - emotion

Fear as an emotion

Fear has many qualities, it roughly describes that Feeling threatened and restless. The various components mentioned above usually express themselves as follows (although there are great subjective differences!):

Physiological componentCognitive componentObservable behavior
Tachycardia, tremors, chills, nausea, urinationWorries, brooding, fearsLifting of the lower lip, tension of the eyelids


Fear is of vital importance!

Infants develop their first types of anxiety along with them Strangers (6th month of life) and separation anxiety (8th month of life). How is all emotion Fear innormal expression a functional emotionthat warns and protects us of dangerous situations. Is the fear too much or too little is known as anxiety disorders. Those affected are usually extremely limited in their quality of life and have a high subjective level of suffering.

Long shot Freedom from fearmay sound desirable at first glance, but the very important self-protection mechanism is completely lacking.

Other forms of fear:

  • Real fear: emotionally appropriate fear response (fear)
  • Phobic fear: exaggerated reaction to a certain situation (objects like spiders = arachnophobia)

State Anxiety vs. Trait Anxiety

Acute, situational state of fearEnduring personality trait, temporally stable disposition

Sensitizer or repressor?

Do you consciously deal with your fear or do you suppress or suppress your fear to the greatest possible extent?

Sensitizer try to find out as much as possible about the situation, the object or the fact that is causing them fear. (The leaflet for medication, for example, is carefully studied)

Repressors deal as little as possible with factors that trigger fear. Both styles of behavior are a way of coping with fear.

Practical tip: As a doctor, you need to learn to deal with both types of anxiety management. Depending on the coping style and the patient's desire for information, discussions and therapies must be individually adapted. (e.g. does the patient want to be informed about a routine procedure down to the smallest detail or would they rather only have the basic information?)

Anxiety Disorders: Neuroses

Generalized anxiety disorder

The affected suffer from a diffuse fear and are permanently tense, brooding, apprehensive, and apprehensive about everyday things.

The panic disorder

A diagnosis of panic disorder is awarded when patient is to be attacked spontaneously by panic attacks in everyday life "as if by lightning". Those affected are severely impaired! Often a panic disorder is not recognized by doctors because only exclusion diagnostics are carried out.

The specific phobias

In the case of specific phobias, the fears and corresponding avoidance strategies are focused on a specific object or situation. Some common examples that are often included in exam questions:

  • Animal phobias like arachnophobia (against spiders) or canophobia (against dogs)
  • Hematophobia (against blood)
  • Aviophobia (Fear of flying)
  • Acrophobia (Fear of heights)
  • claustrophobia (Fear of tight, closed spaces)

The social phobias

Social phobias denote them Fear of social situations in which one could be embarrassed or exposed. They are characterized by the fear of negative evaluation by others in interaction and performance situations.

The agoraphobia

Have agoraphobics Fear of public places, crowds and means of transport and other situations in which a Escapecould be difficult or embarrassing. Panic disorder has a high comorbidity with agoraphobia.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is also based on fear. Patients with compulsions fear that terrible things happen when they are unable to perform the obsessions ("If I don't tie my shoelaces seven times, my grandfather will die."). The compulsions usually take up a large part of the day and significantly impair the patient's quality of life.

The most common constraints are:

  • Compulsory washing
  • Compulsion to control (e.g. constant checking of electrical devices in the apartment)

Aggression as an emotion: instinct or learned?

definition: Motive to harm yourself (autoaggression) or others.

The emergence of aggression - three explanations

Psychoanalytic point of view

Thanatos, the death instinct, is used in psychoanalysis responsible for the aggression made. The human being resembles a “steam boiler” that builds up pressure until it has to be let out.

Aggressive abreaction is a cleansing process (catharsis hypothesis), which reduces instinctual tension. It is assumed that, for example, watching aggressive scenes in a film replaces real aggression reduction. This view is in total contrast to the theory that the origin of aggressive behavior is learned!

Ethological point of view

Becomes ethological Aggression asanimal instinct interpreted, which serves the defense of living space, protection of the community and the creation / maintenance of social hierarchies.

Learning theory perspective

It is assumed here that aggressive behavior acquired through learning-theoretical mechanisms becomes. This is particularly important here Learning on the model.

Frustration-aggression hypothesis according to Dollard and Miller (1950)

The frustration-aggression hypothesis focuses on the Conditions under which aggression arises. Frustration is experienced when an intended goal is not achieved because the external factors are obstacles.

People with a high tolerance for frustration process limitations in achieving goals betterwithout their physical and mental well-being being attacked and this tension having to be discharged through aggression.

The Depression

Sadness, shame, disgust, anger, anger, hostility and fear characterize the mixed feeling of depression, an affective disorder. According to DSM-IV, in addition to depression or loss of interest, at least 4 other symptoms must be present for at least 2 weeks in order to be diagnosed with depression (unipolar disorder / major depression) to deliver.

  • sadness
  • Loss of interest
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • sleep disorders
  • Loss of drive / restlessness
  • Loss of appetite / increased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal ideation

If manic and depressive phases alternate, one speaks of one bipolar disorder. Mania is characterized by extreme euphoria, hyperactivity and a lack of critical ability.

Explanatory models: how does depression develop?

In addition to the genetic component (especially in bipolar disorder), neurochemical and environmental factors play an important role. Risk factors that contribute to the onset of depression include women,major loss events (Separation, loss of important caregivers, loss of work, ...) and low socio-economic status.

Depression Development Modelexample
Lewinsohn's Amplifier Loss TheoryLittle positive reinforcement in everyday life through:
  • Reinforcement is difficult to achieve
  • lower social and / or professional skills
Enjoy baking cakes for yourself and your partner. No more motivation after the breakup because the positive reinforcer is missing
Aaron Beck's Cognitive Explanatory ApproachDepression as a result of a distorted view of reality: negative evaluation of the self, the environment and the future (cognitive triad)"I'm simply unable to relate, everyone else thinks that too and that will never change."
Seligman's theory of learned helplessnessBasic assumption derived from experimental animal research: there is no avoidance behavior, even if exposure is no longer present. Symptoms of learned helplessness:
  • emotional deficit
  • motivational deficit
  • cognitive deficit
  • neurobiological changes


Even after the rats were no longer strapped to the electric shock plate and could have escaped into the safe half of the cage, they remained seated in the danger area and continued to be exposed to pain.

The pain - an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience

The International Association for the Study of Pain (ISAP) defines pain as “a unpleasant sensory and emotional experienceassociated with current or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage. "

The subjectivity of pain varies enormously between people: susceptibility to pain, sensitivity to pain and the relationship between pain and cause are highly individual.

The 5 components of pain

There are 5 different types Pain Components:

  • Affective: unpleasant emotion
  • Cognitively evaluating: Assessment of the experience of pain
  • Motorized: motor response to pain
  • Sensory: Activity of nociceptors
  • Vegetative: Reaction of the autonomic nervous system

Important terms on the subject of pain

The The sensation of pain is called algesia. This is from analgesia canceled (medicated with Analgesics). The Pain threshold defines the point from which a consciously perceived stimulus is perceived as a pain stimulus.

The point in time when a patient receives something takes action against the pain, sets its threshold for intervention represent. The Tolerance threshold marks the maximum pain intensity that a person can endure (If exceeded, there is a risk of loss of self-control, shock and coma). Phantom pain occur in parts of the body that are no longer present (e.g. after amputations); this is explained by the reorganization of sensory cortex areas. Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 6 months.

Notice: The perception of pain is higher in people with depression and social isolation than in those with reduced vigilance and in old age.

Exam questions on medical psychology and sociology

The solutions can be found below the references.

The four components of the hypothetical construct emotion

1. Emotion is not one of the four components of the hypothetical construct

  1. Physiological component
  2. Affective component
  3. Cognitive component
  4. Behavioral component
  5. Reactive component

2. "Canophobia" describes the fear of ...

  1. Ships
  2. height
  3. be crazy
  4. Dogs
  5. closed, narrow spaces

3. The point in time from which a patient receives something takes action against the pain, is the…

  1. Tolerance threshold
  2. Pain threshold
  3. Intervention threshold
  4. Disisolation threshold
  5. Interval threshold
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M. Schön (2007): GK1 Medical Psychology and Sociology. Springer publishing house. Table: p. 47, table 1.9.

Source: [3] S. Rothgangel (2010): Kurzlehrbuch Medical Psychology and Sociology. Thieme publishing house.

Solutions to the quiz questions: 1 (E), 2 (D), 3 (C)

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