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Knowing About Emotions and Meta-Emotions


Rational, reasonable, or otherwise effective choosing or decision making are all about
differentially valuing, and valuing is based on comparing emotional worth attributed to,
and expected from the available alternatives of action – as much as on feelings of
confidence or uncertainty in our estimation skills. Affect and logic are social competences
and their participation in decision making varies widely among individuals, situations and
cultures.

Sociologist Randall Collins has stated that a single, specific and long-term emotion
named emotional energy is the main motivating force in social life, for love and hatred,
investing, working or consuming, rendering cult or waging war. Individually, emotional
energy ranges from the highest heights of enthusiasm, self-confidence and initiative to the
deepest depths of apathy, depression and retreat. But this does not make it just a
psychological emotion.

Emotional energy comes from variously successful or failed chains of interaction rituals,
that is, patterned social encounters –from conversation or sexual flirtation through
Christmas family dinners or office work to mass demonstrations, organizations or
revolutions. In the latter, the coupling of participants' behavior synchronizes their nervous
systems to the point of generating a collective effervescence, one observable in their
mutual focus and emotional entraining, as well as in their loading of emotional and
symbolic meaning to entities which subsequently become emblems of the ritual and of
the membership group endorsing, preserving, promoting and defending them. Thus social
life would be most importantly about generating and distributing emotional energy.
Recent research has shown that most areas of social dynamics revolve around some
particular emotional cluster. Most significant is classic contribution by Thomas J. Scheff,
who established that many cases of social conflict are based on a destructive and often
escalating, but stoppable and reversible shame-rage cycle: when someone results or feels
shamed by another, their social bond comes under stress.

This can be cooperatively acknowledged, talked about and – most effectively when
possible - laughed at so their social bond may be restored. Yet, when shame is not
acknowledged, but instead negated and repressed, it becomes rage, and rage may drive to
aggressive and shaming actions that feed-back negatively on this self-destructive
situation. The social management of emotions might be the fundamental dynamics of
social cooperation and conflict around resources, complexity, conflict and moral life.

It is well-established sociological fact that expression and feeling of the emotion of anger,
for example, is strongly discouraged (repressed) in girls and women in many cultures,
while fear is discouraged in boys and men. Some cultures and sub-cultures encourage or
discourage happiness, sadness, jealousy, excited ness, and many other emotions. The free
expression of the emotion of disgust is considered socially unacceptable in many
countries.
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