What is the History of Emotions? - Barbara H. Rosenwein - ebook

What is the History of Emotions? ebook

Barbara H. Rosenwein

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What is the History of Emotions?? offers an accessible path through the thicket of approaches, debates, and past and current trends in the history of emotions. Although historians have always talked about how people felt in the past, it is only in the last two decades that they have found systematic and well-grounded ways to treat the topic. Rosenwein and Cristiani begin with the science of emotion, explaining what contemporary psychologists and neuropsychologists think emotions are. They continue with the major early, foundational approaches to the history of emotions, and they treat in depth new work that emphasizes the role of the body and its gestures. Along the way, they discuss how ideas about emotions and their history have been incorporated into modern literature and technology, from children's books to videogames. Students, teachers, and anyone else interested in emotions and how to think about them historically will find this book to be an indispensable and fascinating guide not only to the past but to what may lie ahead.

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Table of Contents

Series page

Title page

Copyright page


Preface and Acknowledgments



1: Science

Premodern views

The science of emotions


2: Approaches



Emotional regimes and emotives

Emotional communities

Emotions as performances

Approaches applied: The Declaration of Independence of the United States



3: Bodies

The bounded body

The porous, merged body


4: Futures

The walls of the academy

Diffusion within and beyond the academy




Selected Reading




On various topics, see:



Illustration Credits



End User License Agreement

List of Illustrations

Plate 1 Smiling faces in Darwin's

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals

(1872).Three smiling girls cascade down the left side of this plate, matched by three apparently smiling images of one man. But the man is not really smiling: his picture was taken as part of an experiment conducted by G.-B. Duchenne de Boulogne, who applied electrical stimuli to his patient's paralyzed facial muscles. For Duchenne and Darwin, the artificial nature of his smiles made the man's expression of emotion all the more “objective.”

Plate 2 American Airlines stewardess, mid to late 1960s.A jaunty smile lights up the face of this stewardess as she serves a meal. She is the model of the successful airline employee who, as sociologist Arlie Hochschild would put it, has learned through unrelenting “emotional labor” to feel the cheerfulness that she displays.

Plate 3 

The anger of Saul, the tears of David

(Winchester Bible,


.1180).These scenes in an English medieval manuscript illustrate Gerd Althoff's point. In the top tier (left-hand panel), King Saul stands ramrod straight, showing no emotion as he wages war against the Philistines. In the middle tier, however, he is bent out of shape, signaling his anger and displeasure with David, whom he envies. Below is the moment just before the murder of Absalom, King David's estranged son. The final scene shows David in mourning: raising the edge of his mantle to his eyes, he performs his grief with a gesture already well-known in classical antiquity.

Plate 4 The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776).This engraving makes the Declaration's physical features very clear. Starting with the bold “In Congress,” it recalls the look of documents issued by English kings, in effect proclaiming the official status of the fledgling United States. Its many grievances are separated by spaces marked by thick black strokes, suggesting the outrage of the scribe and the signers, and performing its indignation for all subsequent viewers.

Plate 5 A Methodist camp meeting (


.1829).A preacher gestures to the sky; men and (even more obviously) women raise their hands, groan, shout, kneel, and fall down in a faint. Dogs sniff and mingle; men and women gossip; a bugler pipes his horn. The tents in the background reveal that the participants in this early nineteenth-century Methodist camp will remain for several days. They are “practicing” their emotions.

Plate 6 The Foolish Virgins at Strasbourg (


.1280).A jolly young man holds up an alluring apple, attracting the young woman at his side. She is one of the Foolish Virgins about whom Matthew 25:1-3 spoke, and she is more foolish than even Matthew recounted, for she is flirting with the Devil himself. As the two grin heedlessly, they signal not happiness but moral depravation.

Plate 7 Textile red heart token (18th century).A beaded red heart had no need for words to explain its significance when it was pinned to the clothing of a baby left at the London Foundling Hospital. Across all social classes the heart was understood as the vital principle of life, the center of true feelings, the place of love. Its red color was reminiscent of blood. This particular heart token has been creatively personified.

Plate 8 


screenshot (2007).In this screenshot of


final in-game cinematic (or non-interactive sequence), one of the Little Sisters – her face showing certain filmic conventions – offers Jack the key to Rapture. In this happy ending, Jack refuses the key, while the voiceover of Dr. Tenenbaum, one of the characters, is full of grateful emotion.



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Series page

What is History? series

John H. Arnold,

What is Medieval History?

Peter Burke,

What is Cultural History?

2nd edition

Peter Burke,

What is the History of Knowledge?

John C. Burnham,

What is Medical History?

Pamela Kyle Crossley,

What is Global History?

Pero Gaglo Dagbovie,

What is African American History?

Shane Ewen,

What is Urban History?

Christiane Harzig and Dirk Hoerder, with Donna Gabaccia,

What is Migration History?

J. Donald Hughes,

What is Environmental History?

2nd edition

Andrew Leach,

What is Architectural History?

Stephen Morillo with Michael F. Pavkovic,

What is Military History?

3rd edition

James Raven,

What is the History of the Book?

Sonya O. Rose,

What is Gender History?

Brenda E. Stevenson,

What is Slavery?

Jeffrey Weeks,

What is Sexual History?

Richard Whatmore,

What is Intellectual History?

Copyright page

Copyright © Barbara H. Rosenwein and Riccardo Cristiani 2018

The right of Barbara H. Rosenwein and Riccardo Cristiani to be identified as Authors of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2018 by Polity Press

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ISBN-13: 978-1-5095-0849-5 (hardback)

ISBN-13: 978-1-5095-0850-1 (paperback)

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For Joshua and Julian

In ricordo di Chiara Zevi

Preface and Acknowledgments

We began to think about writing this book while working on Generations of Feeling together. Although the history of emotions has flourished in the last several decades, it is open to a wide variety of assumptions, expectations, and approaches. In many ways, it is still finding itself. We hope that this book will make following its many paths a bit easier. Writing it certainly helped us to see many unexpected coherencies and patterns.

While preparing this book, we have incurred many debts. We warmly thank Damien Boquet, Lynn Hunt, and Jan Plamper, whose comments and critiques on earlier drafts gave us welcome advice. Lale Behzadi, Maaike van Berkel, Anthony Cardoza, Nicole Eustace, Timothy Gilfoyle, and Kyle Roberts helped with important sections. We are grateful to Fay Bound Alberti, Paolo Arcangeli, James Averill, Thomas Dixon, John Donoghue, Stephanie Downes, Ute Frevert, Erik Goosmann, Bernard Rimé, Lyndal Roper, and Tom Rosenwein. A teaching engagement at the University of Reykjavik allowed Barbara to try out some of the materials that are discussed in Chapters 1 and 2. She thanks the participants and organizers, especially Torfi H. Tulinius and Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon. Finally, we thank our editor at Polity Press, Pascal Porcheron, and the Press's anonymous readers, who commented with care and intelligence on an earlier draft.

Barbara H. Rosenwein and Riccardo Cristiani

Sanremo, March 2017


“Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“I understand a fury in your words. But not your words.”

William Shakespeare, Othello, Act 4, Scene 2

When Othello walks into his wife's bedroom, it is the way that he speaks, not his words, that she understands. “Let me see your eyes,” he says. “Look in my face.” Spoken tenderly, these could have been a lover's request. Desdemona knows better. She understands that behind them is a “fury,” though she does not grasp its source. Othello begins to cry. “Alas the heavy day, why do you weep?” asks his wife.

These are the words of characters in a play written some four hundred years ago. They tell us some of the complex ways in which Shakespeare understood emotions and their expression. That we can still be moved by this scene means that we can be sympathetic to the emotional burdens of its protagonists. But are they our emotional burdens? And would we express them the same way? The history of emotions is dedicated to answering such questions. It studies the emotions that were felt and expressed in the past; it looks at what has changed and what ties together their past and present.

In the last twenty-five years or so, emotions have become a kind of obsession in our culture. Now everyone – novelists, journalists, psychologists, neuropsychologists, philosophers, and sociologists – thinks and writes about emotions, each for his or her own purposes, each taking a different direction. Historians are no exception. While united in the goal of understanding the past of emotions, they have pursued it in a bewildering variety of ways. Anyone interested in the history of emotions – whether student, researcher, or simply curious reader – will find the terrain difficult without a map. That is what this book provides. It introduces the main avenues of modern research on emotions, starting with the psychological sciences, continuing with the various “schools” of historical thought on the topic, adding trends in current studies, and ending with a glimpse of the future. Much like a Google map, it suggests a variety of possible approaches so that readers may pursue their own historical inquiries. It is not the first book to survey the field, but it is the first to do so as both a short introduction and a guide to fledgling researchers.1

The history of emotions relies on some sort of conception of what an emotion is. This is more problematic than it seems at first glance. How do we know – ironic as it may seem – that an emotion is an emotion? We know (or think we know) the answer. “How do you feel about that?” ask our relatives, spouses, friends, our therapist, or a TV reporter. “Happy,” or “angry”, we say, or we burst into tears, or our hearts beat faster. But how exactly are those words, tears, and beating hearts signs of emotions, or emotions themselves? What makes those words, gestures, and the concepts they embrace “emotions”? Are we born with them? Or do we learn them? Are they rational or irrational? Do we really know how we feel, or might it be better to say that emotions involve something beyond our knowledge?

These questions have occupied philosophers, physicians, and theologians for centuries and are now largely the province of scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists. Historians, too, have much to say. They know that past societies defined emotions in ways that may seem odd today. They know that the word “emotion” itself is slippery: even Western societies once used words like passions, affects, affections, sentiments, but had no word “emotion” as such. Indeed, the term is of fairly recent vintage, though “motion” and “movement” were often used in ages past. Historians also know that – whatever the term – these things that we today call emotions have been defined differently at different times. The Romans thought that “benevolence” was an emotion, and the medieval scholastic Thomas Aquinas said the same of “weariness.” Few people today would agree.

Not that people today are of the same mind about what emotions are. In fact, there is considerable debate about how to define them, and the differences exist not only among disciplines but also within each of them. In this book, the scientific definitions – and they alone are legion – are the focus of Chapter 1. We begin with early definitions and modern disagreements, followed by discussions of the theories of two of the chief pioneers in the science of emotions, Darwin and James, and their modern heirs. While these theories tended to emphasize the body, the 1960s saw the development of cognitivist theories and, shortly thereafter, social constructionist discussions, both of which focused on the mind. Neuroscientists represent the most recent scientific developments; nevertheless, they generally work within one of these traditions and are therefore just as varied in their approaches.2

In Chapter 2 we begin our discussion of histories of emotions. Our emphasis here and throughout the book is on methods. We present the major questions and approaches that historians of emotions employ. If our examples of their results come largely from Western history, that is in part because much of the work on the topic has been Western in focus, and in part because that is the field most familiar to the authors of this book. But the methods themselves cut across all periods, fields, and continents.

After glancing at the “prehistory” of emotions historiography, Chapter 2 turns to the foundational work of Peter Stearns and his then-wife Carol Stearns, whose notion of “emotionology” was elaborated in the 1980s. Drawing on social constructionism, they separated “how people really felt” from “standards of emotional expression.” They looked at, for example, advice books that prescribed how and when to get angry or how to control anger – without worrying about whether people really “felt” angry. Standards changed over time, and thus (observed the Stearnses) a history of emotions was possible. Meanwhile, in the 1990s and early 2000s, William M. Reddy introduced the twin concepts of “emotional regimes” and “emotives” to make emotions the key to power and power the key to emotions. Emotional regimes, too, changed over time, particularly when they stifled emotional experimentation. Less all-encompassing and more varied than Reddy's emotional regimes were the “emotional communities” proposed – around the same time – by Barbara H. Rosenwein, one of the authors of this book. Emotional communities were (and are) groups of people who share the same or similar valuations of particular emotions, goals, and norms of emotional expression. In Rosenwein's view, the very variety of these communities were themselves agents of change as they interacted with one another and responded to changing circumstances. For various reasons and in a variety of ways, Stearns', Reddy's, and Rosenwein's approaches have all been cited and used by subsequent historians. While different, their theories have one important commonality: their emphasis is on texts and words. This is less true of the final foundational approach discussed in Chapter 2, that of Gerd Althoff and the notion of emotions as “performances.” Although dependent on texts for descriptions of such performances, Althoff stressed the emotional gestures of the ruler's body to communicate his will to his subjects.

How do these different historical approaches work in concrete cases? We have chosen the Declaration of Independence of the United States to illustrate the four “in action.” The Declaration is obviously famous if less evidently emotional. And yet, its repeated grievances suggest emotional gestures, and the one mention of “happiness” – whose pursuit is proclaimed a universal and inalienable right – poses instant, ineluctable questions to the historian of emotions.

At its core, “happiness” is just a word. Recently, many historians have become dissatisfied with the limits imposed by words and texts. After examining major current trends in such emotions studies, we came to realize that their common theme was the body, though defined in two main ways. In one, the body is bounded and autonomous. In the other, it is porous, open to – and even merging with – the world. Chapter 3 begins with the bounded body. Its many organs have at one time or another been associated with emotions; its flesh and viscera subject to pain. Gender, too, was originally tied to sex organs, but more recently has been seen as a sort of “performance.” Elaborating on that approach, some historians propose that emotions are the habitual practices of the body, which both create and reinforce emotional experience.

We continue Chapter 3 with the “porous” body. This is a body that spills into the world and absorbs it in turn. We explore how some historians speak of affects – “emotions” that, by this view, are totally or largely unconscious, divorced from intention and verbal articulation – as they move out from and into the body. We look at how the body interacts with space, moving within it and endowing it with emotional meaning even as it affects people in turn. We then turn to the body's porous relations with matter. In the most recent developments in this line of inquiry, anthropologists, sociologists, and historians have thought about the “social life of things.” Even ordinary objects – such as clothes, heirlooms, and household furnishings – influence or change our feelings and contribute to shaping our needs and values, just as we shape matter itself. Until recently, for example, Shakespeare's famous bequest of his “second best bed” to his wife was considered evidence of his indifference toward her. But now, thanks to new technical analyses of his will, a British team argues that Shakespeare inserted that clause after the others, at a time when he was severely ill. His second-best bed was thus one among the “tokens of affection from a man facing the prospect of his death.”3 The chapter ends with a discussion of mental space, which incorporates matter and place by way of memory, dreams, and imagination.

These chapters explore exciting frontiers. But they also raise questions about where the history of emotions is – and should be – going. In Chapter 4 we look at the place of the history of emotions in today's world and what it could be in the future. We consider its untapped potential to partner with the science of emotions and with inquiries in other fields, and we probe its implications for historical thought. We look at its significant achievements and challenges within academia. Convinced that the history of emotions is more than simply an “academic exercise,” we seek a future for it outside the classroom, where we think it could (and should) diffuse its lessons more widely. Here we consider, by way of example, two influential products of today's culture: children's books and videogames. Our brief Conclusion takes up some of the objections that have been made about the field and ends with what we consider to be its major successes.

Though perhaps with less deadly consequences, Desdemona's dilemma is nonetheless our own. We have a sense of our feelings and those of other people, but they are hard to fathom fully. Today scientists have some solutions to offer us. Historians have others, and this book is an introduction to what they teach.



    The most important earlier survey of the field is Jan Plamper,

The History of Emotions: An Introduction

, trans. Keith Tribe (Oxford, 2015). Researchers of the early modern period now have Susan Broomhall, ed.,

Early Modern Emotions: An Introduction

(London, 2017).


    Readers interested in a philosophical approach to emotions might well begin with Robert C. Solomon,

The Passions

(Garden City, NY, 1976) and with his more recent edited collection,

Thinking About Feeling: Contemporary Philosophers on Emotions

(Oxford, 2004); for an anthropological approach, a classic is Catherine A. Lutz,

Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory

(Chicago, 1988); for a literary approach, see Gail Kern Paster, Katherine Rowe, and Mary Floyd-Wilson, eds,

Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion

(Philadelphia, 2004).


    For Shakespeare's will, see




“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that's all.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Political history is about power relations: kings, queens, revolutions, constitutions, and the like. Military history is about war: campaigns, arms, battles, and so on. We have fairly clear notions of these topics. But what is the history of emotions about? How can we have a history of something unless we have a definition of it first? What are emotions?

Premodern views

Although the category “emotion” is itself relatively new, nearly equivalent terms – such as motions, affections, and passions – were part of the languages of the West from the time of the ancient Greeks. The semantic fields of these terms were (and are) not precisely coterminous, and, furthermore, even the modern English word “emotions” means different things to different researchers. Nonetheless, the commonalities are enough to allow for discussion, as long as we recognize the fuzziness of the terms.1

Theorizing the emotions was long the preserve of philosophers. Aristotle (d.322 bce) devoted many pages to the topic in the second book of his Art of Rhetoric. The orator had to sway his audience, and that was a matter not only of setting forth facts, but also of moving hearts. The emotions, said Aristotle (using the ancient Greek term pathe), “are all those affections which cause men to change their opinion in regard to their judgments, and are accompanied by pleasure and pain; such are anger, pity, fear, and all similar emotions and their contraries.” For Aristotle, emotions were forms of cognition: they depended on the individual's assessment of any given situation. Consider the case of anger, which interested Aristotle (and other ancient philosophers) very much. It was evoked by “a real or apparent slight, affecting a man himself or one of his friends, when such a slight is undeserved.” This definition relied on cognition: it meant that a person judged not only that someone had slighted him (or her) but also that the slight was undeserved.2

Later, in the Hellenistic period (323 to 31 bce), Stoic and Epicurean philosophers made the study of emotions a specialty, but only to master and overcome them. For the Stoics, emotions consisted in two sequential judgments: first the appraisal that something – whether internal or external – was good or bad; second the decision about how to react. On the whole, they considered all emotional reactions to be wrong-headed. There was no way to avoid the first inklings of emotion – a sinking feeling, a blush, chattering teeth – but the wise person refused to assent to them, refused to allow those so-called “first movements” to become true emotions. “That anger is stimulated by the impression of injury received is not in doubt; what we are asking is whether it follows immediately upon the impression itself … or whether it is generated when the mind assents.” So wrote the Roman philosopher Seneca (d.65 ce), for whom assent was the crucial factor.3

With the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity at the end of the fourth century, theologians rather than philosophers became the chief theorists of the emotions. Many early Christian ascetics accepted the Stoics' wary view, but others welcomed emotions – as long as they were directed in the correct way, toward God and not toward things of this world. Augustine of Hippo (d.430) set the terms of the discussion: “The character of a man's will is at issue. For if it is turned the wrong way [away from God], it will turn these emotions awry; but if it is straight, they will be not only blameless, but even praiseworthy.”4

As theology merged with philosophy and medicine in the thirteenth century, ever more complex discussions of the emotions ensued. In the seventeenth century, philosopher and mathematician René Descartes's treatise on The Passions of the Soul (1649) seemed to separate mind and body, a dualism that would later have long-term repercussions. Philosopher and physician John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) made the passions, from love to shame, the product of experience. Well into the eighteenth century, theologians, physicians, and philosophers continued to share the task of theorizing the emotions. But over time, secular, mechanistic, and physicalist approaches came to dominate. During the nineteenth century, “emotions” became the term of choice, displacing passions, affections, and many other words. As a convenient and simple category ripe for investigation, that term set the stage for the present near-monopoly by experimental scientists. To be sure, sociologists and anthropologists have much to say on the topic, and we shall bring them into the discussion from time to time. But at the forefront of the public eye today are the scientists. The remainder of this chapter will explore their chief theories, for historians of the modern field of the history of emotions cannot – and usually do not wish to – escape them.5

The science of emotions

In 1981, psychologist Paul R. Kleinginna and Anne M. Kleinginna, dismayed by the bewildering proliferation of definitions of emotions that had been proposed by their peers, tried to find common ground. Surveying the field, they found ninety-two different answers and nine “skeptical statements.” Working with them all, they came up with a hybrid definition on which, they hoped, everyone would agree:

Emotion is a complex set of interactions among subjective and objective factors, mediated by neural/hormonal systems, which can (a) give rise to affective experiences such as feelings of arousal, pleasure/displeasure; (b) generate cognitive processes such as emotionally relevant perceptual effects, appraisals, labeling processes; (c) activate widespread physiological adjustments to the arousing conditions; and (d) lead to behavior that is often, but not always, expressive, goal-directed, and adaptive.6

Although cited every so often, this definition is hardly ever adopted, no doubt because by trying to please all, it pleases none.

More helpful is a textbook from 1996 by psychologist Randolf Cornelius, The Science of Emotion. Cornelius covered four foundational theories of modern psychology: the Darwinian, Jamesian, cognitivist, and social constructionist. We will review them in this chapter, for they continue to be the paradigms that scientists work with today, and we will show along the way how they manifest themselves in the newest trend in the science of emotions: neuropsychology. In Chapter 4, we will see how they turn up in our children's books and in videogames, for this provides a glimpse of the pervasiveness of these theories not just in textbooks but also in lived experience – including the lived experience of historians.

There is also Freudian, or psychoanalytic, theory. It is of particular importance for therapy and for inquiries into the unconscious, but does not lend itself well to the experimental method favored by most scientists. Psychoanalysis was influential in “psychohistory,” which flourished in the 1970s. Although certainly touching on emotions, neither psychoanalysis nor psychohistory focused on that topic, being concerned, rather, with drives (the so-called sex and death instincts) and their role in the formation and functions of the id, ego, and super-ego in individual development and human relationships.7

Are they emotions or are they not? Moods, feelings, sentiments, affects

When Cornelius began his book on the science of emotions, he presented some examples rather than give an abstract definition: “This is a book about emotions. It is about joy, love, anger, fear, happiness, guilt, sadness, embarrassment, hope, and many other emotions as well.”8 Most of us – and certainly most scientists – agree that sadness is an emotion. But is “depression” an emotion? Are feelings the same as emotions? When we say: I am “feeling sad,” no doubt we mean to express an emotion. But when we say, “You hurt my feelings,” no emotion per se has been hurt. To some degree historians of emotions do not need to worry too much about these fine distinctions, first because they were not necessarily made in the past (they are anachronistic) and second because historians must deal with complex phenomena that few in the past neatly labelled “an emotion.”

However, the word “affect” poses a somewhat different problem. Used as the equivalent of emotion by many scholars, both in history and science, it also has been made the crux of a theory that deliberately separates affect from theories of emotions. This is a modern development. Derived from the Latin affectus, affect was traditionally used either as a word for the emotions or as one of the emotions. In the fifth century, Augustine used it interchangeably with other words for emotions – the Latin equivalents of words like perturbations, affections (a word with the same root as affect), motions of the soul, and passions. All of these, said Augustine, were in the will – a faculty of the soul (or mind). All emotions were good when turned towards God and bad if directed at worldly things. In the twelfth century, however, affect (and related words, like affections) tended to be linked specifically to love. Officials at the court of the counts of Toulouse used affectuosus (an adjective meaning “full of affect”) to signify “affectionate.” Around the same time, the monk and abbot Aelred of Rievaulx defined affectus as a spontaneous inclination of one person for another. In general, it was the irrational energy that gave love its force, whether for good or ill.9

That element of irrationality is the characteristic seized upon by affect theorists today. As theories of emotions emphasize ever more strongly the “cognitive” nature of emotions, affect theorists have allotted to affects the realm of the irrational. They are, according to these scholars, the pre-conscious, pre-emotional, pre-verbal forces in our lives. We will return to them when we come to the critics of cognitivist theory.

Charles Darwin: emotions as habits

Charles Darwin (d.1882) was the first modern scientist of emotions, and, in modified form, his theory remains the most influential of all among scientists today. When lay people think about emotions, they usually think first of subjective feeling. Darwin, by contrast, was interested in the physical “expression” of emotions. Moreover, he doubted that these expressions had any function in contemporary human life. They had originated for the purposes of survival, and they persisted out of inherited habits. Why do eyes open wide with surprise? Here is Darwin's answer: “We naturally desire, when startled, to perceive the cause as quickly as possible; and we consequently open our eyes fully, so that the field of vision may be increased.”10 The same gesture serves no purpose at, say, a surprise birthday party today. Even so, we open wide our eyes because it is a “built in” habit.

As the example of surprise demonstrates, Darwin thought that emotions were often expressed on faces. He was delighted by the photographs of “human emotions” that Duchenne de Boulogne published in 1862.11 Duchenne electrically stimulated the facial muscles of people who suffered from facial nerve block, inducing in them the “look” of various emotional expressions. He then photographed the faces. Although such expressions could not possibly have represented the feelings of the people pictured (who, after all, were passively undergoing electrical stimulation), both Duchenne and Darwin considered the photographs to represent authentic emotions (see Plate 1).

Darwin's theory endured through the first half of the twentieth century and gained new momentum in the 1970s, above all with the work of Paul Ekman. In a famous study, Ekman and his collaborator, Wallace Friesen, claimed to show that six facial expressions of emotions – anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise – were universal. That is because the faces were “correctly” identified not only by Westerners but also by members of the Fore tribal group in New Guinea. Ekman and Friesen (or rather their native translators) described a scenario to their Fore subjects – e.g. “His (her) friends have come, and he (she) is happy” – and then showed one “correct” photograph along with one or two “incorrect” photos of facial expressions corresponding to a selection among the six. The ratio of subjects choosing correct faces ranged from 100 percent (when the happiness face was shown alongside the disgust and anger faces) to 28 percent (when the fear face was paired with surprise and sadness). Today, the six, together with the later addition of “contempt,” are often considered “basic” emotions.12