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I don't know any good definition of emotion. I don't know what they really are, subjectively. I don't understand what makes an experience an emotion, as opposed to a thought or a sensation.

  • What is a good definition of emotion?
  • How is an emotion different from a thought or a sensation?
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You'll need be more specific about what you want to know here. Is there something in the wikipedia entry, or indeed in the dictionary definition, that you don't understand? – Eoin Aug 13 '14 at 16:24
I don't understand what makes an experience an emotion, as opposed to a thought or a sensation. – user107952 Aug 13 '14 at 16:31
@user107952 updated question to capture this slightly clearer question. – Jeromy Anglim Aug 14 '14 at 7:34
feeling hunger is emotion. thinking about food is thought. thought doesn't satisfy hunger; but keep hunger alive. eating food and satisfying hunger is sensation. – Bala Sankar Aug 14 '14 at 17:52

It is hard to delineate emotion completely from thoughts or sensations, because emotion can contain both. If you're in a certain emotional state, that means you're reading your bodily state via a series of sensations (so called interoception, as opposed to sensations originating from the world around you). You can also think about the fact that you're feeling a certain way, and having a concept for your emotional state becomes part of the state as well. What makes emotion different from thinking about some other sensations (such as: 'this is green') is that emotions are fueled by an underlying feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness. However, even this is difficult to completely delineate from some sensations. It is difficult to feel emotionally neutral about the sensation of physical pain, for example.

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Arousal is often considered a second dimension of emotion that's sort of orthogonal to valence (un/pleasantness), differentiating tired from alert, excited (in an enjoyable way) from relaxed, and depressed from anxious (in an apprehensive or uncomfortable way), basically. Some amount of arousal or valence is (or both are) present in essentially every emotion, but need not apply to thoughts more broadly, nor to sensations (or one's responses to them) necessarily. – Nick Stauner Aug 15 '14 at 9:27

Right. No need to reinvent the wheel, so let me Google that for you...


a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.
"she was attempting to control her emotions"
synonyms: feeling, sentiment; reaction, response
$\quad\quad\quad\quad$"she was good at hiding her emotions"
$\quad\quad\quad\ $ · passion, strength of feeling, warmth of feeling
$\quad\quad\quad\quad$"overcome by emotion, she turned away"

· instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.
$\ \ $"responses have to be based on historical insight, not simply on emotion"
$\ \ $synonyms: instinct, intuition, gut feeling; sentiment, the heart
$\quad\quad\quad\quad$"responses based purely on emotion"

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I've also incorporated this into the tag wiki. – Nick Stauner Aug 13 '14 at 20:12
But is that a definition important within cognitive science? Is it the definition employed by cognitive scientists? – jona Aug 15 '14 at 9:28
@jona: I don't know that cognitive scientists in general understand emotion in any essentially different way from the rest of the population. There is more one could say (e.g., how some might elaborate on this foundation in different ways, or disagree with parts of it), but this definition works well enough for me. If I think of applying it to define "emotion" as I've used that term in my work, I don't feel this definition leaves out or misconstrues anything crucial. That's only my personal/professional opinion FWIW, but I've read definitions in textbooks with which I think this compares well. – Nick Stauner Aug 15 '14 at 9:40

In terms of thoughts vs emotions, from a clinical psychology perspective, I conceptualize an emotion as a single word or an image (e.g. anger or "seeing red") while I conceptualize thoughts as sentences. So, if I ask a client what he was thinking, and he says "I was angry," I would label that an emotion and encourage them to expand on the thought ("I thought she was being mean, and felt angry.") Again, this may be more relevant to clinical settings than from a basic research perspective.

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Technically speaking, an emotion is not different from thought the way it is processed in brain, both involve neurotransmitters. But a thought may not always be an emotion as it may include logical thinking too.

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Digestion "involves neurotransmitters" and is clearly different from cognition. -1. – jona Aug 15 '14 at 9:26
Of course they are different. Cognition (eg. voluntary "thought" process) involves forebrain or specifically the pre-frontal cortex while digestion is function of the part of brain that controls involuntary activities of body i.e. medulla oblongata. He is asking here about emotions which is primarily controlled by limbic system that includes hippocampus, amygdala, basal ganglia etc. It is not a separate system but a collection of parts of different systems that control emotions together. What I meant to say above is emotions are thoughts but all thoughts are not emotions. – Ritu Aug 16 '14 at 8:54
You should improve your answer by more clearly explaining what you mean, and by presenting reasonable (e.g. academic) sources for your claims. – jona Aug 16 '14 at 12:20 – Ritu Aug 31 '14 at 9:26

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