Emotions as cognitions and the consequences for the sociology of emotions
development studies university of amsterdam leiden, netherlands
Research on emotions in psychology and neuropsychology has the last two decades exploded (Lazarus, 1992, Le Doux, 1996). On the one hand have these findings led to a consensus about a theory of emotions that sees them as cognitions. Particularly Richard Lazarus work on cognitive appraisal has been path breaking in this field. On the other hand has neuroscientific imagining revealed how the part of our brain that deals with emotions is much older and bigger, and there by faster and stronger then the part of our brain that processes cognition and also speech (Haidt, 1999). Most of these findings seem to have bypassed sociology (but see Turner 1999). This paper argues that the theories of emotions based on these findings challenge some of the basic premises and long held believes popular in the sociology of emotions.
In this paper we discuss three particular implications, and illustrate these with examples out of the canon of the sociology of emotions. The first implication is that cognitive appraisal theory shows how emotions are always social, because emotions always have objects, which can be either be things, believes or people. There is no reason to make a distinction between an individual and social theory of emotions (Scheff, 1990, Turner, 2005). The second implications is that the relationship between social norms and emotions is different then is commonly assumed in work on emotion management, not the least by its principal architect Arlie Hochschild (1978, 1983). The main reason for this misconceptualization is that these theories are inadequate in their definitions of what emotions really are. The third implication is that the strength, fastness and therefore influence of our emotional brain suggest a more Bourdieuian approach to the sociology of emotions then is now common. Emotions should be studied with an emphasis on people´s "feel for the game" and intuitions instead of through a reliance on their verbal account given after the fact (Sayer, 2005).