As well as being an integral part of all aspects of internal life emotions play a very significant part in many aspects of external life such as, for example, sport and the arts. In the case of the arts emotions are summoned as a way of discovering inner truths about ourselves. Anger, love, grief, and happiness are just some of the recurring themes that are prominent in literature, drama, and other art forms and that have been from time immemorialIn the case of sport thoughts influence emotions and emotions in turn influence sporting behaviour and decision making making emotions key components of sporting prowess. But what is emotion?

Quite bluntly emotion is one of those terms that stubbornly defends against attempts at definition. Even though most people think they know what emotion is, when asked to define it they find it very difficult to do so. Brewer and Smith (2002) viewed emotions as a source of knowledge of the world, Lazarus (1991) suggested that emotion is a process and that even though a person may recurrently experience certain emotions, that the study of emotions is primarily the study of how they change and flow over time and across occasions. He suggested that this process of emotion has four stages:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Provocation (arousal)
  3. Unfolding
  4. Outcome

Joseph LeDoux (2018) defined emotions as the result of a cognitive and conscious process which occurs in response to a physical reaction to a trigger. Before this Van Brakel (1994) provided a list of twenty two definitions of emotion only for Santrock (1998) to claim that defining emotion is difficult because it is not easy to tell when a person is in an emotional state. If nothing else this gives an idea of the amount of uncertainty involved.

The word ‘emotion’ comes from Latin and means ‘to move’ or ‘to stir up’ and in spite of the absence of a precise definition the word is used by mental health professionals to refer to a group of feelings that are evoked when important things happen to us. In general emotions are gut-reactions as opposed to intellectual appraisals and they tend to arise when a situation is meaningful. They are strong mental states which are generally either positive or negative, but not always so.

To conclude, the answer to the question What is emotion? is somewhat unclear which is possibly why some languages do not have an equivalent term for the word emotion. Perhaps the answer to the question is simply beyond language?

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