Analyzing emotions is particularly complicated for neuropsychologists because it is not something that can be confirmed, but rather it is inferred from the behavior of people when they are presented with the most diverse stimuli.
Thus, research in the field of emotions is based on the analysis of behavior and the measurement of observed physiological changes. However, although emotions may seem elusive, they actually have several components that can be separately quantified.
1. The physiology of emotions. Physiological components of the central and autonomic nervous systems are included as well as changes resulting from neuro-hormonal and visceral activity. Thus, it can be understood that emotions cause changes in heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow distribution, sweat, and in the digestive system. Each of these changes can be measurable and associated with different emotional states.
2. Distinctive motor behavior. Facial expression, tone of voice, and posture express states of mind. These motor behaviors are especially important as they are carriers of direct action that can sometimes differ from verbal behavior. In other words, a person can say that he feels good, but his body and gestures indicate negative emotions.
3. Cognitive self-report. Obviously, behind each emotion there is almost always a hidden reason that can be expressed and understood from a cognitive point of view. That is why to understand emotions, people are often asked to talk about them and try to explain them. Interestingly, this sympathetic attempt also has a strong therapeutic effect.
4. Unconscious behavior. Cognitive processes that influence behavior and emotionality are not always conscious. We can make decisions based on “intuition” (or from hunches that are apparently unfounded). However, many times we provide small clues such as body movements that can indicate to an expert researcher that we are changing the way we think and feel.
At the end, a good researcher analyzes all these signals together and is able to determine the emotions and their intensity, even when the person is not able (or does not want) to recognize them.
Kolb, B. & Whishaw, I. Q. (1980) Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology. Freeman: San Francisco.