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Affective aspect of consciousness. The emotions are generally understood as representing a synthesis of subjective experience, expressive behaviour, and neurochemical activity. Most researchers hold that they are part of the human evolutionary legacy and serve adaptive ends by adding to general awareness and the facilitation of social communication. Some nonhuman animals are also considered to possess emotions, as first described by Charles Darwin in 1872. An influential early theory of emotion was that proposed independently by William James and Carl Georg Lange (1834–1900), who held that emotion was a perception of internal physiological reactions to external stimuli. Walter B. Cannon questioned this view and directed attention to the thalamus as a possible source of emotional content. Later researchers have focused on the brain-stem structure known as the reticular formation, which serves to integrate brain activity and may infuse perceptions or actions with emotional valence. Cognitive psychologists have emphasized the role of comparison, matching, appraisal, memory, and attribution in the forming of emotions. All modern theorists agree that emotions influence what people perceive, learn, and remember, and that they play an important part in personality development. Cross-cultural studies have shown that, whereas many emotions are universal, their specific content and manner of expression vary considerably.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on emotion, visit Britannica.com.