Social Function of Emotion
Emotion theorists disagree in many ways, but most share the assumption that emotions help humans solve many of the basic problems of social living. For evolutionary theorists, emotions are universal, hard-wired affect programs that solve ancient, recurrent threats to survival (Ekman, 1992; Lazarus, 1991; Plutchik, 1980; Tomkins, 1984; Tooby & Cosmides, 1990). For social constructivists, emotions are socially learned responses constructed in the process of social discourse according to culturally specific concerns about identity, morality, and social structure (Averill, 1980; Lutz & White, 1986). These contrasting approaches conceive of the defining elements, origins, and study of emotions in strikingly different ways, but both ascribe social functions to emotion. In this topic we study a social-functional account of emotions that attempts to integrate the relevant insights of evolutionary and social constructivist theorists.
Our account can be summarized in three statements:
1) Social living presents social animals, including humans, with problems whose solutions are critical for individual survival;
2) Emotions have been designed in the course of evolution to solve these problems;
3) In humans, culture loosens the linkages between emotions and problems so that cultures find new ways to solve the problems for which emotions evolved, and cultures find new ways of using emotions.
In the first half of the chapter we synthesize the positions of diverse theorists in a taxonomy of problems of social living, and then consider how evolution-based, primordial emotions solve those problems by coordinating social interactions. In the second half of the chapter we discuss the specific processes according to which culture transforms primordial emotions, and how culturally shaped, elaborated emotions help solve the problems of social living.
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