Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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Classics Editor's note: The original page numbers of the Judd translation are given in square brackets. The page numbers given in round brackets are Wundt's own references to earlier parts of the translation.

Outlines of Psychology

Wilhelm Max Wundt (1897)

Translated by Charles Hubbard Judd (1897)



1. Feelings, like all psychical phenomenal are never permanent states. In the psychological analysis of a composite feeling, therefore, we must always think of a momentary affective state as held constant. This is easier the more slowly and continuously the psychical processes occur, so that the word feeling has come to be used mainly for relatively slow processes and for those which in their regular form of occurence never pass beyond a certain medium intensity, such as the feelings of rhythm. Where, on the other hand, a series of feelings succeeding one another in time unite to an interconnected process which is distinguished from preceding and following processes as an individual whole, and has in general a more intense effect on the subject than a single feeling, we call the unitary succession of feelings an emotion.

This very name indicates that it is not any specific subjective contents of experience which distinguish emotion from feeling, but rather the effect which comes from a special combination of particular affective contents. In this way it comes that there is no sharp line of demarcation between feeling and emotion. Every feeling of greater intensity passes into an emotion, and the separation between the two depends on a more or less arbitrary abstraction. In the case of feelings that have a certain particular form of occurence [sic], that is feelings of rhythm, such an abstraction is strictly speaking impossible. The feeling of rhythm is distinguished at most by the small intensity of its moving effect on the subject, which is what gives "emotion" its name. Still, even this distinction is by no means fixed, and when the feelings produced by rhythmical impressions become somewhat more intense, as is usually the case, especially when the rhythm [p. 170] is connected with sensational contents that arouse the feelings greatly, they become in fact emotions. Feelings of rhythm are for this reason important aids both in music and poetry for portraying emotions and arousing them in the auditor.

The names of different emotions, like those of feelings, do not indicate single processes, but classes in which a large number of single affective processes are grouped on the ground of certain common characteristics. Emotions such as those of joy, hope, anxiety, care, and anger, are accompanied in any concrete case by peculiar ideational contents, while their affective elements also and even the way in which they occur may vary greatly from time to time. The more composite a, psychical processes is, the more variable will be its single concrete manifestations; a particular emotion, therefore, will be less apt to recur in exactly the same form than will a particular feeling. Every general name fore motions indicates, accordingly, certain typical forms in which related affective processes occur.

Not every interconnected series of affective processes is an emotion or can be classed as such under one of the typical forms discriminated by language. An emotion is a unitary whole which is distinguished from a composite feeling only through the two characteristics that it has a definite temporal course and that it exercises a more intense present and subsequent effect on the interconnection of psychical processes. The first characteristic arises from the fact that an emotion is a process of a higher order as compared with a single feeling, for it always includes a succession of several feelings. The second is closely connected with this first characteristic; it depends on the intensification of the effect produced by a summation of the feelings.

As a result of these characteristics emotions have in the [p. 171] midst of all their variations in form a regularity in the manner of their occurence. They always begin with a more or less intense inceptive feeling which is immediately characteristic in its quality and direction for the nature of the emotion, and is due either to an idea produced by an external impression (outer emotional stimulation) or to a psychical process arising from associative or apperceptive conditions (inner stimulation). After this inceptive feeling comes an ideational process accompanied by the corresponding feelings. This process shows characteristic differences in the cases of particular emotions both in the quality of the feelings and in the rapidity of the process. Finally, the emotion closes with a terminal feeling which continues even after the emotion has given place to a quiet affective state, and in which the emotion gradually fades away, unless it passes directly into the inceptive feeling of a new emotion. This last case occurs especially in feelings of the intermittent type (cf. inf. 13).

4. The intensification of the effect which may be observed in the course of an emotion, relates not merely to the psychical contents of the feelings that compose it, but to the physical concomitants as well. For single feelings these accompanying phenomena are limited to very slight changes in the innervation of the heart and respiratory organs, which can be demonstrated only by using exact graphic methods (p. 86 sq). With emotions the case is essentially different. As a result of the summation and alternation of successive affective stimuli there is here not only an intensification of the effect on heart, blood-vessels, and respiration, but the external muscles are always affected in an unmistakable manner. Movements of the oral muscles appear at first (mimetic movements), then movements of the arms and of the whole body (pantomimetic movements). In the case of [p. 172] stronger emotions there may be still more extensive disturbances of innervation, such as trembling, convulsive contractions of the diaphragm and of the facial muscles, and paralytic relaxation of the muscles.

Because of their symptomatical significance for the emotions, all these movements are called expressive movements. As a rule they are entirely involuntary, either reflexes following emotional excitations, or impulsive acts prompted by the affective components of the emotion. They may be modified, however, in the most various ways through voluntary intensification or inhibition of the movements or even through intentional production of the same, so that the whole series, of external reactions which we shall have to discuss under volitional acts, may take part in these expressive movements (§ 14). These different forms of movement may be entirely alike in external character and may pass into each other without sharp limitations on their psychical side, so that for the outside observer they are as a rule indistinguishable.

5. According to their symptomatical character, expressive movements may be divided into three classes. 1) Purely intensive symptoms; these are always expressive movements for more intense emotions, and consist of stronger movements for emotions of middle intensity, and of sudden inhibition and paralysis of movement for violent emotions. 2) Qualitative expression of feelings; these are mimetic movements, the most important of which are the reactions of the oral muscles, resembling the reflexes following sweet, sour, and bitter impressions of taste; the reaction for sweet corresponds to pleasurable emotions, those for sour and bitter to unpleasurable, while the other modifications of feeling, such as excitement and depression, strain and relief, are expressed by a tension of the muscles. 3) Expression of ideas; these are generally pantomimetic movements that either point to the [p. 173] object of the emotion (indicative gestures) or else describe the objects as well as the processes connected with them by the form of the movement (depicting gestures). Obviously these three classes of expressive movements correspond exactly to the psychical elements of emotions and their fundamental attributes: the first to their intensity, the second to the quality of the feelings, and the third to their ideational content. A concrete expressive movement may unite all three forms in itself. The third class, that of expressions of ideas, is of special psychological significance because of its genetic relations to speech (cf. § 21, 3).

6. The changes in pulse and respiration that accompany emotions are of three kinds. 1) They may consist of the immediate effects of the feelings that make up the emotions, as, for example, a lengthening of the pulse-curve and respiration-curve when the feelings are pleasurable, and a shortening of the same for unpleasurable feelings (cf. sup. p. 87). This holds only for relatively quiet emotions where the single feelings have sufficient time to develop. When this is not the case, other phenomena appear which depend not merely on the quality of the feelings, but also, and that mainly, on the intensity of the innervations due to their summation. 2) Such summations may consist of intensified innervation, which arises from an increase in the excitation resulting from a summation when the succession of feelings is not too rapid. This increase shows itself in retarded and strengthened pulse-beats, since the intense excitation effects most the inhibitory nerves of the heart. Besides these there is usually an increased innervation of the mimetic and pantometic muscles. These are called sthenic emotions. 3) If the feelings are very violent or last an unusually long time in a single direction, the emotion brings about a more or less extended paralysis of the innervation of the heart and [p. 174] of the tension of the outer muscles. Under certain circumstances disturbances in the innervation of special groups of muscles appear, especially those of the diaphragm and the sympathetic facial muscles. The first symptom of the paralysis of the regulative cardiac nerves is a marked acceleration of the pulse and a corresponding acceleration of the respiration, accompanied by a weakening of the same, and a relaxation of the tension of the external muscles to a degree equal to that in paralysis. These are the asthenic emotions. There is still another distinction, which is not important enough, however, to lead to the formation of an independent class of physical effects of emotions, since we have to do here only with modifications of the phenomena characteristic of sthenic and asthenic emotions. It is the distinction between rapid and sluggish emotions, based upon the greater or less rapidity with which the increase or inhibition of the innervation [sic] appears.

6a. Older psychology, following the method of Spinoza's famous doctrine of emotions, generally offered all kinds of logical reflections about emotions, for a theory of emotions or even for description of them. In recent times, on the other hand, the expressive movements and the other concomitants of emotion in the changes of innervation in pulse, respiratory organs, and blood-vessels, have attracted the most attention. Still, these phenomena, which are indeed valuable when rightly interpreted, are often used in a very wrong way as a means for the investigation of the psychological nature of affective processes. This has in turn led to a classification of emotions based entirely on their physical characteristics, and the strange theory has gained adherence that emotions are nothing but the results of expressive movements. The emotion of sorrow, for example, is regarded as made up entirely of the sensations that come from the mimetic of weeping. In a somewhat more moderate way the attempt has been made to use the expressive movements characteristics whose presence may be [p. 175] regarded as a mark to distinguish emotions from feelings. This is, however, unjustifiable since similar physical expressive phenomena appear even for the feelings, and the minor circumstance that these symptoms are in one case externally more or less clearly visible, evidently can not be decisive. The essential difference between emotion and feeling is psychological. The emotion is made up of a series of feelings united into a unitary whole. Expressive movements are the results, on the physical side, of the increase which the preceding parts of such a series have on those succeeding. It follows directly that the deciding characteristics for the classification of emotions must be psychological (cf. inf. 9).

7. Though important constituents of emotions, the physical concomitants stand in no constant relation to the psychical quality of the same. This holds especially for the effects on pulse and respiration, but also for the pantomimetic expressive movements of stronger emotions. It may sometimes happen that emotions with very different, even opposite kinds of affective contents, may belong to the same class so far as the accompanying physical phenomena are concerned. Thus, for example, joy and anger may be in like manner sthenic emotions. Joy accompanied by surprise may, on the contrary, present the appearance, on its physical side, of an asthenic emotion. The general phenomena of innervation which give rise to the distinction between sthenic and asthenic, and rapid and sluggish emotions, do not show the character of affective contents of these emotions, but only the formal attributes of the intensity and rapidity of the feelings. This is clearly proved by the fact that differences in involuntary innervation analogous to those which, accompany the different emotions, may be produced by a mere succession of indifferent impressions, as, for example, by the strokes of a metronome. It is observed in such a case that especially the respiration tends to adapt itself to [p. 176] the faster or slower rate of the strokes, becoming more rapid when the rapidity of the metronome increases. As a rule, too, certain phases of respiration coincide with particular strokes. To be sure, the hearing of such an indifferent rhythm is not unattended by emotion. When the rate changes, we observe at first a quiet, then a sthenic, and finally when the rapidity is greatest an asthenic emotion. Still the emotions in this case have to a certain extent a mere formal character; they exhibit a great indefiniteness in their contents. This indefiniteness disappears only when we think into them concrete emotions of like formal attributes. This is very easy, and is the condition of the great utility of rhythmical impressions for describing and producing emotions. All that is necessary to arouse an emotion in all its fulness is a mere hint of qualitative affective content, such as it is possible to give in music through the clangs of a musical composition.

7a. It follows from this relation of the physical effects to the psychical content of emotions, that the former can never be put in the place of the psychological observation of the emotions. They are general symptoms, but of such equivocal character that, though they are of great value when connected with introspection controlled by experimental methods, alone they have no value whatever. They are especially useful as cheeks for experimental introspection. The principle that the observation of psychical processes which present themselves in the natural course of life is entirely inadequate, holds especially for the emotions. In the first place, emotions come to the psychologist by chance, at moments when he is not in a condition to subject them to scientific analysis; and secondly, in the case of strong emotions whose causes are real we are least of all able to observe ourselves with exactness. This can be done much more successfully when we arouse in ourselves voluntarily a particular emotional state. In such a case, however, it is not possible to estimate how nearly the subjectively aroused emotion agrees in [p. 177] intensity and mode of occurence [sic] with one of like character due to external circumstances. For this purpose the simultaneous investigation of the physical effects, especially of those most removed from the influence of the will of those on the pulse and respiration, furnishes a check for introspection. For when the psychological quality of emotions is alike, we may infer from their like physical effects that their formal attributes also agree.

8. Both in natural and in voluntarily aroused emotions, the physical concomitants have, besides their symptomatical significance, the important psychological attribute of intensifying the emotion. This attribute is due to the fact that the excitation or inhibition of certain particular groups of muscles is accompanied by inner tactual sensations which produce certain sense-feelings. These feelings unite with the other affective contents of the emotion and increase its intensity. From the heart, respiratory organs, and blood-vessels we have such feelings only for strong emotions, where they may indeed be very intense. On the other hand, even in moderate emotions the state of greater or less tension of the muscles exercises an influence on the affective state and thereby on the emotion.

9. The great number of factors that must be taken into consideration for the investigation of emotions renders a psychological analysis of the single forms impossible. This is all the more so because each of the numerous distinguishing names marks off a whole class, within which there is a great variety of special forms, including in turn an endless number of single cases of the most various modifications. All we can do is to take a general survey of the fundamental form of emotions. The general principles of division here employed must, of course, be psychological, that is, such as are derived from the immediate attributes of the emotions themselves, for the accompanying physical phenomena have [p. 178] only a symptomatical value and are even then, as noted above, equivocal in character.

Three such psychological principles of classification may be made the basis for the discrimination of emotions: 1) according to the quality of the feelings entering into the emotions, 2) according to the intensity of these feelings, 3) according to the form of occurence, which is conditioned by the character and rate of the affective changes.

10. On the basis of quality we may distinguish certain fundamental emotional forms corresponding to the chief affective directions distinguished before (p. 83). This gives us pleasurable and unpleasurable, exciting and depressing, straining and relaxing emotions. It must be noted, however, that because of their more composite character the emotions, are always, even more than the feelings, mixed forms. Generally, only a single affective direction can be called the primary tendency for a particular emotion. There are affective elements belonging to other directions, that enter in as secondary elements. Their secondary character usually appears in the fact that under different conditions various sub-forms of the primary emotion may arise. Thus, for example, joy is primarily a pleasurable emotion. Ordinarily it is also exciting, since it intensifies the feelings, but when the feelings are too strong, it becomes a depressing emotion. Sorrow is an unpleasurable emotion, generally of a depressing character; when the intensity of the feelings becomes somewhat greater, however, it may become exciting, and when the intensity becomes maximal, it passes again into very marked depression. Anger is much more emphatically exciting and unpleasant in its predominant characteristics, but when the intensity of the feelings becomes greater, as when it develops into rage, it may become depressing. Thus, exciting and depressing tendencies are always mere secondary qualities [p. 179] connected with pleasurable and unpleasurable emotions. Feelings of strain and relaxation, on the contrary, may more frequently be the chief, or at least the primary components of emotions. Thus, in expectation, the feeling of strain peculiar to this state is the primary element of the emotion. When the feeling develops into an emotion, it may easily be associated with unpleasurable feelings which are, according to circumstances either exciting or depressing. In the case of rhythmical impressions or movements there arise from alternation of feelings of strain with those of relaxation pleasurable emotions which may be either exciting or depressing according to the character of the rhythm. When they are depressing we may even have unpleasurable feelings intermingled with them, or they may all be of this kind, especially when other affective elements cooperate, for example feelings of clang or harmony.

11. Language has paid the most attention in its development of names for emotions to the qualitative side of feelings, and among these qualities particularly to pleasurable and unpleasurable. These names may be divided into three classes. First we have those of emotions that are subjectively distinguished, chiefly through the nature of the affective state itself, such as joy and sorrow and, as subforms of sorrow in which either depressing, straining, or relaxing tendencies of the feeling are also exhibited, sadness, care, grief, and fright. Secondly, there are names of objective emotions referring to some external object, such as delight and displeasure and, as subforms of the latter in which, as above, various tendencies unite, annoyance, resentment, anger, and rage. Thirdly, we have names of objective emotions that refer rather to outer events not expected until the future, such as hope and fear and, as modifications of the latter, worry and anxiety. They are combinations of feelings of strain [p. 180] with pleasurable and unpleasurable feelings and, in different ways, with exciting and depressing tendencies as well.

Obviously language has produced a much greater variety of names for unpleasurable emotions than for pleasurable. In fact, observation renders it probable that unpleasurable emotions exhibit a greater variety of typical forms of occurence. and that their different forms are really more, numerous.

12. On the basis of the intensity of the feelings we may distinguish weak and strong emotions. These concepts, derived from the psychical properties of the feelings, do not coincide with those of sthenic and asthenic emotions, based upon the physical concomitants, for the relation of the psychological categories to the psycho-physical is dependent not only on the intensity of the feelings, but on their quality as well. Thus, weak and moderately strong pleasurable emotions are always sthenic, while, on the contrary, unplesurable emotions become asthenic after a longer duration, even when they are of a low degree of intensity, as, for example, care and anxiety. Finally, the strongest emotions, such as fright, worry, rage, and even excessive joy, are always asthenic. The discrimination of the psychical intensity of emotions is accordingly of subordinate significance, especially since emotions that agree in all other respects, may not only have different degrees of intensity at different times, but may on the same occasion vary from moment to moment. Then too since this variation from moment to moment is essentially determined by the sense-feelings that arise from the accompanying physical phenomena, in accordance with the principle of the intensification of emotions discussed above (p. 177), it is obvious that the originally physiological antithesis of sthenic and asthenic often has a more decisive influence even on the psychological character of the emotion than the primary psychical intensity itself. [p. 181]

13. The third distinguishing characteristic of emotions the form of occurence, is more important. Here we distinguish three classes. First, there are sudden, irruptive emotions, such as surprise, astonishment, disappointment, fright, and rage. They all reach their maximum very rapidly and then gradually sink to a quiet affective state. Secondly, we have gradually arising emotions, such as anxiety, doubt, care, mournfulness, expectation, and in many, cases joy, anger, worry. These rise to their maximum gradually and sink in the same way. As a third form and at the same time a modification of the class just mentioned we have intermittent emotions, in which several, periods of rise and fall follow one another alternately. All emotions of long duration belong here. Thus, especially joy, anger, mournfulness, and the most various forms of gradually arising emotions, come in waves and often permit a distinction between periods of increasing and those of decreasing emotional intensity. The sudden, irruptive emotions, on the contrary, are seldom intermittent. This happens only in cases in which the emotion may also belong to the second class. Such emotions of a very changeable form of occurence [sic] are, for example, joy and anger. They may sometimes be sudden and irruptive. In this case, to be sure, anger generally becomes rage. Or they may gradually rise and fall; they are then generally of the intermittent type. In their psycho-physical concomitants, the sudden irruptive emotions are all asthenic, those gradually arising may be either sthenic or asthenic.

13a. The form of occurence [sic], then, however characteristic it may be in single cases, is just as little a fixed criterion for the Psychological classification of emotions as is the intensity of the feelings. Obviously such a classification can be based only on the quality of the affective contents, while intensity and form of occurence may furnish the means of subdivision. The way [p. 182] in which these conditions are connected with one another and with the accompanying physical phenomena and through these with secondary sense-feelings, shows the emotions to be most highly composite psychical processes which are therefore in single cases exceedingly variable. A classification that is in any degree exhaustive must, therefore, subdivide such varying emotions as joy, anger, fear, and anxiety into their subforms, according to their modes of occurence, the intensity of their component feelings, and finally according to their physical concomitants which are dependent on both the psychical factors mentioned. Thus, for example, we may distinguish a strong, a weak, and a variable form of anger, a sudden, a gradually arising, and an intermittent form of its occurence, and finally a sthenic, asthenic, and a mixed form of its expressive movements. For the psychological explanation, an account of the causal interconnection, of the single forms in each particular case is much more important than this mere classification. In giving such an accounts we have in the case of every emotion to do with two factors, first, the quality and intensity of the component feelings, and second, the rapidity of the succession of these feelings. The first factor determines the general character of the emotion, the second its intensity in part and more especially its form of occurence, while both together determine its physical accompaniments and the psycho-physical changes resulting from the sense-feelings connected with these accompanying phenomena (p. 177). It is for this very reason that the physical concomitants are as a rule to be called psycho-physical. The expressions "psychological" and "psycho-physical" should not, however, be regarded as absolute opposites in this case, where we have to do merely with symptoms of emotion. We speak of psychological emotional phenomena when we mean those that do not show any immediately perceptible physical symptoms, even when such symptoms can be demonstrated with exact apparatus (as, for example, changes in the pulse and in respiration). On the other hand we speak of psycho-physical phenomena in the case of those which can be immediately recognized as two-sided.