Affect vs. Emotion

When reading Trigg’s discussion of affect verses the other words like emotions or passions, I think a light bulb finally went off for me.  Throughout the semester, I have thought that I understood the difference between affect and emotion, however, Trigg’s essay revealed to me that I had not fully understood.  Affect has to do with the preconscious responses rather than the socially constructed responses.  When a heart races, tears burst out uncontrollably, or sweating begins, these are bodily responses rather than conscious decisions.  One of the most helpful aspects of today’s discussion was the reference to the experiment in which Japanese people initially reacted with disgust (an affective response), followed by changing to a straight face (a culturally determined response).  In terms of the medieval literature we are reading, the distinction between the words affect, passions, sentiments, emotions, and feelings is important for critical conversation.  In order for critics to build on each other’s works, the definitions must be clear.  Now that I have a better grasp on what affect means, I think I can more successfully understand the critical conversation.

3 thoughts on “Affect vs. Emotion

  1. I agree with Erin that today’s discussion helped clear up confusion about the differences between affect and emotion. The distinction always reminds me of an article I read for a psychology class, in which therapists are encouraged to “follow the affect” because body language is supposed to be more telling than what someone is actually saying. This seems to fit directly with the Japanese experiment that you reference from Evans’ chapters. I sometimes still wonder what we might be missing by focusing so much on emotion and performance and diverging from affect in studies of literature. That being said, I am well aware that there is little to no other option, especially when it comes to works from the Middle Ages. I too found Trigg’s article to engage well in the conversation we have been having all semester. Despite our limitations, I think that that knowing how the etymology of words like feelings, sentiment, emotions, passions, etc. have changed throughout history encourages a self-awareness of the differences between past and present, and a yearning to move away from our preconceived notions and see things as they were…or at least as accurately as we can.

  2. This article really helped clear things up for me as well! I had been using many of the terms mentioned in her article interchangeably, but I finally understood the variations after reading Trigg’s descriptions of them. By saying that affect is the unconscious bodily response and emotion is the conscious action that follows really made the distinction between the two terms make sense to me. I thought it was really interesting when she was talking about the differences in the terms in relation to different areas of study too. The fact that the word “emotion” wasn’t even used in English before the 16th century and how “feeling” is a better word to use when discussing medieval literature was especially compelling. This made me think back to the title of our class and how appropriately named it is, based on that information.

    • Do note, Arianna, that re: “feelings,” Trigg is referencing the essay by McNamer that we read a few weeks ago.

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