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1. Ready

What is involved in recognizing emotions?

Ask yourself “How am I feeling right now?”, and before you answer (most likely with an automatic “great”, “fine”, or “okay”) pause and don’t think. At this point,
Dr. Marc Brackett Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel. Celadon Books.
suggests that “if you can turn off your analytic mind for a moment, you will get a clear, visceral sense of your underlying emotional state”. Don’t worry about having the words to articulate your emotions (yet). Recognizing emotions is simply about tuning into your body and noticing any physical or psychological sensations. Am I feeling pleasant or unpleasant? Up or down? Energized or drained? Engaged or disengaged? Am I clenching my fists? Is my heart racing? Your body continuously provides you with information about how you are feeling. “
To recognize [y]our emotions Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel. Celadon Books.
is to acknowledge that we're all feeling beings and we’re experiencing emotions every instant of our lives”. Recognizing emotions involves tapping into a basic, underlying emotional state.

Recognizing emotions is also about recognizing the emotions of others. The ability to recognize others’ emotions rests largely on your awareness and understanding of nonverbal cues. You’d probably agree that it’s not ideal to continuously ask, “What’s your basic underlying emotional state right now?”, nor is it reliable: “Words can lie or hide the truth, [but] physical gestures rarely do”.

It’s important to note that recognizing emotions is a skill that improves only with practice. A helpful tool to help you practice recognizing your own and others’ emotions is the Mood Meter.

The Mood Meter

The Mood Meter is a chart that identifies every human feeling on the basis of two core dimensions: pleasantness and energy. The Mood Meter is evenly divided into four quadrants by the horizontal axis, which represents pleasantness, and the vertical axis, which represents energy. Each axis runs from -5 to +5; extremely unpleasant to extremely pleasant (horizontal axis) and extremely low energy to extremely high energy (vertical axis). Each feeling is evaluated on the basis of these two emotional dimensions and mapped to the corresponding location on the mood meter. For now, don’t worry about specifically naming the emotion. Instead, focus on understanding the main idea behind each quadrant:

  • The top left quadrant indicates unpleasant, high energy feelings and is represented by the colour red. Unpleasant, high energy feelings may include being angry, frustrated, annoyed, or frightened.
  • The bottom left quadrant indicates unpleasant, low energy feelings and is represented by the colour blue. Unpleasant, low energy feelings may include being sad, lonely, hopeless, or drained.
  • The bottom right quadrant indicates pleasant, low energy feelings and is represented by the colour green. Pleasant, low energy feelings may include being calm, relaxed, grateful, or content.
  • The top right quadrant indicates pleasant, high energy feelings and is represented by the colour yellow. Pleasant, high energy feelings may include being excited, hyper, inspired, or happy.  


Each quadrant of the Mood Meter has a specific function and the emotions experienced in each quadrant are most conducive to different types of activities. Watch the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s “Mood Meter Overview” to gain a better appreciation for how you can use the Mood Meter to differentiate instruction and capitalize on all quadrants.


However, you cannot solely rely on your visceral sense to recognize emotions because it’s possible to misunderstand or misinterpret these intuitive cues, especially when you don’t understand the story behind them.

What is involved in understanding emotions?

Instead of asking yourself “How am I feeling?”, understanding emotions involves asking yourself “Why do I feel this way?”. At this point, you are trying to understand what caused your own or other’s feelings. You want the story behind the emotion. This almost always involves asking questions, digging deeper, and “conducting an investigation”. Although many emotions have a universal, underlying theme or trigger (ex. disappointment arises from unmet expectations, anger arises from a violation of rights), the specific causes of the emotion will vary from moment to moment, and person to person. At the heart of
understanding emotions Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel. Celadon Books.
is the "search for the possible cause that fuels the emotion". In his book, "
Permission to Feel Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel. Celadon Books.
", Dr. Marc Brackett suggests asking yourself the following questions when you are trying to understand your own feelings:

  • What just happened? What was I doing before this happened?
  • What might have caused my feelings or reaction?
  • What happened this morning, or last night, that might be involved in this?
  • What has happened before with this person that might be connected?
  • What memories do I have about this situation or place?

When you are trying to understand other people’s feelings, he suggests asking these questions:

  • What might have happened to cause this feeling?
  • What usually makes you feel this way?
  • What’s going on that you’re feeling this way?
  • What were you doing just before you started feeling this way? Who were you with?
  • What do you need right now? What can I do to support you?
Understanding the emotion, what triggered the emotion, and its core meaning, is essential to formulating an appropriate response - a response that will help you or the other person cope with their emotions in a healthy, constructive manner. It’s also helpful to consider multiple causes or reasons for your emotions because
emotions are complex Brackett, M. (2020). Why Do We Feel the Way We Do?. Marc Brackett.
and so are their causes. You might find yourself untangling a web of events, rather than following a linear path.

Why is it necessary to move beyond recognizing emotions, to understanding them?

As mentioned earlier, simply recognizing an emotion without trying to understand what is fueling the emotion, can lead to misunderstandings and complications. In the early 1970s, Paul Ekman, travelled to a remote community in Papua New Guinea to determine whether emotions are universally expressed in similar manners. By tracking facial musculature patterns, Ekman classified
six facial expressions Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124–129.
corresponding to distinct, universal emotions: Happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. There is some merit behind the universality of these facial expressions, including the fact that humans inherently understand these emotional expressions (ex. we don’t need to be taught what an angry face looks like). However, recent studies have uncovered a murkier side of emotional expression. Indeed, there are complex differences in how emotional expression are interpreted, based on a variety of factors including
cultural differences, Gendron, M., Roberson, D., van Der Vyver, J., Barrett, L., & Gendron, M. (2014). Perceptions of emotion from facial expressions are not culturally universal: Evidence from a remote culture. Emotion, 14(2), 251–262.
personalities, Knyazev, G., Bocharov, A., Slobodskaya, H., & Ryabichenko, T. (2008). Personality-linked biases in perception of emotional facial expressions. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(5), 1093–1104.
mood, Forgas, J., & Bower, G. (1987). Mood Effects on Person-Perception Judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(1), 53–60.
and
prejudices, Wang, Q., Chen, G., Wang, Z., Hu, C. S., Hu, X., & Fu, G. (2014) Implicit racial attitudes influence perceived emotional intensity on other-race faces. Plos One, 9(8), e105946.
to name a few. All of this to say that we cannot solely rely on our automatic judgements or visceral recognition of emotion. Recognizing emotions, without seeking to understand them, is characteristic of emotion judges. However, taking the extra step to understand the emotion, puts you well on your way to becoming an emotion scientist.

Where can I learn more?

Mark Brackett - What Does It Take To Really Know How We’re Feeling?

Mark Brackett - Why Do We Feel the Way We Do?

Atlas of Emotion

Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

RULER

What will students learn?

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…

  • Use the two dimensions of emotions – pleasantness and energy – to navigate the Mood Meter
  • Recognize the visceral component of emotions and use this information to map their emotions on the mood meter
  • Mindfully monitor the fluctuations of their own and other’s emotions over the course of a day and consider the causes behind those fluctuations
  • Ask inquisitive questions to understand the story behind their own and other’s emotions
References
Beecuz

Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel. Celadon Books.

Brackett, M. (2020). Why Do We Feel the Way We Do?. Marc Brackett.

Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1971). Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17(2), 124–129.

Forgas, J., & Bower, G. (1987). Mood Effects on Person-Perception Judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(1), 53–60.

Gendron, M., Roberson, D., van Der Vyver, J., Barrett, L., & Gendron, M. (2014). Perceptions of emotion from facial expressions are not culturally universal: Evidence from a remote culture. Emotion, 14(2), 251–262.

Knyazev, G., Bocharov, A., Slobodskaya, H., & Ryabichenko, T. (2008). Personality-linked biases in perception of emotional facial expressions. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(5), 1093–1104.

Nathanson, L., Rivers, S., Flynn, L., & Brackett, M. (2016). Creating Emotionally Intelligent Schools With RULER. Emotion Review, 8(4), 305–310.

Wang, Q., Chen, G., Wang, Z., Hu, C. S., Hu, X., & Fu, G. (2014) Implicit racial attitudes influence perceived emotional intensity on other-race faces. Plos One, 9(8), e105946.

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