The Origins of Our Emotional Life: Our Earliest Feelings

Our earliest nine inborn feelings—“primary affects”—are key to understanding human development and emotional life. What are they? How do they work?

Exploring Feelings

We are born with specific innate feelings, which combine with each other and life experiences to form our complex emotional world.

Turning the Microscope on Feelings

Why do we tend to overlook the importance of feelings in understanding the behavior of human beings?

What Are Feelings?

We have suggested that in order to understand human beings, we must examine the origins of feelings (affects), language, and cognition. This month we start our discussion...

The Embryology of Human Development

Human motivation and behavior are powered by our affects initially, with language and cognition quickly becoming part of the complex process.

Why Origins Count

Origins are important. Origins count. If we appreciate the embryology of our feelings, language, and cognition--we have a much better chance of understanding what goes wrong...

What Is Anger? Part II

Recently, we have been investigating two of our most important innate affects, Interest (curiosity) and Anger. We explored Interest in the May-October 2015 Newsletters.

What Is Anger?

Currently, we are discussing two of our most important innate affects, interest (curiosity) and anger. In the last several newsletters, we have examined interest in some detail.

Early Education

This month we conclude our discussion of education with “Education – Part II.” The emphasis is how to enhance education by mobilizing the positive affects.


Educational philosophy and policy have spawned a massive literature and a huge variety of alternative methods. So what does education and educate mean?

Physical Punishment—and Violence

Physical punishment is damaging to the mental health of children and the societies in which we live. There are alternatives that build on children's ability to integrate feelings, language, and cognition.

Affects, Language, and Cognition

For many months, we have been exploring the three pillars of human development: Affects (Feelings), Language, and Cognition. We have tried to make the case that there is a revolution in our understanding of human development. I have suggested that this revolution has tremendous potential for enhancing development.

Feelings: How and What Does a Baby Understand?

The three pillars of development: Feelings (affects), language, and cognition.

Beyond the Toddler Years

We are continuing our exploration of the three pillars of human development--Affects (Feelings), Language, and Cognition. This month we wrap up the section of Language by examining the link between feelings and words, a process we call translation.


Language represents a huge developmental leap. Think of all the things we can accomplish with our words and language. We can enhance relationships with our children. We can share feelings and ideas.


Language has been described as one of humans' most important evolutionary advances. We will explore language with specific reference to individual development and its relationship to affects and cognition.

What Is Anger -- Part II

Anger is often overlooked or misunderstood in psychopathology as well as in everyday relationships. In pathology, one sees anger behind a variety of symptoms. Clinical work shows us that fear of anger and loss of control often are behind these symptoms.

What Is Anger -- Part I

Anger may be the most misunderstood feeling. It is one of the negative affects. Thus, like all negative affects, anger is an SOS signal. Excessive anger leads to distress, another negative affect. They are linked and appear to depend on the quantity of the stimulus. What is their mechanism of action?

Addendum to Curiosity

Babies readily demonstrate the classic facial expression of interest (curiosity). Of all our feelings, the affect of interest-excitement may be most crucial. Interest involves exploratory and learning activities.

Interferences of Interest in the Talking Child

For some time now, we have been immersed in feelings. Most recently, we have explored the crucial feeling of interest (curiosity) and what enhances and inhibits it. Last month, we examined the ways in which curiosity can be constricted in infancy, i.e. the preverbal child. This month, we discuss how curiosity can be restricted as the child begins to use words.

Enhancing Curiosity

The affect of interest is responsible for our exploratory activities, learning, and adaptation. The key questions in development, then, are "What enhances interest?" and "What inhibits interest?" These questions are crucial to character structure, parenting, education, politics, and much more.

Origins of Interest

In the various models of emotions, then, we see most make some reference to interest, or attention, or curiosity. This is true regardless of whether or not the model is more psychological or biological or integrated. The affect of interest is crucial. It is in the basis of our learning, gathering information, and adapting.

Interest and Anger

During the past year, we have been exploring the three pillars of development: feelings, language, and cognition. Over the next several months, we will explore more deeply what may be our two most significant feelings: interest and anger. We will start with interest (curiosity).

Why Physical Punishment Does Not Work

Physical punishment is a major public health problem in this country. Approximately 60% of adults still approve of physical punishment, despite compelling evidence that it does not work, it makes things worse, and there are effective alternatives. If hitting a child is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.

Our Earliest Feelings: Exploring Questions of Temperament

What is the relationship between one's internal world and the environment? How do these earliest, innate responses relate to later emotional life?

Our Earliest Feelings: Enjoyment, Shame, Disgust, & Dissmell

We are continuing with our exploration of infant, child, and adolescent development and three major developmental topics -- feelings, language, and cognition. This month we examine the last four of our nine earliest feelings: enjoyment, shame, disgust, and dissmell.

Our Earliest Feelings: Distress and Anger

While the feelings of surprise, fear, and interest depend on the speed of the incoming stimuli, distress and anger appear to depend on the quantity of the stimulus.

Surprise, Fear, and Interest

How does it happen that the baby has so few specific responses—feelings, affects, whatever—to all the stimuli coming at her? How do all these stimuli get transformed into the very few signals—feelings—which allow the baby and parents to communicate?

Our Earliest Feelings

Tomkins defined these earliest feelings, or affects, as biological responses to stimuli. These responses are seen in the skin, vocal apparatus, musculature, autonomic nervous system, and particularly in the face.

The Embryology of Our Emotional Life

Why this focus on feelings? Two reasons in particular. First, feelings motivate us. Feelings lead to action. Feelings cause behaviors. Second, feelings are crucial because they allow for communication.