Alternative Approaches to the Study of Sexual Behavior

By Donn Byrne; Kathryn Kelley | Go to book overview

7
Coition As Emotion

Dolf Zillmann Indiana University

Cannon ( 1929) has most convincingly promoted the view that acute emotional states are responses to environmental threats and that these responses are designed to aid the organism in coping with the threats. More specifically, in his so-called emergency theory of emotion he proposed that intense sympathetic activation provided the energy needed for vigorous action and that, evolutionarily speaking, energetic action is vital in dealing effectively with endangering conditions. Just two high-powered response tendencies are specified in his famous paradigm: fight or flight. Both are obviously adaptive in that they serve the preservation of the individual.

In terms of human emotions, the emergency-resolving behavior dichotomy of fight versus flight corresponds, of course, with the dichotomy of anger versus fear. Although often inferred post facto from overt behavior, anger and fear are generally held to be fight- or flight-motivating experiential states that are characterized by substantial to extreme sympathetic dominance in the autonomic nervous system (cf. Averill, 1982; Izard, 1977; Marks, 1969). Indeed, the excitatory component of acute anger and acute fear seems so pronounced and obtrusive that other emotions pale by comparison. So-called positive emotions, in particular, appear incapable of matching the intensity of sympathetic reactions to situations in which the individual's welfare or well-being is placed at risk. Reactions of delight and joy, for instance, rarely, if ever, have the excitatory intensity typical of Cannon's coping emotions (cf. Grings & Dawson, 1978). Moreover, positive emotions that have great excitatory intensity are often immediately subsequent to negative ones, and their extraordinary intensity may be due to this temporal arrangement. Joy, for instance, may come in the wake of the successful removal or avoidance of endangering conditions and owes its intensity to linger-

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