Emotion and the Autonomic
and Endocrine Systems
How important are the emotions in society? I would argue that they are quite fundamental. This is especially so if one conceives of emotion as a form of social energy, which can take any state ranging from completely passive inactivity on through strong affectual arousal.
-- Randall Collins
If genes and brains are the engines and transmissions of our behavior, the ANS and the endocrine system are its carburetors and gasoline. ANSs, like carburetors, function variably, and the hormones that facilitate behavior vary in their effects and available quantities. As regulators of the engine's output, ANS functioning and hormone levels have major effects on emotion; and emotions have an impact on our behavior every bit as important as that of the intellect, perhaps even more so. "When we have characterized the biology of moods," writes Melvin Konner, "we will have characterized the major forces behind behavior" ( 1982:104). The acquisition of classical Pavlovian conditioned responses, and perhaps even of the human conscience, may be primarily a matter of ANS functioning ( Eysenck, 1977; Mednick, 1979; J. Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985), and variability in sex-based behavior (aggressiveness, altruism, nurturance, visual-spatial and verbal skills, etc.) may depend to a great extent on hormone levels ( Ellis, 1986; Udry, 1988; Fishbein, 1992).
ANS and hormonal processes are physiological processes that are of interest to sociologists only insofar as those processes find expression in social behavior. They can only find such expression in their interplay with the envi-