Top Shows

Good Morning

Weekdays at 9am | TV ONE

Emotion in Action

With Dr Sven Hansen

Emotion in Action

Emotion is a powerful force in our health, resilience and social skills.  The word emotion (emote, emovare) means to move. Its primary biological function is to move living creatures either towards (happy, excited, care, connection) or away from (fear, anger, sadness) objects depending on whether we judge them desirable or harmful. Human emotions are complex with approximately 412 mutually exclusive emotions which we display in our facial expressions, tone of voice and internal neurological, biochemical or hormonal changes.

Emotional intelligence is the learned ability to understand and regulate our emotions and those of others.  It is twice as important as IQ and technical skill.  In outstanding leadership, emotional intelligence is responsible for 85% of performance.  Emotional intelligence might be the single biggest contribution parents, schools and business can make to our society - if we want to be healthy, resilient and successful.

Basic Science
Charles Darwin documented human and animal emotions in 1872.  It is only in the past 20 years that modern science has caught up and taken notice.  Today, emotion is a central theme in medical, psychological, neurobiological and business research.

We cycle the 412 emotions through about 250,000 expressions of emotion every day.  Expressions are fast at 0.15 to 0.5 seconds, emotions last minutes to hours, moods can go on for weeks and a disposition is a long-term style.  It is important to remember that each emotion has a clear objective expression in the body.  All humans share exactly the same emotions.  The seven primary emotions are:

Anger: downward movement of eyebrows, tight lips and tight lower eyelid
Sadness: upward movement of inner eyebrow, downwards curve of mouth and lip
Fear: raised, straight eyebrows, wide eyes and horizontal grimace of mouth
Happiness: upward curve of lips and crinkle in the outer corner of the eyes
Surprise: raised and curved eyebrows, wide eyes and open, soft mouth
Disgust: downward movement of eyebrows, upward curl of upper lips
Contempt: one-sided smile

The emotions have powerful effects on our bodies.  For example: anger causes raised heart rate and blood pressure, immune compromise and extra cortisol. Over time anger can increase your risk of heart attack and perhaps cancer.  Fear causes raised heart rate, extra adrenaline and reduced blood to skin and bowel.  Happiness is good for our health, improving immune function, creativity and thinking.

There are four aspects to Emotional Intelligence.  First self-awareness, second self-mastery (emotion regulation), third empathy (ability to detect and understand the emotions of others, and fourth, social skills.  The Aspergers / Autism range of disorders show a significant failure of these functions.

Mastering Emotion & Building Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Investing in this topic will have an enormously positive impact on your life, your family, sport and business.  The rewards are experienced within a couple of hours of practice.  Here are some basic steps:

1. Look out for books on Emotional Intelligence.  Popularised by Daniel Goleman, you can now find many books in any bookstore or library

2. Learn the basic emotional signatures (above).  You can practice in the mirror, watch a movie (Pixar is great) and discuss with friends. Go to Professor Paul Ekman's site (below) where you can learn the basics and purchase training

3. Notice your emotional states.  Take time to listen to and understand any strong feelings.  Identify what triggered the emotion, how it feels in your body and what you are thinking.

1. Destructive emotions such as anger, fear and sadness generally get us into trouble in modern life.  Practice restraint.  If you feel anger for example, try not to do the first thing that comes up such as shout, gesture or punch.  Zip it!  Breathe out slowly and take time to calm down before you respond.

2. Identify and generate positive emotion whenever you can.  Enjoy a sunrise, say a sincere thank you, celebrate a victory and aim to have at least 3 positive emotions to every negative one (see positivity ratio below).  People who have more than 3:1 enjoy better health, more happiness, improved thinking and better social outcomes.

1. Take time to study people's faces and listen to the tone of voice when you communicate.  Too much "communication" happens by e-mail, text and while distracted on other tasks.  When you listen, really listen.  Detect the different emotions and gently check in with those close to you to see if you are correct.

2. Search for Facial Expressions (see below) and take some time to learn the basics.  An hour of training can make a huge difference to your ability to understand others.

For more information:
The Resilience Institute:
Facial Expressions: 
Emotional positivity:

Emotional Intelligence: Daniel Goleman, 1995 and 2010
Positivity: Barbara Fredrickson, 2009
Flourish: Martin Seligman, 2011
Engage your Emotions, Sven Hansen, 2006

(Broadcast 24 July 2012)