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Is love an emotion?

Is love an emotion? Let’s put aside loving your job or a piece of clothing, in which the use of the word “love” is as a superlative. That still leaves romantic love and parental love: Are either of these emotions? I think not and here’s why: the time frame for emotions and love are radically different. Emotions come and go, sometimes lasting as little as a few seconds, and rarely more than an hour. …


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We each experience the same emotions, but we all experience them differently. While my best known work is on the universal elements in emotion, I am now examining the exact opposite, how each individual’s emotional response or experience is unique. Individual differences were present in my study of universals, as they are in virtually any study of emotion, but because the evidence for universals was so strong, the individual differences could be set aside.

I had been attracted to the universals question because it had such a distinguished history, with famous people in disagreement. Having resolved that dispute to my…


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Emotion and perception: How our emotions change the way we see the world

Emotion and the “chicken-or-the egg” paradox

Our emotions impact how we perceive and respond to the world around us; how we interpret and, subsequently, judge the actions of others. We rarely seek to challenge why we’re feeling a particular emotion. Instead, we seek ways to confirm that emotion, making it easier to defend our reaction(s). In other words, we evaluate events in way that is consistent with the emotion we felt, allowing us to continue experiencing that emotion.

Emotion and perception: How feelings can lead to biased conclusions

This very common psychological phenomenon, referred to as “emotional bias”, occurs on a subconscious level which makes it that much harder for any of us to combat. In…


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Extreme Altruism: Why do some people put their own lives at risk to help others?

Rather than being a different type of compassion, heroic compassion is a subset of each of the main forms of compassion: global, stranger, familiar, or familial compassionate actions. The distinguishing feature is that the compassionate action might endanger the life of the person who acts. It is thought to be common for risky compassionate action to be shown by a parent toward an offspring who either is in danger of immediate harm or is already being harmed and obviously suffering. Heroic compassion can be either proximal or distal.

Would you act heroically?

Most people do not know if they have heroic compassion, never having…


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Misjudging a Person

I have spent a lot of time in the last thirty years advising police, both regional and national, on how to evaluate truthfulness. You can see some of the training tools we used here. Police make mistakes, not just with black people, although implicit or explicit racism causes a higher rate of mistaken judgments with people of color. The Innocence Project through DNA evidence has freed more than one hundred people from wrongful convictions. My job is to try to help the police make more accurate judgments. Most importantly, not to mistakenly judge innocent people as guilty of a crime.


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Helpful tips for setting goals

Why is September Self-Improvement Month?

September is the official Self-Improvement Month because it marks the end of one era (summer) and the start of a new one (fall). Self-Improvement Month is a time to reflect on all you’ve accomplished this year before identifying which goals you still need to work toward. To help you get there, here are tips for setting goals (and reaching them).

New Year’s resolutions vs. September’s self-improvement

Regardless of how it may sound, the intention of September’s Self-Improvement Month is not just about setting and meeting your New Year’s resolutions before the year is over. Rather, it’s about using this time to reassess and adjust your goals…


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While there is no single all-encompassing definition of compassion, it is generally understood to be a response to the suffering of another person.

The kind of suffering we’re responding to could be a variety of things ranging from physical, emotional or mental pain brought on by anything from disease to injury to a general dissatisfaction with life. The cause of the discomfort may come from external or interpersonal events, real or imagined. In any case, it is our care or concern for the person suffering that is considered compassion.

What are the different types of compassion?

Compassionate Responses

As mentioned, there are many interpretations of compassion, focusing on different…


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Dr. Ekman and the Dalai Lama in Discussion

The following has been taken from discussions between Dr. Ekman and the Dalai Lama. Read more in their book Emotional Awareness.

Ekman: What I have been able to distill from our discussion is that there are three different things that we need to achieve to make for a better emotional balance, and there are three different possible benefits to be achieved from them.

The hardest one is increasing the gap between the impulse and the action of emotion or increasing your awareness that an impulse has arisen and you are about to become emotional. Matthieu Ricard told me that sometimes…


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Is feeling fear a good or a bad thing?

The core of fear is the threat of harm and the possibility of pain, physical or psychological. Fear is a complicated emotion, and how fear makes you feel can be different from one person to the next. In some instances it can overwhelm and drain us, preventing us from living our lives fully, while in other scenarios it can save our lives by drawing our attention to an immediate threat and allowing us to react automatically in a way that will keep us alive and healthy. Fear can have a very important function in our lives. Furthermore, each of the…


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My friend, the Dalai Lama

My friend the Dalai Lama

As many of you are already aware, Eve Ekman and I released the Atlas of Emotions, a visual exploration of the human range of emotions. It was the Dalai Lama who asked me to make a map of emotions so people could navigate to a calm state of mind. This led me to think about my relationship with the Dalai Lama, a deep friendship that has been built over a roughly twenty-year period. I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts on why I don’t call the Dalai Lama “Your Holiness”.

That is how the pope, whose statements…

Paul Ekman

Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of California, San Francisco

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