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Why have we evolved to experience emotions?

Monday to Friday 15 to 19 September 2003, 3.45-4.00pm

The emotions have long been ignored by psychologists, who have concentrated on more easily measurable processes like memory and learning. But social scientists are now finally focussing on feelings, as evidence piles up that we are at the mercy of our emotions.


Emotions are defined as complex reactions that engage our bodies and minds. In the style that she's made her own in series such as Raging Hormones and Brain Waves, Claudia Hammond will look at a different emotion in each programme: from why we've evolved to experience it to how the brain produces it. She'll introduce us both to the scientists who are conducting the latest research and to people like you and me who ride the emotional rollercoaster daily.

Programme 1 - Fear

The series kicks off with fear - thought to be the first emotion to have evolved - 500 million years old, but as potent today as it ever was. It causes our pulse to race, our blood pumps faster - we're ready to fight or flee, just as our prehistoric ancestors were.

But how does it adapt us for life in today's world? How can our increasing knowledge of the biochemical reactions involved help us deal with the exaggerated, mis-placed fears which lead to phobias? And should computers be afraid - be very afraid?

Claudia Hammond investigates - listen - if you dare!

Listen again to Programme 1 Listen again to Programme 1

Programme 2 - Anger

Claudia Hammond investigates an emotion we hear a lot about as our lives become increasingly stressful. But while road rage, air rage and trolley rage make headlines, she discovers that anger gets short shrift in the work place; as more and more of us work in the service industries where we're expected to control our feelings, could we be losing touch with our emotions?

Listen again to Programme 2 Listen again to Programme 2

Programme 3 - Guilt and Shame

Claudia Hammond experiences the most uncomfortable emotion of all - Guilt. It’s what makes us do the right thing, and it’s what signals to us whether a person is trustworthy. But if guilt is the emotion that lubricates society, does its close relative, shame, do anything more than titillate society? Why do we so avidly scan newspapers for stories of another's shame? Is it simply to revel in the fact that it's not us on the front page?

Whereas we feel guilt for something we do, we feel shame for what we are - which is why the most commonly quoted reaction to it is: 'I simply wanted to disappear'.

Listen again to programme 3 Listen again to Programme 3

Programme 4 - Sadness

Why do we cry? Is it simply to communicate how we’re feeling, or does a good cry actually shed more than just tears? Professor William Frey argues that tears are a way of eliminating waste products from our body, which is why getting through a box of tissues while watching a weepie on TV on Sunday afternoons leaves us feeling a lot better!

Listen again to programme 3 Listen again to Programme 4

Programme 5 - Jealousy

The Emotional Rollercoaster takes its final, rather uncomfortable ride when Claudia Hammond meets the green-eyed monster - the emotion that eats you up from the inside - Jealousy. What is the evolutionary purpose of a feeling which has frequently led to murder and ruined lives? And could its close relative, Envy, be responsible for such social advances as trade unionism and the women's movement?

Listen again to programme 3 Listen again to Programme 5

Contributors: Susan Aldridge, Petruska Clarkson, Riccardo Draghi-Lorenz and Dylan Evans
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Series 1:
Fear, Anger, Guilt & Shame, Sadness and Jealousy
Series 2:
Disgust, Joy, Sympathy,
Love and Hope
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