Mind the Gap pp 261-280 | Cite as

From Whence the Captains of Our Lives: Ultimate and Phylogenetic Perspectives on Emotions in Humans and Other Primates

  • Daniel M. T. FesslerEmail author
  • Matthew Gervais


We outline an evolutionary approach to emotions intended to spur further research on the subject in humans and nonhumans alike. Combining adaptationist, comparative, and phylogenetic analyses, we seek to illuminate the functions that emotions fulfill, the reasons why they take the forms that they do, and the extent to which they are shared across species. Using similar logic, we distinguish between emotions and attitudes, cognitive representations of other actors that are both informed by, and potentiate, emotions. Employing select emotions as illustrations, we discuss a taxonomy of emotions. We begin with emotions that address adaptive challenges common across animals, and which require minimal cognitive capacities, features that make it likely that they are widely shared across species. Next, we consider emotions involved in elementary sociality, a category further elaborated in emotions playing a role in parenting and pair-bonding. In light of the importance of dyadic cooperative relationships in primate societies, we describe a set of emotions undergirding such relationships that we expect to be shared by human and nonhuman primates. To a more limited degree, we expect pan-primate similarities with regard to vicarious emotions, those wherein the individual experiencing the emotion is affected only indirectly by the eliciting event. The greater range and complexity of human social relationships, including the human propensity to essentialize cultural groups, extend the class of vicarious emotions beyond anything evident in nonhumans. Finally, underscoring the importance of culture in human evolution, we examine moral emotions elicited by norm violations, a pattern unique to humans.


Norm Violation Moral Outrage Disgust Sensitivity Inductive Generalization Emotion System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Behavior, Evolution & Culture, Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AnthropologyLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Center for Behavior, Evolution & Culture, Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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