What is the difference between emotions and feelings?

emotions and feeling

The difference between emotion and feeling , a debate that arises from two terms that are often confused, both in the everyday language of people as in scientific language, since their definitions cause a lot of confusion when it comes to distinguishing between one other.

Already in 1991, the psychologist Richard. S. Lazarus , suggested a theory in which he included the concept of feeling in the framework of emotions.


In this theory, Lazarus considered feeling and emotion as two concepts that are interrelated, so that emotion would encompass in its definition to the feeling. Thus, the feeling for Lazarus is the cognitive or subjective component of emotion, the subjective experience.

In this article I will explain to you first what is an emotion and, briefly, the different primary emotions that exist and, later, I will explain the concept of feeling and the differences that exist between both.

What exactly are emotions and feelings?

Definition of emotion


The emotions are the effects of a multidimensional process that occurs at:

  • Psychophysiological: changes in physiological activity.
  • Behavioral: preparation for action or behavior mobilization.
  • Cognitive: the analysis of situations and their subjective interpretation in function of the personal history of the individual.

Emotional states are the result of the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, which then convert these emotions into feelings. Responses to stimuli come from both the innate mechanisms of the brain (these are the primary emotions) and from the behavioral repertoires learned throughout the individual’s life (secondary emotions).

The most important neurotransmitters involved in the formation of emotions are: dopamine, serotonin , noradrenaline , cortisol and oxytocin . The brain is responsible for converting hormones and neurotransmitters into feelings.

It is important to be very clear that an emotion is never good or bad as such. All have an evolutionary origin, so it is a response of the body to various stimuli for the survival of the individual.

An emotion also manifests itself universally in non-verbal communication. Facial expressions are universal and attest to the emotion you are feeling at that moment.

Functions of emotions

  • Adaptive function: prepare the individual for action. This function was first demonstrated by Darwin , who treated emotion with the function of facilitating behavior appropriate to each specific situation.
  • Social: communicate our state of mind.
  • Motivational: facilitate motivated behaviors.

Main or primary emotions

The basic emotions are those that every human being has ever experienced in life. These are:

  • Surprise: the surprise has as an adaptive function the exploration. It facilitates attention, focusing on it, and promoting exploratory behavior and curiosity towards the novel situation. In addition, cognitive processes and resources are activated to the surprise situation.
  • Disgust: this emotion has the adaptive function of rejection. Thanks to this emotion, escape or avoidance responses occur to unpleasant or potentially harmful stimuli for our health. In addition, healthy and hygienic habits are enhanced.
  • Joy: its adaptive function is affiliation. This emotion makes us increase our capacity for enjoyment, generates positive attitudes towards ourselves and others. At the cognitive level, it also favors the processes of memory and learning.
  • Fear: adaptive protection function. This emotion helps us to have escape and avoidance responses to dangerous situations for us. It focuses primarily on the feared stimulus, making it quick to react. Finally, it also mobilizes a lot of energy that will allow us to execute much faster and more intense responses of how we would do it in a situation that did not produce fear.
  • Anger: Its adaptive function is self-defense. Anger increases the mobilization of the energy needed in self-defense responses towards something dangerous for us. The destruction of obstacles that generate frustration and that prevent us from achieving our goals or goals.
  • Sadness: this emotion has as an adaptive function reintegration. With this emotion it is seemingly difficult to visualize the benefits of it. However, this emotion helps us to increase our cohesion with other people, especially those who are in the same emotional state as ourselves. In a state of sadness, our usual rhythm of general activity diminishes, being able to pay more attention to other aspects of life that, in a normal state of activity, we would not have stopped to think about them.

It also helps us to seek help from other people. This encourages the emergence of empathyand altruism , both in the person who is feeling the emotion, and in those who receive the demand for help.



Feeling is the subjective experience of emotion. As Carlson and Hatfield described in 1992, feeling is the assessment, moment by moment, that a subject performs each time he or she confronts a situation. That is to say, the feeling would be the sum of the instinctive and brief emotion, together with the thought that we obtain of rational form of that emotion.

Going through the reasoning, the consciousness and its filters, thus creates the feeling. In addition, this thought can feed or maintain the feeling making it more durable over time.

Thought, just as it has the power to nourish each emotion, can exert the power to manage these emotions and avoid feeding an emotion in the event that it is negative.

This is a process that requires training, because managing an emotion, especially to stop it, is not something that is easily learned, is something that entails a long learning process.

Feelings in childhood

Childhood is a stage that has a great importance in the development of feelings.

In the relationship with parents, one learns the basis of willing and knowing how to behave socially. If the affective bonds between the parents and the children progress positively, in the adult stage these children will arrive with a feeling of security in itself.

Family ties worked from the earliest age will cultivate and generate a personality with the capacity to love, respect and harmoniously coexist in their adolescent and adult stages.

When we do not express our feelings or we do it in an inadequate way, our problems increase, being able to be affected of important way even our health.

The duration of a feeling

The duration of a feeling depends on various factors such as cognitive and physiological. It has its physiological origin in the neocortex (rational brain), located in the frontal lobe of the brain.

Although feelings improve readiness to act, they are not behaviors as such. That is, one may feel angry or upset and not have an aggressive behavior.

Some examples of feelings are love, jealousy , suffering or pain. As we have already spoken and you can imagine putting these examples, indeed the feelings are of a generally quite long duration.

The development of empathy allows people to be able to understand the feelings of other people.

Differences between emotion and feeling


In relation to the differences between emotion and feeling, the Portuguese neurologist Antonio Damasio made a definition about the process by which one moves from emotion to feeling, in which the most characteristic difference of both is reflected quite clearly:

“When you experience an emotion, for example the emotion of fear, there is a stimulus that has the ability to trigger an automatic reaction. And this reaction, of course, begins in the brain, but then goes on to reflect itself in the body, either in the real body or in our internal simulation of the body. And then we have the possibility of projecting that concrete reaction with several ideas that relate to those reactions and to the object that has caused the reaction. When we perceive all that is when we have a feeling. “

Emotions operate from the beginning of a person’s life at birth as a warning system. Thus, the baby manifests through crying when he is hungry, wants affection or demands other care.

Already in adulthood, emotions begin to shape and improve thinking by turning our attention to important changes.

Thanks to the thought, when we ask ourselves, for example, how does this person feel ?, this allows us to have a real-time approach to the feeling and the characteristics of this.

Also, this can help us advance feelings towards a future situation by creating an emotional stage of the mind and thus be able to decide more correctly our behavior, anticipating the feelings resulting from these situations.

The fundamental differences

Here are some of the differences between emotion and feelings:

  • Emotions are very intense but at the same time very brief. The fact that emotion has its short duration does not mean that your emotional experience (ie, feeling) is just as brief. Feeling is the result of emotion, a subjective affective mood usually long lasting consequence of emotion. The latter will last as long as our conscious mind takes time to think about it.
  • Feeling is, therefore, the rational response we give to each emotion, the subjective interpretation that we generate before all emotion having as a fundamental factor our past experiences. That is, the same emotion can trigger in different feelings depending on each person and the subjective meaning that gives.
  • Emotions, as I have explained above, are psychophysiological reactions that occur before various stimuli. While feelings are a conscious evaluation reaction of emotions.
  • Another essential difference between emotion and feeling is that emotion can be created unconsciously, while in feeling there is always a conscious process through. This feeling can be regulated by our thoughts. Emotions that are not perceived as feelings remain in the unconscious, although, however, they can have an effect on our behaviors.
  • The person who is aware of a feeling has access to his mood to, as I have already mentioned, increase it, maintain it or extinguish it. This does not happen with the emotions, which are unconscious.
  • The feeling is distinguished from the emotion by being constituted by a greater number of intellectual and rational elements. In the feeling there is already some elaboration with the intention of understanding and understanding, a reflection.
  • A feeling may be produced by a complex mixture of emotions. That is, you can feel anger and love towards one person at a time.

It is very useful to use our thoughts to try to understand our emotions and feelings, both positive and negative. For this, it is effective to express our feelings to explain to the other person and that can be put in our place in the most empathetic and objective way possible.

If you are trying to talk to someone about your feelings, it is advisable to be as specific as possible about how we feel in addition to the degree of that feeling.

In addition, we must be as specific as possible in specifying the action or event that made us feel that way to show the greatest possible objectivity and not to make the other person feel that he is being accused directly.

To conclude, I will give an example of a process by which an instinctive and short-term emotion becomes, through reasoning, a feeling.

This is the case of love. This can start with an emotion of surprise and joy that someone keeps their attention on us for a while.

When that stimulus is extinguished, it is when our limbic system will report the absence of the stimulus and the consciousness will realize that it is no longer. It is when you move on to romantic love, a feeling that lasts longer in the long run.

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