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How Can Emotion be Designed into Jewellery? Part 2 – What are Emotions?


Before finding out whether we can design for emotion, we need to define what emotions are, how they differ from feelings and how they interact with memory.

If you have seen the TV series Lie to Me then you already know a bit about Dr Paul Ekman because the programmes are based on him.

He started studying emotions in the 1950s and he is a leading expert in the science of emotions.

Ekman discovered micro-facial expressions which are very fast changes to our faces. Everyone has the same expression and so they are universal visual clues to someone’s emotions which he calls Emotion Families.

Through evolution, we developed unconscious emotions for survival. Conscious analysis takes time but, for example, fear is involuntary and unconscious so we will react instantly to danger.

We can never know what caused an emotional signal in another person. It might be something we’ve done or something completely unrelated.

Where Do Feelings Fit In?

Dr Ekman says that feelings are a conscious realisation of emotions.

Six Seconds, a non-profit organisation specialising in emotional intelligence, believes the main differences between emotions, feelings and moods is the time they take to happen and how long they last. Emotions last about 6 seconds and feelings last longer. Moods can last seconds, hours and possibly days.

The University of Minnesota’s Introduction to Psychology shows secondary emotions on a diagram with different levels of intensity and pleasantness, which are processed by slower pathways in the brain to primary universal emotions.

Different theories exist about what comes first: the emotion or expressions. Do we feel happy because we smile, smile because we feel happy or do we smile and feel happy simultaneously?

Brazilian psychiatrists and psychologists Pergher et al reviewed how emotions affect memory.

Scientists seem to agree, emotions are unconscious responses.

Feelings are conscious recognition of emotion.

Emotion intensifies memories and memories intensify emotions.

Some designers can be reasonably sure that there will be a memory associated with their work e.g. wedding ring designers.

Most of us do not have that guaranteed connection but if we understand more about emotions and feelings then it might be possible to incorporate these into designs, which will increase the chance of a memory being created.



Anxiety – Fear of an anticipated or actual threat and uncertainty about one’s ability to cope with it

Conscious – aware of what is happening to you

Disgust – We feel disgust when faced with something toxic or unpleasant. Disgust varies in strength and frequency in our lives.

Fear – We feel fear when our safety or wellbeing is threatened. Fear varies in strength and frequency in our lives.

Intensity – Strength of the emotion

Involuntary – cannot be controlled

Micro-facial expressions – very fast changes to our faces. Everyone has the same expression for the same emotion and so they are universal visual clues to how someone is feeling

Perceive/perception – how our brains interpret information

Subconscious – unaware of what is happening until you try to remember

Triggers – Cause of the emotion

Unconscious – you are unaware of what is happening to you

Universal – done by everyone/understood by everyone


Further reading if this topic interests you:

IMDb. (2020). Lie to Me (TV Series 2009-2011) – IMDb. [online] Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235099/ [Accessed 5 Dec. 2019].

Paul Ekman Group. (2020). Homepage – Paul Ekman Group. [online] Available at: https://www.paulekman.com [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].

Paul Ekman Group. (2020). Interpret Facial Expressions | Expressions of Emotion | Paul Ekman Group. [online] Available at: https://www.paulekman.com/blog/emotion-families-part-2/ [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].

Paul Ekman 2 of 5 What is an Emotion?. (2012). YouTube. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaZDLOAg_Po [Accessed 16 Nov. 2019].

Six Seconds. (2015). What’s the Difference Between Emotion, Feeling, Mood?. [online] Available at: https://www.6seconds.org/2017/05/15/emotion-feeling-mood/ [Accessed 21 Dec. 2019].

Open.lib.umn.edu. (2010). 10.1 The Experience of Emotion. [online] Available at: https://open.lib.umn.edu/intropsyc/chapter/10-1-the-experience-of-emotion/#stangor-ch10_s01_n02 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2019].

Pergher, G., Grassi-Oliveira, R., Moreira De Ávila, L. and Milnitsky Stein, L. (2006). Memory, mood and emotion. [online] Available at: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0101-81082006000100008&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en [Accessed 20 Nov. 2019].