Emotion 1: Emotional cause and effect

Emotional cause and effect

Expanding loops with feelings and thoughts

Pick an emotion, any emotion. How would you describe it?

Happy, sad, angry, afraid, contemptuous, greedy, disgusted, satsified, content, proud, joyous, lonely, bitter, remorseful, awestruck, in love, amazed, hopeful, hopeless, perturbed, smug, comfortable, irritated, glad, delighted, cheerful, miserable, gloomy, tormented.

Your turn

How did you find it trying to explain what a single emotion is?

If you found it challenging it's because these emotion-words are really just labels that we use to summarise more complex feelings and thoughts.

We can expand our emotional loop to include feelings and thoughts as precursors to 'emotions':

Diagram showing trigger feeling thought emotion and behaviour in a loop

What do these new terms mean?

  • Feeling: Any internal, physical, bodily sensations you have in response to the trigger.
  • For example: throat clenches, stomach drops, butterflies in belly, heart skips, feeling of weightlessness.
  • Thought: Any internal self-talk or imagery in response to the trigger.
  • For example: when you feel sick from eating too much chocolate and think to yourself, “I should stop eating so much chocolate.”

What's the emotion-behaviour loop?


Below are some panels from El Deafo. This is a graphic novel about a girl who suddenly loses her hearing, and this is the scene where she loses it.

The first blank speech bubble represents Cece speaking but not hearing her own words.

Can you break this sequence down in terms of trigger, thought, emotion, and behaviour?

Panels from El Deafo that show young Cece playing with her mother and then suddenly losing her hearing and wondering where her mother is

Panels from El Deafo that show young Cece running around looking for her mother and then finally finding her and both of them realising that she is deaf

(From El Deafo by Cece Bell)

Your turn
Discussing your answers

We can see that thoughts can represented as self-talk, although they could also be images, sounds, and smells.

That was an example of thoughts. What about feelings?

In the panel below, Peter has just hit his friend Chris while driving drunk and runs over to check on him.

What is the main emotion-behaviour loop?

(Right-click to open a larger image in a new tab.)

Comic panel from Commando Comics in which a World War 2 crew member has run over a pilot while drunk and is helping him up and feeling a wave of relief that he is still breathing

(From Commando Comics #2724: They Fought By Night)

Your turn
Discussing your answers
A couple of other notes

To recap

  • Characters go through continual emotion-behaviour loops.
  • They experience triggers, have emotional reactions, and respond with behaviour.
  • Underlying those emotions are physical feelings and thoughts.


Let's look at what happens when we chain loops together.

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