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   Chapter 5 FEELING AND ATTENTION

The Story of the Champions of the Round Table By Howard Pyle Characters: 24420

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


The Feelings. Related to the instincts on one side and to habits on the other are the feelings. In Chapter III we discussed sensation, and in the preceding chapter, the instincts, but when we have described an act in terms of instinct and sensation, we have not told all the facts.

For example, when a child sees a pretty red ball of yarn, he reaches out to get it, then puts it into his mouth, or unwinds it, and plays with it in various ways. It is all a matter of sensation and instinctive responses. The perception of the ball-seeing the ball-brings about the instinctive reaching out, grasping the ball, and bringing it to the mouth. But to complete our account, we must say that the child is pleased. We note a change in his facial expression. His eyes gleam with pleasure. His face is all smiles, showing pleasant contentment. Therefore we must say that the child not only sees, not only acts, but the seeing and acting are pleasant. The child continues to look, he continues to act, because the looking and acting bring joy.

This is typical of situations that bring pleasure. We want them continued; we act in a way to make them continue. We go out after the pleasure-giving thing.

But let us consider a different kind of situation. A child sees on the hearth a glowing coal. It instinctively reaches out and grasps it, starts to draw the coal toward it, but instinctively drops it. This is not, however, the whole story. Instead of the situation being pleasant, it is decidedly unpleasant. The child fairly howls with pain. His face, instead of being wreathed in smiles, is covered with tears. He did not hold on to the coal. He did not try to continue the situation. On the contrary, he dropped the coal, and withdrew the hand. The body contracted and shrank away from the situation.

These two cases illustrate the two simple feelings, pleasantness and unpleasantness. Most situations in life are either pleasant or unpleasant. Situations may sometimes be neutral; that is, may arouse neither the feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness. But usually a conscious state is either pleasant or unpleasant. A situation brings us life, joy, happiness. We want it continued and act in a way to bring about its continuance. Or the situation tends to take away our life, brings pain, sorrow, grief, and we want it discontinued, and act in a way to discontinue it.

These two simple forms of feeling perhaps arose in the beginning in connection with the act of taking food. It is known that if a drop of acid touches an am?ba, the animal shrinks, contracts, and tries to withdraw from the death-bringing acid. On the other hand, if a particle of a substance that is suitable for food touches the animal, it takes the particle within itself. The particle is life-giving and brings pleasure.

The Emotions. Pleasure and displeasure are the simple feelings. Most situations in life bring about very complex feeling states known as emotions. The emotions are made up of pleasure or displeasure mixed or compounded with the sensations from the bodily reactions.

The circulatory system, the respiratory system, and nearly all the involuntary organs of the body form a great sounding board which instantly responds in various ways to the situations of life. When the youth sees the pretty maiden and when he touches her hand, his heart pumps away at a great rate, his cheeks become flushed, his breathing is paralyzed, his voice trembles. He experiences the emotion of love. The state is complex indeed. There is pleasantness, of course, but there is in addition the feeling of all the bodily reactions.

When the mother sees her dead child lying in its casket, her head falls over on her breast, her eyes fill with tears, her shoulders droop, her chest contracts, she sobs, her breathing is spasmodic. Nearly every organ of the body is affected in one way or another. The state is unpleasant, but there is also the feeling of the manifold bodily reactions.

So it is always. The biologically important situations in life bring about, through hereditary connections in the nervous system, certain typical reactions. These reactions are largely the same for the same type of situation, and they give the particular coloring to each emotion. It is evident that the emotions are closely related to the instincts. The reflexes that take place in emotions are of the same nature as the instincts. Each instinctive act has its characteristic emotion. There are fear instincts and fear emotions. Fear is unpleasant. In addition to its unpleasantness there is a multitude of sensations that come from the body. The hair stands on end, the heart throbs, the circulation is hastened, breathing is interrupted, the muscles are tense. This peculiar mass of sensations, blended with the unpleasantness, gives the characteristic emotion of fear. But we need not go into an analysis of the various emotions of love, hate, envy, grief, jealousy, etc. The reader can do this for himself.[3]

[3] See James' Psychology, Briefer Course, Chapter XXIV.

Nearly every organ of the body plays its part in the emotions: the digestive organs, the liver, the kidneys, the throat and mouth, the salivary glands, the eyes and tear glands, the skin muscles, the facial muscles, etc. And every emotion is made up of pleasantness or unpleasantness and the sensations produced by some combination of bodily reactions.

It is well for us to remember the part that bodily conditions and states play in the emotional life. The emotional state of a man depends upon whether he has had his dinner or is hungry, whether the liver is working normally, and upon the condition of the various secreting and excreting organs and glands. In a word, it is evident that our emotions fall within a world of cause and effect. Our feeling states are caused.

Importance in Life. Our feelings and emotions are the fountains from which nearly all our volitional actions flow. Feeling is the mainspring of life. Nearly everything we do is prompted by love, or hate, or fear, or jealousy, or rivalry, or anger, or grief. If the feelings have such close relation to action, then the schools must take them into account, for by education we seek to control action. If the feelings control action, then we must try to control the feelings. We must get the child into a right state of mind toward the school, toward his teacher, and toward his work. The child must like the school, like the teacher, and want to learn.

Moreover, we must create the right state of mind in connection with each study, each task. The child must come to feel the need and importance of each individual task as well as of each subject. The task is then desirable, it is to be sought for and worked at, it is important for life.

This is merely enlisting the child's nature in the interest of his education. For motive, we must always look to the child's nature. The two great forces which pull and drive are pleasure and pain. Nature has no other methods. Formerly the school used pain as its motive almost exclusively. The child did his tasks to escape pain. For motive we now use more often the positive influences which give pleasure, which pull instead of drive. What will one not do for the loved one? What will one not do to the hated one? The child who does not love his teacher gets little good from school while under that teacher. Moreover, school work is often a failure because it is so unreal, has so little relation to an actual world, and seems foreign to any real needs of the child. No one is going to work very hard unless the work is prompted by desire. Our desires come from our needs. Therefore, if we are to enlist the child's feelings in the service of his education, we must make the school work vital and relate it, if possible, to the actual needs of the child.

It must not be forgotten, however, that we must build up permanent attitudes of respect for authority, obedience, and reverence for the important things of life. Neither must it be forgotten that we can create needs in the child. If in the education of the child we follow only such needs as he has, we will make a fine savage of him but nothing else. It is the business of the school to create in the child the right kind of needs. As was pointed out in our study of the instincts, we must make the child over again into what he ought to be. But this cannot be a sudden process. One cannot arouse enthusiasm in a six-year-old child over the beauties of higher mathematics. It takes ten or fifteen years to do that, and it must be done little by little.

Control of the Emotions. Without training, we remain at the mercy of our baser emotions. The child must be trained to control himself. Here is where habit comes in to modify primitive action. The child can be trained to inhibit or prevent the reactions that arise in hatred, envy, jealousy, anger, etc. For a fuller discussion of this point we must wait till we come to the discussion of habit and moral training.

Mood and Temperament. A mood is a somewhat extended emotional state continuing for hours or days. It is due to a continuance of the factors which cause it. The state of the liver and digestive organs may throw one for days into a cross and ugly mood. When the body becomes normal, the mood changes or disappears. Similarly, one may for hours or days be overjoyed, or depressed, or morose, or melancholy. Parents and teachers should look well to the matter of creating and establishing continuous and permanent states of feeling that are favorable to work and development.

Some people are permanently optimistic, others pessimistic. Some are always joyful, others as constantly see only the dark side of life. Some are always serious and solemn, others always gay, even giddy. These permanent emotional attitudes constitute temperament, and are due to fundamental differences within the body that are in some cases hereditary. Crossness and moroseness, for example, may be due to a dyspeptic condition and a chronically bad liver. The happy dispositions belong to bodies whose organs are functioning properly, in which assimilation is good-all the parts of the body doing their proper work.

Poor eyes which are under a constant strain, through the reflex effects upon various organs of the body, are likely to develop a permanently cross and irritable disposition. Through the close sympathetic relation of the various organs, anything affecting one organ and interfering with its proper action is likely to affect many other organs and profoundly influence the emotional states of the body. In growing children particularly, there are many influences which affect their emotions, things of which we seldom think, such as the condition of vision and hearing, the condition of the teeth, nose, and throat, and the condition of all the important vital organs of the body. When a child's disposition is not what we think it ought to be, we should try to find out the causes.

Training the Emotions. The emotions are subject to training. The child can be taught control. Moreover, he can be taught to appreciate and enjoy higher things than mere animal pleasure; namely, art, literature, nature, truth. The child thereby becomes a spiritual being instead of a mere pig. The ideal of the school should be to develop men and women whose baser passions are under control, who are calm, self-controlled, and self-directed, and who get their greatest pleasure from the finer and higher things of life, such as the various forms of music, the songs of birds, the beauties and intricate workings of nature.

This is a wonderful world and a wonderful life, but the child may go through the world without seeing it, and live his life without knowing what it is to live. His eyes must be opened, he must be trained to see and to feel. It is not the place here to tell how this is to be done. This is not a book on methods of teaching. We can only indicate here that the business of the school is not merely to teach people how to make a living, but to teach them how to enjoy the living. There are many avenues from which we get the higher forms of pleasure. There are really many different worlds

which we may experience: the world of animals, the world of plants, the mechanical world, the chemical world, the world of literature and of art, the world of music. It is the duty of the schools to open up these worlds to the children, and make them so many possibilities of joy and happiness.

The emotions and feelings, then, are not lawless and causeless, but are a part of a world of law and order. They are themselves caused and therefore subject to control and modification.

Attention. Attention, too, is related to inherited tendencies on the one side and to habits on the other. If one is walking in the woods and catches a glimpse of something moving in the trees, the eyes instinctively turn so that the person can get a better view of the object. If one hears a sudden sound, the head is instinctively turned so that the person can hear better. One stops, the body is held still and rigid, breathing is slow and controlled-all to favor better hearing.

The various acts of attention are reflex and instinctive. But what is attention? By attention we mean sensory clearness. When we say we are attentive to a thing or subject, we mean that perceptions or ideas of that thing or subject are clear as compared to other perceptions and ideas that are in consciousness at the same time. The contents of one's consciousness, the perceptions and ideas that constitute one's mind at any one moment are always arranged in an attentive pattern, some being clear, others unclear. The pattern constantly changes and shifts. What is now clear and in the focus of consciousness, presently is unclear and may in a moment disappear from consciousness altogether, while other perceptions or ideas take its place.

The first question that arises in connection with attention is, What are the causes of attention? The first group of causes are hereditary and instinctive. The child attends to loud things, bright things, moving things, etc. But as we grow older, the basis of attention becomes more and more habit. An illustration will make this clear. I once spent a day at a great exposition with a machinist. He was constantly attending to things mechanical, when I would not even see them. He had spent many years working with machinery, and as a result, things mechanical at once attracted him. Similarly, if a man and a woman walk along a street together and look in at the shop windows, the woman sees only hats, dresses, ribbons, and other finery, while the man sees only cigars, pipes, and automobile supplies. Every day we live, we are building up habits of attending to certain types of things. What repeatedly comes into our experience, easily attracts our attention to the exclusion of other things.

The Function of Attention. Attention is the unifying aspect of consciousness. There are always many things in consciousness, and we cannot respond to all at once. The part of consciousness that is clear and focal brings about action. The things to which we attend are the things that count.

In later chapters we shall learn that in habit-formation, attention is an important factor. We must attend to the acts we are trying to make habitual. In getting knowledge, we must attend to what we are trying to learn. In committing to memory, we must attend to the ideas that we are trying to fix and make permanent. In thinking and reasoning, those ideas become associated together that are together in attention.

Attention is therefore the controlling aspect of consciousness. It is the basis of what we call will. The ideas that are clear and focal and that persist in consciousness are the ideas that control our action. When one says he has made up his mind, he has made a choice; that merely means that a certain group of ideas persist in consciousness to the exclusion of others. These are the ideas which ultimately produce action. And it is our past experience that determines what ideas will become focal and persist.

Training the Attention. There are two aspects of the training of attention. (1) We can learn to hold ourselves to a task. When we sit down to a table to study, there may be many things that tend to call us away. There lies a magazine which we might read, there is a play at the theater, there are noises outside, there is a friend calling across the street. But we must study. We have set ourselves to a task and we must hold fast to our purpose.

The young child cannot do this. He must be trained to do it. The instruments used to train him are pleasure and pain, rewards and punishments that come from parents. Gradually, slowly, the child gains control over himself. No one ever amounts to anything till he can hold himself to a task, to a fixed purpose. One must learn to form plans extending over weeks, months, and years, and to hold unflinchingly to them, just as one must hold himself to his study table and allow nothing to distract or to interfere. No training a child can receive is more important than this, for it gives him control over his life, it gives him control over the ideas that are to become focal and determine action. It is for this reason that we call such training a training of attention. It might perhaps better be called a training of the will. But the will is only the attentive consciousness. The idea that is clear, that holds its own in consciousness, is the idea that produces action. When we say that we will to do a certain thing, all we can mean is that the idea of this act is clearest and holds its focal place in consciousness to the exclusion of other ideas. It therefore goes over into action.

(2) The training just discussed may be called a general training of attention giving us a general power and control over our lives, but there is another type of training which is specific. As with the machinist mentioned above, so with all of us; we attend to the type of thing that we have formed a habit of attending to. Continued experience in a certain field makes it more and more easy to attend to things in that field. One can take a certain subject and work at it day after day, year after year. By and by, the whole world takes on the aspect of this chosen subject. The entomologist sees bugs everywhere, the botanist sees only plants, the mechanic sees only machines, the preacher sees only the moral and religious aspects of action, the doctor sees only disease, the mathematician sees always the quantitative aspect of things. Ideas and perceptions related to one's chosen work go at once and readily to the focus of consciousness; other things escape notice.

It is for this reason that we become "crankier" every year that we live. We are attending to only one aspect of the world. While this blinds us to other aspects of the world, it brings mastery in our individual fields. We can, then, by training and practice, get a general control over attention, and by working in a certain field or kind of work, we make it easy to attend to things in that field or work. This to an extent gives us control of our lives, of our destiny.

Interest. The essential elements of interest are attention and feeling. When a person is very attentive to a subject and gets pleasure from experience in that subject, we commonly say that he is interested in that subject.

Since the importance of attention and feeling in learning has already been shown and will be further developed in the chapters which follow in connection with the subjects of habit, memory, and thinking, little more need be said here.

The key to all forms of learning is attention. The key to attention is feeling. Feeling depends upon the nature of the child, inherited and acquired. In our search for the means of arousing interest, we look first to the original nature of the child, to the instincts and the emotions. We look next to the acquired nature, the habits, the ideals, the various needs that have grown up in the individual's life. Educational writers have overemphasized the original nature of the child as a basis of interest and have not paid enough attention to acquired nature. We should not ask so much what a child's needs are, but what they ought to be. Needs can be created. The child's nature to some extent can be changed. The problem of arousing interest is therefore one of finding in the child's nature a basis for attention and pleasure. If the basis is not to be found there, then it must be built up. How this can be done, how human nature can be changed, is to some extent the main problem of psychology. Every chapter in this book, it is hoped, will be found to throw some light on the problem.

Summary. The two elementary feeling states are pleasantness and unpleasantness. The emotions are complex mental states composed of feeling and the sensations from bodily reactions to the situations. Feeling and emotion are the motive forces of life, at the bottom of all important actions. The bodily reactions of emotions are reflex and instinctive. Attention is a matter of the relative clearness of the contents of consciousness. The function of attention is to unify thought and action. It is the important factor in all learning and thinking, for it is only the attentive part of consciousness that is effective.

CLASS EXERCISES

Make out a complete list of the more important emotions.

Indicate the characteristic expression of each emotion in your list.

Can you have an emotion without its characteristic expression? If, for example, when a situation arises which ordinarily arouses anger in you, you inhibit all the usual motor accompaniments of anger, are you really angry?

Are the expressions of the same emotion the same for all people?

Try to analyze some of your emotional states: anger, or fear, or grief. Can you detect the sensations that come from the bodily reactions?

Try to induce an emotional state by producing its characteristic reactions.

Try to change an emotional state to an opposite emotion; for example, grief to joy.

Try to control and change emotional states in children.

Name some sensations that for you are always pleasant, others that are always unpleasant-colors, sounds, tastes, odors, temperatures.

Confirm by observation the statement of the text as to the importance of emotions in all the important actions of life.

To what extent do you have control of your emotional states? What have you observed about differences in expression of deep emotions by different people? In case of death in the family, some people wail and moan and express their grief in the most extreme manner, while others do not utter a sound and show great control. Why the difference?

Make an introspective study of your conscious states to note the difference in clearness of the different processes that are going on in consciousness. Do you find a constant shifting?

Perform experiments to show the effects of attention in forming habits and acquiring knowledge.

Perform tests in learning, using substitution tests as described in Chapter X. Use several different keys. In some experiments have no distractions, in others, have various distracting noises. What differences do you find in the results?

Try learning nonsense syllables, some lists with distractions, others without distractions.

Try getting the ideas from stories read to you, as in the logical memory experiment described in Chapter X. Some stories should be read without distractions, others with distractions.

Why are you unable to study well when under the influence of some strong emotion?

Are you trained to the extent that you can concentrate on a task and hold yourself to it for a long time?

Do you see that as far as will and attention and the emotions are concerned, your life and character are in large measure in your own hands?

Make a complete outline of the chapter.

REFERENCES FOR CLASS READING

Colvin and Bagley: Human Behavior, Chapters IV, V, and VI.

Münsterberg: Psychology, General and Applied, Chapter XIV, also pp. 187–192 and pp. 370–371.

Pillsbury: Essentials of Psychology, Chapters V and XI.

Pyle: The Outlines of Educational Psychology, Chapter XIV.

Titchener: A Beginner's Psychology, Chapters IV, VIII, and XI.

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