The Laws of Emotion

Anger, Love, Sadness, Joy, Despair, Hope, Grief and Ectasy … are all emotions that we humans feel. But what is the laws that governs HOW and WHY we feel, the way we do_ I take a look at some research to find the Laws of Emotion and explain them …


Back in 1988, the Dutch Psychologist, Nico H. Fridja, published an article on The Laws of Emotion, and as far as I know, this haven’t created much buzz around the scientific arena, but I think that that is a very big mistake. Fridja died in 2015, and maybe it is like with the great painters of our time, that fame often comes after ones own departure from this world.

One thing is certain though, Fridja did have a hold of something which is a very important subject, especially to me since I research primarily from a scientific angle with the purpose of unlocking the hidden depth of how we as humans function on the psychological level, due to my obsession with finding out what it is that makes people with ADHD and Autisme, fell, think, and act, as they do.

Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D, the author of ADHD and the Nature of Self Control from 1996, explains in detail how our internal process of interacting with the world around us as well as with the world inside ourselves, by ways of evolutionary means. He has taken the great ideas from Darwin, Dawkins, Bronowski, Skinner and many others, and combined it with his 40 years of clinical practice and scientific studies of ADHD, and have come up with a Theory of ADHD, that today is the mast prevailing foundation of our understanding and treatment of ADHD – world wide.

I have personally had the pleasure of discussing many of the core things in his theory and have gained ever more respect for him as a person as well as a scientist, the more I learn about the things that went before his theory, especially have Dr. Jacob Bronowski been a steady source of awe-inspiring amazement, with his insights into how the human species developed our higher intellectual cognitive capacities from the procession of Privatization of Speech.

You see, when we as children learn to make sounds, we do so to train our brain to develop our language skills, first we talk to our toys, then to others, then we instruct our toys and others in how we want them to behave, and finally this ability jumps from being external speech to internal speech, that which Bronowski called Privatization of Speech.

Today we would call our Inner Voice that tells us what to and not to, do, but only in our mind, not as spoken words. This process of internal navigation is what have lead to our development of Inhibition. Inhibition is the principle of post-poning an imminent impulse of a need, to gain a greater reward, at a later time. Inhibition is key in social reciprocity and in social behavior, since we all need to give to others, in expectation of them giving us something else, at a later time. This is what have made the human species into the only surviving hominid of the ancient times.

That, social reciprocity, and the ability to imagine things and set goals to achieve these imagined things, is what have driven us to explore our own planet and the universe around us, since the dawn of the modern man, Homo Sapiens, some 200,000 years ago.

Scientist say, that the feeling of Empathy stems back even further than that and that evidence suggests that as far back as 13 million years ago, our ancestors developed empathy towards others, and that created a bond of family, that we today see the results of, in our everyday life.

But apart from empathy, humans experience a vast range of emotions, and these have been plotted on this magnificent Wheel of Emotions that I use when trying to understand how human behavior is governed by emotions …

In order for me to explain these emotions, I have found Fridja\s Laws of Emotion to be very helpful. The next part of this article, will describe his 12 laws as well as try to make them easier to understand and recognize, in our everyday life.

What is an Emotion? says an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness.

So in my personal interpretation of emotions, it goes something like this; an emotion is the internal state of our being, at that moment in spacetime, that we experience as reality, based on our subjective interpretations of the stimuli that we receive from our environment, based on our past experiences, beliefs and values.

This may sound weird, but I am of the firm belief that reality is a subjective construct, which our brain creates deriving from all the sensory stimuli it receives and which it then passes on to our mind, which is the metaphysical construct that we believe to be synonymous with being our I.

The process of experiencing the world, is not that far from how a computer is fed data that it processes and presents to the user as factual information. Our mind does the same, as it interprets the input data (stimuli) and processes it through our filtering system, which contains past experiences, beliefs and values, so to create an interpretation of the current moment we are experiencing.

Remember that the brain is an organ which has no physical contact with the outside world, it lives in a vacuum, inside the brain case, i total darkness, total silence and total sensory deprivation from anything that is happening, out there in reality.

The mind is the system that creates our experiences, and since it is working on data of hear-say quality, all it can do, is to provide us with its best interpretation of the data presented. But it is a flawed and biassed system, since it work by cutting corners, generalizing and assuming that the data received is close to og equal to, what we have previously experienced. This is a part of basic human nature and what has been a huge part of our survival as a species.

You see, standing around contemplating which action is most beneficial to our long term goals, is not recommended when being chased across the Savannah by a huge, scary predator, agree? Therefore our body has developed a pre-cognition system, Flight, Fight or Freeze, that instantly takes our control, when our spatioperceptive senses, sense danger. Heart rate shoots up, blood run from the upper part of the body to our legs and our Central Nervous System (CNS) is flooded with neurochemicals like Adrenalin that puts our internal data delivery system on Turbo Boost, so that our physical reaction time is diminished, and we run for cover, without thinking, only acting on our basic instinct of survival.

This system works marvelous and have kept our species alive all the way up till you and I.

But, it has a flaw, and that flaw is perpetuated in our modern world, our societies and within ourselves. We no longer need to be running for safety on a daily basis, so the acient part of our brain, called the Amygdala, is now being used as a kind of pre-cognition consultant, telling our Hypothalamous what it thinks is going on and what it thinks we should do about it. The Hypothalamus is a part of our brain that have developed later in evolution than the Amygdala and it takes advantage of our ability to store and re-call past experiences, images with metadata like taste, touch, smell, sound and … emotions.

The Hypothalamus takes the initial input from the Amygdala and creates its own version of the perceived reality of the event we are faced and then delivers this to the Executive Functions, which are our finest machinery for human cognition, situated in our Pre-frontal Cortex, just above our eyes, a little to the right.

These Executive Functions are mental constructs of multiple internal states that enables us to interpret, visualize, simulate and evaluate, multiple possible futures, and then calculate which of the scenarios are most likely to give us the best result, reward, on the longest possible imagined timescale. In other words, it calculates what actions are the most beneficial for our future expectation of rewards. It guides us to do the right thing, so to speak.

The way it works is a brilliant piece of engineering called our Mind’s Eye and our Mind’s Voice. As I have explained in the beginning of this article, we develop Inhibition by way of internal speech, we talk to ourselves in order to manage our external behavior, our physical non-verbal communication (body language) and our physical verbal communication (language) with the aim of sending a congruent behavior to be presented to the outside world.

By being able to re-call past experiences in vivid details, images with the attached metadata, we can simulate how possible future actions, may feel like, and thereby create an internal state of emotions, that then guides our decision making process. Our Mind’s Voice is the Conductor that orchestrates this process of putting past experiences together with the newly derived sensory input from the Hypothalamus, and mixing this with perception of what will give us the best possible future reward, based on the collected interpretation of all the data.

This actually uses the physical voice systems in our brain, all the way down to our Larynx which actually speaks the words of our Mind’s Voice, but suppresses the Larynx from creating the action sound waves that makes it possible for other people to pick up on and ‘read our thoughts’. And likewise our mouth actually forms all the words which we think, while we use our Mind’s Voice, but also suppressing these from being expressed to the outside world – almost … We cannot suppress it completely and this is what Paul Ekman calls our Micro-Expressions, expressions in our facial movements that our so subtle that most other people do not register them.

An awesome system, in my opinion, and a true testament to the power of evolution and its amazing ability to adapt to its environment. A as a funny side note, i can tell you that the reason why you cannot ‘talk to yourself’ while engaged in conversation with others’ is that your external speech and internal speech actually blocks each other from using the system, simultaneously, which is why you cannot think and speak at the same time, and why you speak out loud, when trying to recall or remember or calculate something which is difficult.

Now, I think it is time to dive into the real topic of this article – The Laws of Emotion …


The Laws of Emotion

The Laws of Emotion was created by Fridja in the 1980’s and it states 12 unique rules that governs our emotions. The 12 laws are described below and I think that these are excellent in describing how we humans emote and express our emotions, both internally and externally.

Note that these are descriptions of normal human functioning, and since ADHD is massively impaired in Inhibition, Impulse and Self Control, Emotional Self-Regulation and Emotional Self-Control, we being to understand why 80% of all people who have grown up with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD in their childhood, develops Anxiety or Depression, and why 55% develop both Anxiety AND Depression, when they reach adulthood, since the symptoms of untreated ADHD leads to a chronic stress on the systems that governs emotions, which then in turn runs down the basic survival mechanism until they are so exhausted, that they fail in functioning, causing people to develop rather serious cases of PTSD, and why so many with late diagnosed ADHD have developed a Substance Use Disorder (Alcohol, Drugs etc) and why the likelihood of living beyond the age of 43 years, is 3 times less likely, that it is for the general public. Furthermore it explains why people with late diagnosed ADHD live 10 years, on average, shorter that the expected life span of their peers.

Sadly though, the prevailing assumption in many countries, Denmark in particular, is that emotions do not have any relevance in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, since it is ‘just’ an illness that impairs hyperactive/impulsive and inattentive behavior … even though Barkley have advocated for putting ’emotions back into ADHD’ since it have been scientifically proven as well as have roots in the original medical literature dating back more than 150 years. But today it is not considered to be a part of the diagnostic criteria of ADHD, and we see so many people who suffers for plain old ADHD, being diagnosed with Borderline Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder or similar emotional related diagnoses, when all we needed to do, was to put our understanding of emotions back into the ADHD context, and realize that this is where ‘the rubber meets the road’ and were we can actually improve people life quality the most, by simply regulating their emotions, using a combined treatment plan of pharmaceutical gen-therapy drugs combined with psychological therapy, to eleviate the entire symptoms complex.


1. The Law of Situational Meaning


The Law of Situationial Meaning:

Emotions arise in response to the meaning structures of given situations; different emotions arise in response to different meaning structures.

The first law is simply that emotions derive from situations. Generally the same types of situation will elicit the same types of emotional response. Loss makes us grieve, gains make us happy and scary things make us fearful (mostly anyway – see all the other laws).


2. The Law of Concern


The Law of Concern:

Emotions arise in response to events that are important to the individual’s goals, mo- tives, or concerns.

We feel because we care about something, when we have some interest in what happens, whether it’s to an object, ourselves, or another person. Emotions arise from these particular goals, motivations or concerns. When we are unconcerned we don’t feel anything.


3. The Law of Apparent Reality


The Law of Apparent Reality:

Emotions are elicited by events appraised as real, and their intensity corresponds to the degree to which this is the case.

Whatever seems real to us, can elicit an emotional response. In other words how we appraise or interpret a situation governs the emotion we feel (compare with laws 11 & 12). The reason poor movies, plays or books don’t engage us emotionally is because, in some sense, we fail to detect truth. Similarly it’s difficult to get emotional about things that aren’t obvious, right in front of us. For example grief may not strike when we are told about the death of loved one, but only once it becomes real to us in some way – say when we pick up the phone to call them, forgetting they are gone.


4, 5 & 6. The Laws of Change, Habituation and Comparative Feeling


The Law of Change:

Emotions are elicited not so much by the presence offavorable or unfavorable conditions, but by actual or expected changes in favorable or unfavorable conditions.

The Law of Habituation:

Continued pleasures wear off; continued hardships lose their poignancy.

The Law of Comparative-Feeling:

The intensity of emotion depends on the relationship between an event and some frame of reference against which the event is evaluated.

The law of habituation means that in life we get used to our circumstances whatever they are (mostly true, but see laws 7 & 8). The emotions, therefore, respond most readily to change. This means that we are always comparing what is happening to a relatively steady frame of reference (what we are used to). As a result our emotions tend to respond most readily to changes that are relative to this frame of reference.


7. The Law of Hedonic Asymmetry

The Law of Hedonic Asymmetry:

The law of asymmetrical adaptation to pleasure or pain: Pleasure is always contingent upon change and disappears with continuous satisfaction. Pain may persist under persisting adverse conditions.

There are certain awful circumstances to which we can never become accustomed. If things are bad enough, it is impossible to escape negative feelings like fear or anxiety. On the other hand positive emotions always fade over time. No matter how much we are in love, how big the lottery win, or how copious the quantities of drugs consumed, positive emotions like pleasure always slip away.


8. The Law of Conservation of Emotional Momentum

The Law of Conservation of Emotional Momentum:

Emotional events retain their power to elicit emotions indefinitely, unless counteracted by repetitive exposures that permit extinction or habituation, to the extent that these are possible.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds – or if it does, it only does so indirectly. Events can retain their emotional power over the years unless we re-experience and re-evaluate them. It’s this re-experiencing and consequent re-definition that reduces the emotional charge of an event. This is why events that haven’t been re-evaluated – say, failing an exam or being rejected by a potential lover – retain their emotional power across the decades.


9. The Law of Closure

The Law of Closure:

Emotions tend to be closed to judgments of relativity of impact and to the requirements of goals other than their own.

The way we respond to our emotions tends to be absolute. They often lead immediately to actions of one kind or another, and they will brook no discussion (but see laws 10, 11 & 12). In other words emotional responses are closed to goals other than their own or judgements that can mitigate the response. An emotion seizes us and send us resolutely down one path, until later that is, when a different emotion sends us down the opposite path.


10. The Law of Care for Consequences

The Law of Care for Consequences:

Every emotional impulse elicits a secondary impulse that tends to modify it in view of its possible consequences.

People naturally consider the consequences of their emotions and modify them accordingly. For example anger may provoke violent feelings towards another, but generally people refrain from stabbing each other willy-nilly. Instead they will shout, hit their head on the wall or just silently fume. Emotions may absolutely dictate a type of response, but people do modulate the size of that response (usually!).


11 & 12. Laws of the Lightest Load and the Greatest Gain

The Laws of the Lightest Load and the Greatest Gain:

Whenever a situation can be viewed in alternative ways, a tendency exists to view it in a way that minimizes negative emotional load.

The emotional impact of an event or situation depends on its interpretation. Putting a different ‘spin’ on a situation can change the feeling. The law of the lightest load means people are particularly motivated to use re-interpretations to reduce negative emotions. For example we might reduce the fear of the credit crunch by generating the illusion we won’t be affected. The exact reverse is also true: whenever a situation can be reinterpreted for a positive emotional gain, it will be. For example anger can be used to make others back down, grief attracts help and fear may stop us rashly attempting difficult or dangerous tasks.


So what’s that got to do with ADHD?

Well, pretty much everything in fact! Since the earliest description of ADHD diagnostic criterias, emotions have played a key role in describing the symptoms of ADHD, but somewhere along the way, these obvious facts got swept away and the tunnel vision focusing on hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention became the defining factors, as it continues to be in both DSM-5 and ICD-10.

But back in 1996, when Dr. Barkley released his theory “ADHD and the Nature of Self-Control”, he argues that emotion is and have always been, a core part of ADHD and in that back, 20 years ago, he puts forward his argument which is based on evolutionary biology and clinical psychology, as well as his own vast knowledge from working in curtting edge research as well as frontline clinical out-paitient treatment. To this day, in 2018, every single part of his theory have since been experiented on and proven to be correct. He is like the Darwin of ADHD research, since he has drawn conclusions, based on known facts at the time, as well as logical conclusions from the evolutionary biology reseach by people such as Dr. Bronowski, Richard Dawkins and of course, Darwin himself.

So when Dr. Barkley states that Emtional Self Regulation and Emotional Self Control are key pieces of understanding the true nature of ADHD, I am in 100% agreement with him. My belief in this stems from living with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD for 40 years myself, as well as my vast research into the science papers on this topic (with my autistic reverence) for more than 6 years, full time. I’ve had the great privilege and honor to discuss many of the inner workings with Dr. Barkley personally, and I credit him for helping me see the big picture as well as understanding the minute and subtle diffenrences that distinguishes his theory from the prevailing gospel in DSM-5 and ICD-10.

I’ve taking all this combined knowledge and have used it to try to educate, motivate and inspire other adults with ADHD, who are late diagnosed as well, and we have created ADDspeaker, whichi is a grassroots organization that aims to provide knowledge and support, for adults with ADHD, strugling to cope with everyday life. This have been and is continuing to be, a great success, since many of our memebers are highly motivated, intelligent and entutiastically engaged in wokring on widening our sphere of influence, along with giving real life support for eachother, by way of friendships, but also through factual support on eachothers issues, be that personally, family or work related, as well as in working with the government institutions.

In short, I think that way to best describe our organization is to present our tagline:

Insight, Understanding, Recognition, Respect … and Caring …

These values acts as our moral compass, and we strive to create a place where everyone feels welcome, accepted, noticed and heard, and at our core belief system is this statement:

“Everyone has the right to be Right, but no one has the right to be more Right that anyone else!”

This is fundamental to the way we interact, and since we are all very different people, with very diffent experiences and persoanl traits, we have found the above argument to be the glue that holds us together, even when we do no agree on a topic.

Lately we have taken our combined scientific and personal experiences and have setup a program where we began by using a trained coach to help one member become more aware of the things that held her back, and this process have been replicated into a model, where the “patient” becomes the “coach” upon their own betterment, and this have had a snowballing effect, where more and more “patients” have been helped into becoming “coaches” themselves and we have seen this effort span out and multiple into many new strings, which is building up, not only knowledge and experience, but people. Many adults who have been diagnosed late in life, carry a bag of negative emotions, thoughts, feelings, self images and scares on their souls, and this model helps them release this excess bagage and make room for new positive things in their life, like helping others become better at coping with life.

We are not based on any religion, political or finanscial aide or anyother external partner that have an influence on our work, we are 100% self supported, and we do not charge anyone, anything for helping. Everyone involved is voluntarily giving their time and knowledge, for free, and with out any expectation of being rewarded in any way in the future. So it breaks the social reciprocity circle as well as leave distracting outside factors outside the realm of the core idea – Appreciative Caring …

Understanding the Laws of Emotion and the Nature of ADHD and Self Control, is the basis that forms the foundation in our way of dealing with ADHD in everyday life. Let this be an inspiration to others!



For more on The Laws of Emotion, read this paper by Fridja et al.



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