Affect Theory

    Although the work of Silvan S. Tomkins has been around since the early 60's, it is just becoming known and integrated into psychiatry.

    Tomkins studied the innate affects and their role in psychology and human behavior. Psychiatry has been slow to accept his work because it appears to go against some of drive theory. It is actually the affects, rather than the drives, that appear to motivate human behavior. A knowledge of this theory has improved our ability to understand and treat patients far more effectively. Even the use of psychiatric medicines is made more rational and predictable as shown in the article from the journal Psychiatric Annals, Affect Theory and Psychopharmacology.

    Affects serve as 'analogic amplifiers' of whatever they are co-assembled with. The hunger drive only assumes importance when it is assembled with interest in food. Likewise, the sex drive is fairly weak unless assembled with interest in sex. Interest in one's work or hobbies is just that, rather than a "sublimated libido"

The Innate Affects:












These nine affects may be added to any drive to give it intensity or power, but none of them have any intrinsic relationship to any drive.


Some Definitions:

Affect - the innate physiological response pattern to a given set of external and internal stimuli

Feeling - the conscious awareness of an affect

Emotion - the affect plus the results of the memories of all one's previous experiences with that affect

Mood - emotion sustained over time

Mood Disorder - a problem with the system



The ultimate reference work is the four volume set by Tomkins:

  Affect, Imagery, Consciousness
Tomkins, Silvan S.
This is very dense work, and quite difficult to read.

Other references:
  Shame and Pride Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self
Nathanson, Donald L.

  The Many Faces of Shame
Edited by Donald L. Nathanson

  Exploring Affect The Selected Writings of Silvan S. Tomkins
Edited by E. Virginia Demos
Cambridge University

  Shame and its Sisters A Silvan Tomkins Reader
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank Duke

  Knowing Feeling Affect, Script, and Psychotherapy
Edited by Donald L. Nathanson
A nice new overview produced by assembling many of our papers

Dog Watching
Desmond Morris

Don't Shoot the Dog
Karen Pryor
An excellent review of operant conditioning and its practical applications, written without the jargon.

Man Meets Dog
Konrad Lorenz

When Elephants Weep
The Emotional Lives of Animals
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy

Dogs Never Lie About Love
Reflections on the Emotional World of Dogs
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Understanding Your Dog
The essential guide to dog psychology and behavior, revised for the 90s
Dr. Michael W. Fox

The Intelligence of Dogs
Stanley Coren

The Compass of Shame

(from Donald L. Nathanson, MD)





Attack Self -------------------------------- Attack Other





    When the normal affect Shame/Humiliation is experienced, one's goal should be acceptance of the message and a changing of behavior to minimize this affect being triggered under these circumstances in the future. There is such a thing as "healthy shame", despite the impression Bradshaw and some of the other Self Help authors may give.

    When people do not just accept the affective experience of Shame/Humiliation, they tend to automatically respond in one or more of the four ways:

Withdrawal - very intrinsic to the basic affect of Shame/Humiliation.

Shame makes us feel "shorn from the herd", isolated, alone.


People will frequently say, "I felt like crawling in a hole."

There is a strong sense of feeling "exposed".

Chronic use of this pole is frequently called "Atypical Depression"

Donald F. Klein described a sub-population called "Hysteroid Dysphoria"

This was marked by the triad of:

Chocolate craving

Rejection Sensitivity
Applause Hunger

Attack Self


Attack Other



    It is vitally important not to equate the affect Shame/Humiliation just with the emotion we know as embarrassment. Embarrassment is just one emotion that uses the affect Shame. Shame has many more and varied expressions and presentations, as will become apparent when considering the poles of the Compass of Shame.

    Tomkins noted that shame is triggered any time there is an impediment to one of the two positive affects. If I am interested in getting you to notice me and you do not, shame will be triggered, even if there is no specific embarrassment. This 'shame as impediment' is an important to keep in mind.


Differentiating between Guilt and Shame:

Guilt is not an innate affect. 
It is an emotion consisting of shame plus some form of fear of reprisal.

Expression of Emotion in Animals

    Silvan Tomkins clearly described the human facial and other body responses that accompanied each affect. As I have said elsewhere, the dog's facial musculature is quite different from that of the human, especially around the mouth. We all know that our dogs are expressive, we can feel it. One of my current projects is an elaboration and a clarification of the nature of affective expression in animals.

    While dogs don't have the facial display board features of the human, they have some structures apparently used in their expression of affect that humans don't. The tail, and very movable ears are the first two that come to mind.

    Dr. Michael W. Fox in his book "Understanding Your Dog" has a chapter called  A Dog's Body Language (and Daniel's Dilemma in the Dog's Den). I will start with it and then I'll go to some of the other existing literature.

Outline of Material from Dr. Michael W. Fox

    In communication, the less social canines - the foxes - produce much stronger odors than do wolves or dogs. It seems that odors are extremely important for communication in canines that do not live in social groups and rarely meet up with each other outside the breeding season.

    Second, there is a vocal repertoire of whines, howls, growls and barks that are directly tied in with body language. These vocalizations do not, with few exceptions, carry any special message akin to words. They generally indicate and individual's emotional state - be he aggressive, submissive, needing attention or in a painful distress.

    It seems that besides giving some information about a dog's internal state, his body language also has a more general function. It regulates social distance or proximity between individuals. These are broken down into those that serve to increase and maintain social distance (such as a direct stare and a snarl), and those that serve to decrease social distance and maintain close proximity (such as low position, tail wagging and the submissive grin.)

    Fox considers a third category that he says is not of primary communication value, which he calls general arousal or alerting reaction and those body postures and facial expressions seen during fear, excitement, investigation and exploration and also during certain consumatory activities, such as sleeping, scratching, drinking, eating, urinating, defecating, copulating and howling or singing. Though not meant as direct signals to others, these reactions may be perceived by one dog in another, and he may proceed to respond allelomimetically by copying the same thing at the same time (see Empathy). This is why dogs often tend to do the same thing at the same time. Another response to the reactions of another dog is to run over and investigate what he's doing. Fox points out that these group-coordinated activities are a characteristic feat