Tridimensional Theory of Feeling

Feelings and emotions are a huge part of the human experience. What are they? What do they mean?

The three big-time theories that attempt to explain feelings and emotions are:

  • James-Lange Theory
  • Cannon-Bard Theory
  • Schachter-Singer Theory

And other common and popular theories include:

  • Evolutionary Theory Emotion
  • Cognitive Appraisal Emotion
  • Facial-Feedback Theory of Emotion

However, there is one fascinating theory that isn’t as well-known as those listed above which was first postulated by the  Father of Experimental Psychology, Wilhelm Wundt.

I was really impressed and excited to see that Wundt ventured into this area of psychology and even created a model called the Tridimensional Theory of Feeling. This caught my attention because he isn’t “known” for exploring this area, yet he is monumental in the field. Anyways.

According to Wundt, every feeling can be described based on these three dimensions (thus, the “tridimensional” theory) of feeling:

  • Strain <—> Relaxation
  • Excitement <—> Calm
  • Pleasantness <—> Unpleasantness
illustration by ana zdravic

Being a neuroscience geek, I couldn’t help but wonder how these dimensions would crudely transfer over as neurotransmitters and/or neuromodulators.

Probably adrenaline would pair with excitement, dopamine with pleasantness, opioids for calmness…

Of course, anatomy would have to be a factor in this concept, but that’s a topic for a different post ; )





Wilhelm Wundt

Talk about the beginnings of psychology and you are bound to mention or hear about Wilhelm Wundt and how he opened the first (yes, the first!) laboratory dedicated to psychology.

Wilhelm Wundt essentially created experimental psychology, thus bridging philosophy with the systematic nature of science. The lab that he opened was in the University of Leipzig. But before he was a member of the university’s staff, Wundt served as an assistant to Hermann von Helmholtz!

Anyways. Prior to Wundt’s contribution to modern psychology, psychology was limited to musings about the mind within a philosophical framework. After Wundt, people gradually began to understand and accept that the mind can be studied systematically through measurable behaviors.

Some of Wundt’s methods (namely, introspection) have not withstood the tests of time and currently are not unanimously considered by scientists as reliable research techniques. But, the overall idea that the mind can be studied through visible and measurable actions and behaviors remains as a major accomplishment for Wilhelm Wundt.

Though introspection has been criticized as an illegitimate tool for experimental methods due to its unreliability, it is a leap to say it is completely invaluable (as can be the case with an air of subjectivity is implicated). Even ancient wisdom favorably ponders introspection:

“…why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?” (Plato, Theaetetus, 155)

I think introspection will slowly re-enter the realm of science through the lens of rehabilitation. Maybe introspection doesn’t cut it as means of collecting data, but given all of the recent breakthroughs in ‘mindfulness’, introspection is just a few small steps away from being re-introduced as a powerful and significant process and facet of human consciousness.