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The affect is a temporary mental excitement or emotional avoil that is triggered by external events or internal mental operations.

In contrast to a mood , the tone of the feeling usually only changes for a short time. Typical affects are e.g. B. anger, hatred and joy. Affects have an expressive dimension, a physical dimension and a motivational dimension. For example, a smile can be an expression of the affect of joy , while blushing in the physical area is indicative of the affect of shame . The impulse to hit the table with your fist is a characteristic motivation out of the affect of anger .

In general, it is understood to mean a particularly intense feeling that is associated with clear physical side effects. Often typical characteristics of an affect are:

  • rapid emotional reaction to a situational stimulus
  • is thus experienced briefly and intensely (compared to the emotion )
  • is difficult to control and object-related
  • is associated with a strong behavioral tendency.

Affect is a special quality of feeling . The defining characteristics are a relative quantity (in relation to the basic mood) and a general excitement . The affect receives its respective designation (for example fear, sadness, curiosity, etc.) from the emotion it sets in motion and to which it is linguistically assigned. For example, jealousy can appear not only in the form of affect, but also as a feeling, as an obsessional thought, as a motive, etc. From the context of the linguistic use (e.g. raging jealousy) it can then be seen whether affect or another quality of emotional movement is meant is. A behavior that is mainly determined by emotional excitement and less by cognitive processes is called affective or emotional .

From the 16th century to the present, affect has been described as a violent emotional movement . This commitment to violent as the defining characteristic is not unanimously shared by psychology. The term emotion is currently preferred here for such an affect (see emotion theory ).

Concept history

The term affect is derived from the Greek páthos ( πάθος ) ("suffering, passion "). When it was shifted to Latin, this became afficere (“add, stimulate” and, in relation to feelings: “put into one, vote, impress”). Finally affectus (“state”, especially: “passion, emotion, constitution”) developed. English also speaks of occurring emotion , emphasizing that it is something that happens to you.

The term affection , which was still nosologically important in the first half of the 20th century, owes its origin to the same tribe. In today's Romance languages , the meaning of the term “affectivity” can differ from the German meanings and associations . In South America and Spain, the Spanish term “afectividad” is often used to mean the ability to love people in the sense of empathy and the ability to bond .

Plato (427–347) divides affects into four categories: pleasure, suffering, desire, and fear.

Aristotle (384–322) names eleven affects (desire, anger, fear, courage, envy, joy, love, hate, longing, jealousy and compassion) and also counts every state as affects that is associated with pleasure or displeasure.

Zenon of Kition (333–264), founder of the Stoa . According to the stoic view , eudaemonia ( happiness ) can only be achieved if no affect disturbs the peace of mind. An affect is an overdriven drive; the stoic ideal is apathy , freedom from such affects. A distinction is made between four basic types of affects: pleasure, displeasure, desire, and fear. The decisive factor for apathy is the realization that all external goods have no value for happiness. "The affect arises when reason sets the drive a wrong [...] purpose and complains about failure."

René Descartes (1596–1650) describes in his work “Traité des passions de l'âme”, (Paris 1649) six basic forms of affects that can be combined into numerous intermediate forms: joy (joie), hate (haine), love (amour), sadness (tristesse), desire (désir), admiration (admiration).

Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677) differentiates in his " Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata - ethics according to the geometrical method" (1677) only three main affects, from which he derives all others: desire, joy, sadness.

Christian Wolff (1679–1754) divided affects into two classes in his work "Psychologia empirica" ​​(1732): pleasurable and unpleasurable affects (affecti iucundi / affecti molesti).

Kant (1724–1804) first made a clear distinction between affect and passion, man must tame affect, control passion, that which makes him a master, the latter makes him the master of himself.

Charles Darwin (1809–1882) used many individual examples and numerous sources to describe in detail forms of expression of the state of mind (such as characteristic movements, gestures, sounds, vegetative phenomena, etc.) in humans and animals and associated affects (“strong emotion”, “ excited sensation ”) and other emotions. He developed the theory that these expression patterns, originally acquired as useful habits, are ultimately inherited ("Actions, which were at first voluntary, soon became habitual, and at last hereditary, and may then be performed even in opposition to the will. ... “) And have been preserved through selection . The birth of his son had inspired Darwin to become more interested in the expression of affects and feelings in humans and mammals. The background for the founder of the theory of evolution was to prove the universality of emotional expressions and their genetic condition.

Eugen Bleuler (1857–1939) used the term affectivity to describe the totality of the emotional and emotional life .

In extensive empirical studies, Paul Ekman (* 1934) found evidence of the hereditary condition of numerous forms of emotional expression as claimed by Darwin, including the 7 basic emotions he distinguished : happiness, anger, disgust , fear, contempt, sadness and surprise, which are common to all people across cultures recognized and expressed in the same way. These facial expressions, which he describes as elementary, are not culturally learned, but genetically determined.

Of Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), the affect has been classified first by quality, strength, duration and measurable in his time physiological effect. According to his classification concept, sthenic affects were characterized by tension in the body, asthenic affects by relaxation. States such as anger, anger, and zeal are counted as sthenic affects, while the asthenic affects are fear, fear or terror.

Today's meaning

Affectivity is a generic term for the whole sphere of mental phenomena that are associated with a change in subjective well-being and experience and that affect the content of ideas and thoughts. It thus includes affects, moods, emotions and instinctuality.

From a semantic point of view, the term affectivity is more in scientific and medical usage, while the term emotionality means more of the character trait of a person to have lively feelings. The term affect is often used as the opposite of the term cognition (“the heart against the mind” or “feeling vs. rationality”). However, research now assumes that both cognitions cause affective states and, conversely, affective states influence cognitive processes such as decisions or judgments.

Affect is defined as a highly explosive emotional and emotional movement, low latency and energizing dynamics ( motivation ), accompanied by restricted perception ( distorted attention and tunnel vision), possibly an excessive demand on will control and strong expressiveness. In addition, there is an involvement of the motor and vegetative nervous system as well as an involvement of the system of so-called messenger substances and hormones . Put simply, it is a psychosomatic event with communicative, motivational and cognitive consequences. Positive affect is associated, for example, with an increased smile, approach behavior and heuristic information processing, negative affect with disapproving facial expression, avoidance behavior and systematic information processing.

In medical psychology, affect is understood as a complex innate reaction pattern to stimuli. The trigger of the affect can be functional external perceptual stimuli or cognition .

Research in this regard is currently being funded, for example, in the Collaborative Research Center 1171 “Affective Societies: Dynamics of Coexistence in Moving Worlds” (2015–2023), in which the forms of reference and the conditions for success for social coexistence are to be found.


Whether an affect itself, beyond its genetic predisposition , can be changed in the pathological sense by any influence of life - with the exception of brain lesions and poisoning - is the subject of research and various opinions. An alternative would be that it is instead the process of processing the affect towards an emotion that is affected by such an influence and is ultimately responsible for the pathological finding . It is therefore only possible to give examples of a few psychopathological symptoms that have something to do with affects or the expression of feelings.

symptom Explanation
Decreased affective response The facial , gestural and paraverbal expressive features are only weakly clear and those affected react only weakly or not at all. B. for sympathy or encouragement (see e.g. depression ).
Inappropriate affect (parathymia) There is a contradiction between the expressive features and the underlying emotional state.
Affect lability Major and rapid changes between the expressive characteristics.
Affect incontinence This is an involuntary, stereotypical, unmodulated affect expression (in any kind of emotional movement), which the person concerned cannot adapt to his current situation even despite being very embarrassed (e.g. crying or laughing). It is a symptom of a brain lesion or transient brain dysfunction. B. occur as a result of a stroke , Alzheimer's disease or drug poisoning ( exogenous psychosis ).
Affect intolerance The inability to withstand a stimulated affect long enough until it has found a balanced emotion and a change in the interpersonal relationship in the psychosocial system as its explosiveness fades through cognitive interpretation processes that may be unconscious (see below).
Affect flattening Insufficient range of emotions in perception, experience and expression. The impoverishment of emotions (affects) manifests itself in a reduced ability to “participate emotionally”. Those affected only react to a limited extent to normally moving events and appear little affected by the pleasant and the unpleasant. The normal ability to oscillate between different affective states (joy, curiosity, sadness, anger, pride, ...) is lost.


In the parlance of classical psychoanalysis , an “drive” has an affect and an idea dimension. Through a “ trauma ” or an unbearable, internal “ conflict ”, the idea can become unconscious through “ repression ” or other “ defense mechanisms ” and thus make the causal connection unrecognizable. The affect, however, cannot be suppressed, but continues as an “ affect amount ” - quasi ownerless - and can then be relieved in the form of physical symptoms ( conversion ), in the area of ​​expression ( expressive diseases ) or in particular behavior (e.g. obsessive-compulsive disorder ) find ("primary gain from illness "). In this context, the term " affect isolation " is important. It also involves a "defense mechanism to run out, feel, and experience to loosen them, working in opposition to the [...] important function of the ego, which has as its object to summarize the mess of all experience into one unit." The The phenomenon consists in the fact that the expression of the emotion is minimized (idiom: "Poker-Face"), but the affect seeks its rejection in (mostly hidden) excesses of fantasy and behavior or a special act.

Rainer Krause , a psychologist and psychoanalyst, derives the affects that can be observed in facial expressions from a hierarchical organizational scheme of the drives. "Emotions are in his opinion the mental representations of hierarchically organized, goal-oriented motivation systems that are activated by body internal signals and stimuli from the outside world." Here, it is based on the object relations theory by Otto F. Kernberg , in sex drive and aggression as a hierarchically higher-level motivation system. The affects form a bridging function between the organization of the drives and the biologically given instincts. Krause (1998) differentiates the terms affect, feeling, empathy according to which of the following components or modules are involved. The limbic system is involved in affect without higher cognitive functions. When it comes to feeling, there is also conscious perception. Linguistic naming and assignment to an object or self would only be possible with empathy.

The affect system (Krause, 1998)
1. Expressive component affect feeling empathy
2. Physiological component
3. Motivational component
4. Perception / conscious experience of the affect
5. Linguistic naming of the experience
6. Conscious perception, of affect as an inner image and as a special situational meaning of the world and objects

Psychoanalytic researchers see affect mainly in its communicative function, namely in the various psychoanalytic theories as follows: In object relationship theory, affects are the link of the relationship. In a person, past relationship experiences show up as memory traces between themselves and the object, i.e. an important reference person. According to this view, there is a relationship between a self-representation (the idea of ​​one's own person or one's self) and an object representation (the idea of ​​a familiar person). Affect is the link between the representations that motivates and regulates a relationship from infancy onwards.

In self-psychology , early processes of regulation between child and caregiver are considered to be decisive factors for self-development. The affective exchange between child and caregiver has a major impact on self-development. The child can be soothed through the affective exchange with its mother, whereby the expression of affect is to be regarded as the carrier of communication. According to Martin Dornes , it can be said that the mother and the toddler form an affective communication system, whereby the child gradually learns to regulate its affects itself.

The differential affect scale (DAS) , a psychometric instrument developed by J. Merten and Rainer Krause , is based on the following ten basic emotion dimensions: interest , joy , surprise , sadness , anger , disgust , contempt , fear , shame , guilt . (see 8 basic emotions in the article emotion theories and see above Paul Ekman)

An affect alone soon fades away with increasing equilibrium, unless it meets opposing forces. These can arise from simultaneously occurring affects with a contrary tendency or from the environment with which the person is in an exchange. The vehemence of such a conflict pushes the system to balance. Habitual strategies are preferably used, both by the person and by his environment. The person can experience typification by others: z. B. curmudgeon, cowardice, show-off, hypochondriac, patron, hero, hysteric, choleric etc.

An affect can be dependent on a stimulus or cause e.g. B. be an act, one or another affect. For example, the above. Affect "Interest" be the cause of the affect "Shame" or "Guilt".

An affect cannot be completely unconscious. It can at least be perceived by others as a positive or negative, exciting change in the subjective well-being both in its physical (vegetative) dimension and in its expressive dimension. But the interpretation of an affect (see also: mentalization ), which comes into play simultaneously with the affect or even before or immediately after or successively, can be unconscious or little developed ( alexithymia ). It can therefore happen that someone makes their envy, for example, by gestures, blushing or pale and the context for others to recognize, without being aware of envy himself or ever being aware of it. It can also be that someone runs away from a threat and only consciously experiences their fear later.

Legal references

Affects are valued in legal dealings if the person acting is impaired in their business, criminal or culpability or is motivated to commit a criminal offense. In principle, the presence of affects does not exclude the ability to participate in legal relations.

In German criminal law , affect is relevant at several levels of the criminal investigation:

  • Guilt can already be ruled out on the level of guilty capacity (the ability to see right and wrong and to control one's actions accordingly) , but only when the affect reaches the quality of a profound disturbance of consciousness. In this case the affect is not the legal ground for the exclusion of guilt itself, but only its cause. So one excludes guilt because of the disturbance of consciousness and not because of the affect. See Section 20 of the German Criminal Code (StGB).
  • At the level of exclusion of guilt , deficiencies in self-defense actions must be taken into account: If the limits of self-defense are exceeded only to a certain extent (so-called intensive emergency excess), i.e. about four defensive blows instead of the sufficient three, a reason for exclusion of guilt is given if the excess is due to asthenic affect Confusion, fear or horror was caused ( Section 33 StGB). The act of excess itself, however, is illegal and in turn can be legally defended against. Such a reason to exclude guilt also only favors the affected and not other participants in the crime. These adhere fully.
  • If, on the other hand, the limits of self-defense are exceeded in time, i.e. a defense that is not necessary for defense by its nature, there is a so-called extensive excess of emergency defense , which, according to the prevailing opinion, leads to full punishment, since in such a case the prerequisites for self-defense are already in the sense of § 32 StGB are not given. Example: hit a fleeing offender.
  • At the level of Strafzumessungs will govern isolated sthenic emotions such as anger (s. O. Wilhelm Wundt ) considered. If, for example, the perpetrator "through no fault of his own due to mistreatment or severe insult caused by the person killed is incited to anger by the person killed and thereby carried away to the act", this leads to a less serious case of manslaughter in the sense of Section 213 of the Criminal Code . This brings about a mitigation compared to a manslaughter in the sense of § 212 Abs. 1 StGB, namely a shift of the penalty framework to "imprisonment of one year to ten years" instead of "imprisonment not less than five years".

See also


  • Rainer Krause: Language and Affect. The stuttering and its treatment . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1981, ISBN 3-17-005267-5 .
  • Rainer Krause: Psychodynamics of Emotional Disorders . In: Klaus R. Scherer (Ed.): Enzyklopädie der Psychologie (=  Encyclopedia of Psychology: Subject area C, theory and research: Ser. 4, Motivation and Emotion . Volume 3 ). Hogrefe, Göttingen 1990, ISBN 3-8017-0520-X , p. 630-705 .
  • Rainer Krause: The modular structure of the emotion system . University and State Library, Saarbrücken 2003 ( [PDF; 176 kB ; accessed on February 28, 2018]).
  • Jenny Kaiser: The Role of Affects in Modern Analytical Developmental Psychology . In: Annette Streeck-Fischer (Ed.): The early development. Psychodynamic developmental psychologies from Freud to today . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2018, ISBN 978-3-525-45138-0 , p. 208-232 .
  • Léon Wurmser: The Mask of Shame. The psychoanalysis of feelings of shame and conflicts of shame . 7th edition. Westarp Verlagsservicegesellschaft, Hohenwarsleben 2017, ISBN 978-3-86617-142-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Affekt  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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