Understanding Emotions


That emotions are crucial to our experience of the world around us has been appreciated for thousands of years.  When Goleman popularised our understanding of just one dimension – emotional intelligence – in 1995, his book sold millions of copies.

Emotions shape our relationships, determine our values, are the basis of our own motivation and how we motivate others. 

Over ten weeks, with a balance of theory, practical activities, and experiential opportunities, we attempt to understand the detail of emotions and what they are, how they impact us, and how they fashion society.

Explore the definition and components of emotions, and discover how they shape our thoughts, perceptions, and behaviours. Trace the evolution of emotional research, from ancient philosophies to modern cognitive science, gaining valuable insights into this ever-evolving field.

Delve into the neuroscience of emotions, the workings of our brain and how it processes emotional responses. Examine the ongoing debate of whether emotions are innate or social constructs, exploring the interplay between biology, culture, and socialization.

Uncover the minimal set of emotions that form the foundation of our emotional repertoire and explore their universality across cultures. Discover how empathy serves as a mechanism for emotional communication among individuals and even other sentient animals.

Investigate the relationship between positive emotions and psychopathology, gaining practical strategies for fostering mental wellness. Explore the intersection of emotions and motivation, and how they influence our actions and decision-making. Examine behavioural economics and marketing, where emotions are skilfully provoked to shape popular behaviour.

Understand the connection between wisdom, values, and emotions, and practical decision-making and finding meaning in our lives. Lastly, explore the relationship between religion and emotions, uncovering their role in spiritual practices and beliefs.

Whether for professional or purely personal interest, this course should help you make just a little more sense of the complex world in which we live.

Programme details

Course starts: 30 Sept 2024

Week 1: What is an emotion?

Week 2: A brief history of emotional research

Week 3: Are emotions actually 'made'?

Week 4: The minimal set of emotions

Week 5: On the expression of emotions

Week 6: Positive emotion and psychopathology

Week 7: Emotion and motivation

Week 8: Provoking emotions and consequent behaviour

Week 9: Wisdom, values and emotions

Week 10: Emotions and religion

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £285.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Graham Wilson

My PhD in behavioural science led to an initial career in organisation and leadership development, however, for the last decade I’ve taught psychology, counselling, and photography at Oxford and elsewhere. A BACP Registered Counsellor, I recently retired as Coordinator of HE Counselling Courses at Guildford College. As a Ronin Institute Research Scholar, I investigate applications of imagery to provoke community-level behavioural change. In Oxfordshire, I lead government-funded therapeutic photography programmes. 

Course aims

Whether you're seeking professional development or personal enrichment, this course will help you navigate the complexity of our emotional world and make sense of the intricate tapestry of human experiences.

Course objectives

  1. Gain a comprehensive understanding of emotions and their profound impact on our lives. Explore the definition, components, and evolution of emotions, and uncover how they shape our thoughts, perceptions, and behaviours.

  2. Delve into the world of neuroscience and appreciate how our brain processes emotional responses. Examine the ongoing debate of whether emotions are innate or socially constructed, and explore the interplay between biology, culture, and socialization.

  3. Discover the universal foundation of emotions and their role in shaping our relationships, values, motivation, and societal norms. Explore practical strategies for fostering mental well-being, understand the connection between emotions and decision-making, and gain insights into the influence of emotions in behavioural economics and marketing.

Teaching methods

Using a virtual learning environment (Canvas), background notes will be provided shortly before each session so that you can read up on the week's theme in advance if you wish. I try to make sessions interactive and dynamic - you won't find me hiding behind a lectern.  Classroom activities will be varied, involve a range of discussions and creative tasks, in both the full group and small groups. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

(1) appreciate the nature and significance of emotions in contexts from the individual to society and beyond

(2) reflect on the impact of emotions on their own life

(3) assess the nature of emotional well-being and effective ways of enhancing it

Assessment methods

The assessment will consist of a piece of reflective writing (1500 words +/- 10%) on ways in which emotions have affected you directly in your life and that you were previously relatively unaware of.  You will be asked to make a brief presentation on the focus of your assignment around week 7 or 8.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work the required standard.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

The Department's Weekly Classes are taught at FHEQ Level 4, i.e. first year undergraduate level, and you will be expected to engage in a significant amount of private study in preparation for the classes. This may take the form, for instance, of reading and analysing set texts, responding to questions or tasks, or preparing work to present in class.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.