Cognitive Theories Of Emotion

Theories of emotion try to explain how emotion is aroused, how it produces physiological changes, and how one emotion differs from another. The answer to the first question distinguishes cognitive theories from other theories of emotion.

Theorists of all persuasions usually agree that anger, fear, or both are aroused when a situation is interpreted as annoying and/or dangerous. Many insist that such arousal is programmed into the nervous system during evolutionary prehistory and serves biological survival. For cognitive psychologists, every emotion is aroused by knowing something and appraising it. No doubt, some appraisals are preprogrammed: Infants like anything sweet the first time they taste it. However, older children and adults appraise what they encounter not only as it affects their bodily well-being but also as it affects them as persons. The child is angry when teased by buddies; the young man, when his pals show him up before his girlfriend. If emotions depend on appraisals, there will be as many different emotions as there are different appraisals. Emotions may be classified, but they need not be derived from one another.

Not surprisingly, cognitive theories have a long history. In the third century b.c., Aristotle suggested in his De Anima (About the Soul) that human beings and animals can make sensory judgments (through what he called the vis estimativa) of things as being good or bad for them; this estimate arouses an emotion, liking, or dislike. Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary, followed Aristotle in this explanation of emotional arousal.

Descartes insisted that all emotions are aroused directly by exciting the "animal spirits," or by arousing inherent reflex actions together with the physiological changes necessary for survival—a notion shared by Darwin. William James and Carl Lange later reversed the commonsense view that emotion produces bodily changes, by insisting that bodily changes follow directly on the perception of the exciting object: Our sensation of these changes is the emotion.

The James-Lange theory of emotion was accepted un-questioningly and soon fatally reduced the interest of academic psychologists in the analysis of emotion.

To say that some situations arouse hereditary patterns is no solution. Fear or anger may arouse flight or attack, but both still depend on a realization that something is threatening or annoying, which is an appraisal, however rudimentary.

M. B. Arnold introduced the notion of appraisal into academic psychology. She defined emotion as "a felt action tendency toward anything intuitively appraised as good, or away from anything intuitively appraised as bad for me here and now," which is "accompanied by a pattern of physiological changes organized toward a specific kind of approach or withdrawal." Arnold distinguished a few basic emotions, simple reactions to the appraisal of basic situations: liking (love), dislike, desire, aversion, joy, sorrow, daring, fear, anger, hope, and despair.

In her book Emotion and Personality, Arnold pointed out that emotions depend not only on the intuitive appraisal of something as "good or bad for me," but also on the spontaneous appraisal of possible responses as suitable or unsuitable. Something threatening may be seen as difficult to escape and so arouses fear, or it may be appraised as something that can be anticipated by bold action and so is overcome by a daring attack. Arnold emphasized that the intuitive spontaneous appraisal is supplemented by a deliberate value judgment, at least in the older child and adult, just as sensory knowledge is complemented by conceptual knowledge. Because we use intuitive and reflective appraisals concurrently, even our intuitive judgments generating emotion can be educated. Because the person is a unit, every reflective value judgment will be accompanied by an intuitive appraisal. Value judgments are seldom if ever coldly objective: What is valued, attracts. Hence emotions can be socialized, influenced by social attitudes and customs.

Like other cognitive theorists, Arnold recognizes the importance of the physiological changes that accompany emotion. When these changes are felt, they are again appraised and may either reinforce or change the original emotion. When a person appraises an increased pulse rate during fear as indicating heart disease, the original fear is now overlaid by a fear of illness. By definition, heart disease weakens the body. The fear aroused by the increased pulse rate then dictates the appraisal that, being ill, one will not be able to cope with the situation, which increases the original fear.

Important research in emotion is reported by Richard Lazarus and his coworkers. These scientists make appraisal the cornerstone of their theory of emotion. Lazarus suggests that each emotion is based on a particular kind of cognitive appraisal accompanied by motor-behavioral and physiological changes. He distinguishes primary appraisal, secondary appraisal, and reappraisal. The secondary appraisal is an evaluation of a person's relation to the environment and so leads to an altered emotional response. Reappraisal can occur as a simple evaluation of the significance of this altered relation to the environment, or it may be a psychological attempt at coping with stress. Such a reappraisal is not necessarily based on factual information; it can be an attempt to look at the situation from a more congenial point of view. In Lazarus's terms, it may be a "defensive reappraisal." A reappraisal may also be an attempt at coping when direct action is impossible.

Lazarus and his associates found that the appraisal of a situation and therefore a person's emotional reaction could be manipulated experimentally. Before they showed a harrowing subincision film to the experimental subjects, they read a passage to one group that described the painful procedure at length, and they told another group that the boys in the picture were willing to undergo this initiation ritual and were proud of their stoic endurance. To a third group, finally, they gave intellectualizing informa-

tion that emphasized the anthropological significance of the ritual. The first group was strongly affected by the film, while the other two groups remained comparatively unaffected.

Although the influence of cognition on appraisal is well documented, the distinction between intuitive and reflective appraisal is more difficult to substantiate. In his article "Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need no Inferences," R. B. Zajonc pointed out that the notion of the primacy of feeling has languished since Wundt's time. In cognitive psychology it has been replaced by an information-processing scheme in which an affective reaction occurs only after considerable processing. Hence major works on cognition disregard affect or feeling and concentrate exclusively on cognitive processing. Yet, says Zajonc, "affect . . . is the major currency in which social intercourse is transacted." Hence, "to arouse affect, objects need to be cognized very little, in fact, minimally." In recall as in perception, the affective reaction is the first element to emerge. As Zajonc points out, although affect may mark the end of considerable cognitive activity (in listening to a joke, for instance), this need not imply that cognitive activity is a necessary component of affect.

According to Zajonc, there is a separation between affect and cognition. Judgments of similarity and judgments of preference have different dimensions. Early in the twentieth century, T. Nakashima reported in his "Contribution to the Study of Affective Processes" that judgments of pleasantness and unpleasantness are independent of sensory qualities and so cannot be mediated by them. Aesthetic judgments and preferences of all kinds do not depend on cognitive analysis. Experimental investigations have shown that judgments of like and dislike are made and recalled with great certainty, while judgments that a given stimulus word is new or a repeat are made with noticeable uncertainty. Hence Zajonc concludes that the perceptual process, starting from sensory experience, arouses first an unconscious affective reaction, and next produces the recognition of familiar features (also unconscious) before the reflective cognitive processing begins.

We may conclude that Zajonc has exposed a chink in the armor of cognitive psychology. Thinking and reflective judgment seem to depend as much on affect as on sensory experience. Because affect is a conscious experience of attraction/repulsion that is not generated by a reflective value judgment, it must be aroused by the spontaneous (unconscious) appraisal of good/bad objects and suitable/ unsuitable responses. Emotions are usually accompanied by reflective judgments, can themselves be appraised as suitable/unsuitable, and can be changed by corrective experiences but rarely by reflection or persuasion.

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