Conditions for the associative generation of emotion

Whether or not an emotional response to an event or to an interpretation of an event becomes associatively generated within SPAARS is not merely a function of repetition, although this is an important consideration. A number of other factors must also be taken into account. We propose that these other factors centre on the salience of the event to the individual's psychological or physical survival during the evolutionary history of the species. Events that throughout evolutionary history have had a high probability of leading to psychological or physical harm are liable to evoke strong emotions and associative pathways between the event and these emotional reactions are likely to become established more readily. Let us again consider a couple of examples:

Example One:

A couple of hours after finishing a delicious meal of steak in pepper sauce, James felt very sick and in fact was awake all night being ill. The next day he found that even the thought of peppered steak generated strong feelings of disgust. This disgust reaction to peppered steak persisted for a number of years.

Example Two:

Five-year-old Julia went to put her cup in the kitchen sink when a large house spider which had been basking near the plug hole ran across her hand and up the side of the sink. Julia screamed and dropped the cup. From that day onwards Julia was terrified of spiders.

These two examples illustrate a number of factors which are important in the associative generation of emotion within SPAARS. The first example illustrates the development of the phenomenon of taste aversion (e.g., Garcia & Koelling, 1966; Welzl, D'Ad-amo, & Lipp, 2001); that is, the ability of the system to learn rapidly about foodstuffs that lead to illness. In terms of emotion, it is suggested that emotional reactions to such foodstuffs can become associatively driven very rapidly, such that after a single encounter the foodstuff in question acquires the ability to evoke feelings such as disgust (this issue is dealt with more fully in Chapter 9). The second example illustrates the fact that a number of events seem to mesh with genetically programmed sensitivities for the associative generation of fear responses. This is known as the preparedness hypothesis (Seligman, 1971; see Ohman & Mineka, 2001, for a review)— the events are evolutionarily "prepared" in some way. What is distinctive about these events is that they reflect potential dangers to the survival of prehistoric humans and/or their ancestors such as through predation or disease. Such "events" include, for example, spiders, snakes, heights, enclosed spaces, and blood. Finally, it is possible that some associative event-emotion pathways are hard-wired; for example, fear in response to large, fast-moving objects (LeDoux, 1996).

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