Emotion generation

Having finished our rather lengthy introduction by indicating how the various domains of knowledge, including goals, are accommodated within the representational structure we have outlined, we can now return at last to a discussion of the emotions. In this section we will outline the first of two ways in which the various components of the emotion process might operate within the framework that we have sketched so far.

The most instructive way to demonstrate the generation of emotions via the activation of schematic meaning is to use a familiar example, and what better than the case of Susan's encounter with the bear in the wood which pervaded the discussion in Chapter 2.

If we remember, it was suggested that the process of Susan stumbling across a bear in the woods, feeling afraid, and running away and climbing a tree could be understood in terms of the following seven components of the emotion process:

1 An event—the bear

2 An interpretation—the bear is going to eat me

3 An appraisal—survival goal is threatened

4 A physiological change—emotion system activity associated with fear

5 A propensity for action—to run away

6 Conscious awareness—feeling afraid

7 Overt behaviour—running like mad!

In terms of the model we have described, the bear would be perceived and recognised via visual analogical representations. Information from this level would feed into the propositional level where knowledge about bears and their likely behaviour would be activated. This interaction between events, their analogical representation (if applicable), and propositional information, we conceive of as an interpretation; for example, that the bear is probably hungry. This interpretation would be relevant to a number of Susan's goals, such as that of finishing the leisurely walk through the woods. However, the most important goal that would be involved would be her goal of personal survival. At this point we need to make the first theoretical proposal concerning the generation of emotions—that events and interpretations can only be appraised with respect to the individual's goals, such that emotions are generated at the schematic model level of meaning. In other words, although goals can be represented propositionally they can only be the subjects of an emotion-related appraisal process at the schematic model level. The reason for this is that, in order for the implications of a given event for an individual's goals to be appraised, a schematic model of how the individual's situation will change needs to be constructed. It is this process that leads to the generation of emotion. We are not suggesting that new information cannot be processed with respect to goals at the propositional level; rather, we are claiming that such propositional processing will be merely semantic—it will be cold and non-emotional. Let us consider an example: if someone wanted to give up smoking they could reason propositionally along the lines that evidence indicates that smoking can kill, that they have a goal to live a long and fruitful life, and, therefore, that they will give up smoking. We submit that such reasoning can occur in the absence of any emotion by being carried out at the propositional level of representation. In contrast, many anti-smoking advertising campaigns endeavour to access schematic model meaning by providing material to encourage the individual to construct a schematic model of the implications of the fact that smoking can kill. This proves very distressing and, the argument goes, ensures a higher probability of someone kicking the habit.

So, to return to our bear, in the analysis we have just presented appraisal is the processing of the interpretation (e.g., the bear is going to eat me) with respect to the individual's extant goal structure (e.g., personal survival) at the schematic model level of meaning. The relationship between the interpretation and the extant goal structure, as we have stated before, determines which emotion is experienced (see Table 5.1 above). So, for example, if the interpretation means that important goals run the risk of future non-completion, an appraisal of threat occurs at the schematic level and the individual begins to experience fear. If we return to the woods, the interpretation "the bear is going to eat me" is appraised with respect to the individual's extant goal structure at the schematic model level. This interpretation means that the goal of personal survival runs the risk of future non-completion and an appraisal of threat occurs. The appraisal of threat serves to activate physiological systems associated with fear and gives rise to an action potential to run away. Finally, the combined awareness of the appraisal of threat and the physiological changes constitute the phenomenal experience of fear (see Figure 5.4).

We can see in this example of Susan and the bear how the different domains of knowledge (of self, the world, and others and their subsumed goals) are utilised in the experience of emotion. Recognising the danger represented by the bear is a function of knowledge of the world; specifically, knowledge of what bears are capable of. Forming the interpretation that the bear is going to eat her utilises Susan's representation of the bear's goal structure. That is, that the bear, on seeing Susan walking along the path, would form the goal of devouring her to satisfy a survival-related goal of finding something to eat. The action potential and subsequent decision to run draws upon information about the self to the effect that there would be little point in Susan stopping to fight the bear because she would not be strong enough to succeed. These somewhat straightforward points only give a flavour of the complex cognitive interactions that might occur in a situation like this. Once Susan starts running, for example, her schematic model of the situation leads to a whole new set of goals (and plans to realise them) being created and put into operation, such as getting to a nearby tree. Success or failure of these plans and goals leads to further emotion-related interpretations and appraisals at the schematic level. Susan might also experience other emotions, such as anger. She might have taken a gun with her on every previous walk in the wood but not done so that morning because the gun needed cleaning and she could not be bothered to clean it. The interpretation of having been negligent, with the knowledge that the negligence was perpetrated by the self, would be appraised with respect to the goal of being prepared and thorough. This would lead to appraisals associated with self-directed anger. Furthermore, the generation of a given emotion will serve to bias the system in favour of information congruent with that emotion. So, once afraid, Susan is likely to attend to threat in the environment, and the interpretations she makes of the event are likely to be biased in a threat-related direction (see Dalgleish & Watts, 1990; Eysenck, 1997; Williams et al., 1997).

BEAR-

INTERPRETATION

Figure 5.4 Components of the model involved in the generation of emotion of fear via schematic models to the event of a bear in the woods.

EVENT

INTERPRETATION

Figure 5.4 Components of the model involved in the generation of emotion of fear via schematic models to the event of a bear in the woods.

An important question that is raised by this example is the content of Susan's conscious awareness. She will doubtless be aware of the presence of the bear. However, her conscious awareness may include little or no bear-related propositional information. Susan will almost certainly be aware of her phenomenological experience of fear, and this experience will be a function of an awareness that the goal of personal survival has been challenged, combined with an awareness of the physiological changes occurring in the body. The awareness of the schematic-level appraisal process might, however, be devoid of propositional content and would then be experienced as a sense, albeit a strong sense, of threat or danger. Susan may not be conscious of the process of forming an interpretation such as "the bear is going to eat me"; as we have said, this is as much a way of talking about the interaction of the analogical representation of events with propositional representations as it is a valid reflection of thought content. In addition, Susan may or may not be conscious of a propensity for action or even an explicit desire to run, and may just find herself hotfooting it in the opposite direction. All that is required by the model we have outlined is that Susan is aware of being in an emotional state that is subsumed by a combination of the appraisal process and the physiological changes. There may be no awareness of the event, the interpretation, or the action potential.

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