Oatley and Johnson Laird

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The next appraisal theory that we will consider is that of Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987; see also Oatley, 1992, and Johnson-Laird & Oatley, 2000). Oatley and Johnson-Laird propose that in a system engaged in multiple goals and plans there have to be mechanisms by which priority can be assigned, because not all active goals and plans can be pursued at once. They argue that one of the important roles for emotion, therefore, is to provide a possible mechanism by which such priorities can be assigned or altered.

In practice, Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987) suggest that the effect that emotion has on the assignment of priority to goals and plans occurs through two different mechanisms, one of which is evolutionally older than the other. The older mechanism, they argue, is analogous to the effect of a hormone in that the "emotion signal" is said to have "no internal symbolic structure of significance to the system"; the emotion signal simply sets the whole system into a particular mode. In contrast, the second type of communication is said to be "propositional" in that it is symbolic and has "internal structure". To translate these terms into those of other appraisal theorists, the proposal appears to share some overlap with the original Schachter and Singer model that we considered earlier; that is, in Schachter and Singer's model physiological arousal (a "non-propositional emotion signal") occurs and is then cognitively interpreted (i.e., a "propositional signal" is generated). The main differences between the two approaches are, first, that whereas Schachter and Singer proposed that this sequence occurs invariably in the generation of emotion, Oatley and Johnson-Laird propose that emotion can occur through either route; and, second, that Oatley and Johnson-Laird propose that there are several such signals rather than just one.

The physiological state associated with each emotion node has a specific neuro-chemical basis. Associated with this, psychologically active drugs can trigger and maintain the system in a specific mood state, making a person feel happy, frightened, or sad for no semantic reason. (Oatley, 1992, p. 64)

However, the question of whether a distinction between two different types of emotion communication is actually necessary or warranted has not been satisfactorily dealt with by these two theorists.

Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987) further propose that there is a set of at least five basic emotions that form the foundation for their theory. They base this conclusion on the evidence from, for example, studies of the facial expression of emotion (e.g., Ekman, 1973), studies of emotional development, and so on, as summarised earlier in the chapter. In addition, Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1989) carried out a linguistic analysis of emotion terms in which the basic emotions were treated as unanalysable semantic primitives, which in combination with other factors can lead to more complex emotions (see also Ortony et al., 1988, for an alternative approach to the linguistic analysis of emotion terms). The five basic emotions that they derive from these different types of data are captured by the English terms happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust; thus, other emotions are considered to be derived from one of these basic emotions through the inclusion of additional information that relates the basic emotion, for example, to the self or to some contextual element such as a significant other. Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1989) suggest that derived or complex emotions only involve one of the basic emotions—that is, they offer a disjunctive theory. However, we would agree with critics such as Jones and Martin (1992) who demonstrate both conceptually and empirically that many derived and complex emotions are more likely to be derived from two or more basic emotions—that is, contrary to Johnson-Laird and Oatley, some complex emotions need to be defined conjunctively rather than disjunctively. In fact, Johnson-Laird and Oatley's proposal that derived emotions must be derived disjunctively does not tally with the analysis of other semantic fields. For example, the word KILL might be analysed in terms of the possible semantic primitives CAUSE, BECOME, and DEAD (Fodor, 1977); that is, KILL would be defined as a conjunction of semantic primitives. Moreover, Johnson-Laird's own previous excursion into the analysis of semantic fields (Miller & Johnson-Laird, 1976) involves such conjunctive definitions of derived terms. However, we must note that this criticism of their linguistic analysis does not detract from the proposal that there is a limited set of basic emotions, a proposal with which we agree entirely.

The final part of Oatley and Johnson-Laird's (1987) theory is that each of the five basic emotions is linked to key junctures in goals and plans, as shown in Table 3.8. The table shows that happiness is linked to progress being made towards a goal; that sadness is linked to the failure or loss of a goal; that anger results when a goal or plan is blocked or frustrated; that anxiety results from the general goal of self-preservation being threatened; and disgust is considered to result from the violation of a gustatory goal either in the literal sense (e.g., in response to tastes or smells) or in a metaphorical sense (e.g., in response to individuals or ideas).

The links the theory makes between junctures in goals and plans and the experience of emotion is one of its most useful aspects and is a proposal that we will make much use of subsequently. Nevertheless, we should point out that these junctures are sufficient but not necessary conditions for the occurrence of emotion: there are numerous examples in which we experience emotion because of what might have happened rather than what actually happened (e.g., the car accident that nearly happened); or in which we experience emotion vicariously because another individual is experiencing an emotion (e.g., the laughing policeman); or in the "aesthetic" emotions (e.g., experiencing anxiety while watching a film even though there is no actual threat to self-preservation); or in the recollection of an emotional experience; or in daydreams, nightdreams, and fantasies. These examples illustrate that any theory of emotion is necessarily complex and that there is, as yet, no completely adequate

Table 3.8 Five basic emotions and their associated junctures in goals and plans

Basic emotion Juncture of goal or plan

Table 3.8 Five basic emotions and their associated junctures in goals and plans

Basic emotion Juncture of goal or plan


Subgoals or goals being achieved


Failure or loss of plan or goal


Self-preservation goal threatened


Plan or goal frustrated or blocked


Gustatory goal violated

Based on Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987).

Based on Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987).

theory, although Oatley's (1992) point that many of these examples refer to past, future, or possible goals makes them less of a problem for the theory.

We should also note that the basic emotion of disgust seems to be too narrowly dealt with in the theory, nor is the suggestion of a "violation of a gustatory goal" entirely convincing. First, although the term disgust derives from the same root as gustation, disgust can be elicited automatically and possibly innately by all senses, not just taste; thus, smell also elicits disgust reactions, for example the smell of tellurium hydride is reputedly the most disgusting smell known and invariably elicits a disgust reaction; certain cold, wet, slimy tactile sensations can also elicit disgust; and cacophonous sounds and certain experimental works of art have similar effects. Second, it may be disingenuous to claim that a disgust reaction to the smell of rotten eggs involves a juncture in a goal or plan. Instead, an analysis along the lines of Leventhal and Scherer's multi-component model would seem to provide a better account; that is, sensory-based disgust seems likely to be linked to both innate and learned sensory-motor and schematic-based associations, but during development the individual may come to react with disgust to certain physical or psychological aspects of the self and of other individuals (see Chapter 9). In summary, neither version of disgust fits easily into the junctures in goals and plans analysis offered by Oatley and Johnson-Laird. (Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1990, allude to limitations in their treatment of disgust without presenting the details; Oatley & Jenkins, 1996, focus on contamination but do not provide sufficient detail.)

Despite these and other criticisms, it is still possible to extract the best aspects from theories such as Oatley and Johnson-Laird's in order to specify some of the minimum features of an adequate theory. We will attempt this task in the final section of this chapter in which we review the appraisal theories that we have covered so far. However, we must note that some recent commentators on appraisal theories have criticised the "cognitive imperialism" of earlier theories (Frijda, 1993; Lewis, 1996; Manstead & Fischer, 2001; Scherer, 1993). For example, Lewis (1996) has argued that positive feedback loops between appraisals and emotions lead to the emergence of complexes in which cognition and emotion interact dynamically. (Cycles of appraisal are further discussed in Chapters 5 and 8.)

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