Sadness Some Theoretical Considerations

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Following the outline general model presented in Chapter 5 of the SPAARS approach to emotion, we will now consider the application of the model to sadness. The focus will initially be on all forms of sadness, but in subsequent sections we will examine how the model applies to the extreme forms of sadness seen in grief, and to the sadness-based disorder of depression.

Three of the key points that we proposed in Chapter 5 were that basic emotions have the potential to develop in a modular fashion, that multiple levels of meaning must be considered especially in relation to important roles and goals across the domains of self, world, and others, and that we must take account of the considerable range of inhibitory and facilitatory processes that occur both within and between different levels of processing. The application of some of these points is presented in Figure 7.2, which takes as its starting point an appraisal of loss. As the figure shows, the generation of sadness can occur either as a function of an effortful appraisal (schematic model) route or the associative route. For example, sadness might be generated by the automatic route because of an innate aspect of sadness linked to the loss of any key attachment figure (see later), or because of an automated sequence in which, for example, a particular place becomes associated with loss.

A second level of possible initial activation of the emotion module is through the propositional level of input, although as we have argued in Chapter 5, propositional input could lead to the generation of emotion through either the schematic model or the associative route. Many of the aesthetic emotions are likely to be experienced through this level because they are encoded in propositional form; the novel, play, or film causes some transient experience of sadness in us because of its propositional content, which is then encoded into a schematic model:

He felt an overwhelming sense of loss invade his being, a terrible sense of life's impermanence and transience, a sudden understanding of the meaning that this vision held. He crossed the road to the sea wall and sat down on it . . . unobserved, alone, he put his head in his hands and wept. (William Boyd, The Blue Afternoon, 1993, p. 200)

Figure 7.2 Different levels of activation of the sadness emotion module.

A third level of activation occurs at the schematic model level. At this level a whole variety of sources of information both external and internal to the individual may be combined into a holistic representation; thus, a schematic model associated with sadness could incorporate propositional material, body-state input, and mnemonic material, none of which in itself might be sufficient to activate a schematic model associated with sadness, yet their combination could be the opposite of the apparent sum of their parts. For example, as the widow sits back in her comfortable armchair to watch her favourite television programme, she might suddenly be reminded of how her husband too used to sit in that particular armchair; even though the memory in itself might be a happy one, she might nevertheless feel sad because it was something that was in the past but is now lost.

Following the initial activation of the sadness module, a range of possible facilitatory or inhibitory processes may then come into effect. The activated module includes physiological change, the biasing of processing at different levels within the system, and a potential for action associated with sadness. Figure 7.3 presents examples of possible facilitatory effects within a module. Similar processes can be identified in the ICS multi-level model (reviewed in Chapter 4) in its recent application to depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders (Barnard, 2003, 2004). A series of positive feedback loops may maintain and even enhance the activation of the sadness module; thus, stored representations at the associative level may trigger off sadness-related propositions which, in turn, can serve to maintain the activation of the schematic model of being in a state of sadness. In fact, as we shall present subsequently, one of the problems with extreme grief reactions and severe forms of depression is that the individual feels unable to shift to a different state or to a different emotion; these positive feedback loops can maintain the activation of the module for considerable periods of time under certain conditions (see later).

ASSOCIATIVE LEVEL

e.g., Memories of previous sad events

SCHEMATIC MODEL LEVEL

PROPOSITIONAL LEVEL

e.g., Thoughts "I am sad", "I am alone".

ASSOCIATIVE LEVEL

e.g., Memories of previous sad events

SCHEMATIC MODEL LEVEL

PROPOSITIONAL LEVEL

e.g., Thoughts "I am sad", "I am alone".

Figure 7.3 Some possible feedback loops by which activation of the sadness module can be maintained.

In normal individuals mild activation of the sadness module is typically very transient; thus, in mood induction studies participants may begin to recall mood-incongruent happy memories and generate positive self-related propositions in order to inhibit the unwanted mood and replace it with a more positive one (e.g., Isen, 1999; Parrott & Sabini, 1990). Under normal circumstances individuals may use a variety of strategies that operate at one or more levels. For example, one of us (MP) finds that eating hot chilli food is dysphoria relieving. These strategies can operate at an associative level such as recalling something pleasant; at the propositional level by having positive thoughts about oneself; or at the schematic level by generating a different emotional self-model (see Figure 7.3). Of course, in practice an effective strategy will operate at all levels, for example a pleasant memory may generate a series of positive propositions, and include the recollection of the self with a different schematic model. We are merely focusing on the starting point at which the inhibitory or facilitatory processes begin.

In some individuals the inhibitory processes may be so strong that they have great difficulty in experiencing an emotion such as sadness even when it is appropriate to do so. One such group are so-called repressors who may recall little if there is anything negative from their past, endorse few negative trait adjectives, and show poor retention of self-related negative material (e.g., Myers et al., 1992; see Chapter 10).

Although we have focused on facilitatory and inhibitory processes occurring primarily within the sadness module, as we argued in Chapter 5 it is also important to consider facilitatory and inhibitory processes that can occur between emotion modules: here may lie the royal road to emotional disorder. Therefore we turn next to a consideration of how sadness may interact with other basic emotions.

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