The interaction of inhibition and emotion emotion modules and the inhibition of emotional experience

Panic Away

Panic Away Handbook

Get Instant Access

We have proposed in the preceding two sections that the configuration of the SPAARS system is a function of the dominant schematic models and is maintained by a combination of facilitation and inhibition throughout the system. What is the interaction between these processes and emotion?

We have stressed throughout the book so far that emotions have functionality, and we have proposed a cognitive theory of emotions in the present chapter that employs the concept of roles and goals to provide a language for the functionality of emotions. The basic emotions of anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and happiness are functional processes that operate when valued goal states are affected in different ways. So, for example, fear operates when a valued goal is threatened. The functionality of these emotion processes is manifested in the emotion "taking over" the SPAARS system which is reconfigured such that all of the constituent parts are employed in resolving the goal-related events that instigated the emotion (cf. Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1987; see Chapter 3). So, in the case of fear, for example, the system will be configured to deal with the current threat and the environment will be monitored for future threat. This emotional imperialism—the reconfiguration of the system as a function of the generated emotion—can perhaps best be conceptualised as the activation of an emotion module. Once the emotion module is activated, the system is configured in a certain way and other configurations of the system are inhibited. We use the term module here in its functional sense (Gazzaniga, 1988), rather than as a label for distinct systems of the brain. That is, we are adopting the notion of software modularity as opposed to hardware modularity.

In most circumstances, we suggest, emotion modules cease to dominate the system when the instigating event circumstances are altered. So, in the case of fear, when the event that acts as a threat to the individual's goal has passed or has been reconceptualised as non-threatening, then the fear module will cease to be active. However, there are a number of circumstances in which this relatively smooth functional transition in and out of emotional states and their corresponding SPAARS configurations does not take place.

Individuals can become "locked" into a particular emotion module such that it becomes very difficult to revert to previous functioning. This idea has been expressed in different ways in a number of other models of emotional order and disorder. For example, Beck and Emery (1985) put forward the idea of danger schemata in their discussion of anxiety disorders (see Chapter 3). Within Beck's model, anxiety-prone individuals possess latent danger schemata, which contain information about danger and fear and can lead the individual to view and interpret the world in a distorted, danger-related way. In the presence of a stressor, such danger schemata can become activated and the individual is seemingly locked within this distorted, anxiety-laden conception of existence. Within SPAARS a characteristic of being stuck within a particular emotion module is that this state is maintained by the different components of SPAARS reciprocally activating each other, or becoming interlocked (cf. Teasdale & Barnard, 1993). For example, a given set of events might lead to the generation of fear via the associative level. This in turn may lead to propositional and schematic interpretations that trigger the generation of fear via the schematic model route, which in turn may generate more fear via the associative level, and so on. An excellent account of this type of interlock is provided by Teasdale and Barnard (1993) for the case of depression. Here higher-order models such as "self as failure" lead to propositional thoughts such as "I am a failure"; or "the future is hopeless". These thoughts, in turn strengthen the higher-order model, and so on.

The final circumstance in which the activation and deactivation of emotion modules can become dysfunctional is when the experience and expression of one or more emotions becomes inhibited as a function of the individual's learning history. For example, in Albert Camus' novel L'Etranger, the anti-hero is so emotionally disconnected from his world that he feels nothing but indifference to his own mother's death. This inaccessibility of one or more basic emotions is commonly encountered in the clinic. Consider the following example:

Ann was referred for therapy because she kept experiencing intrusive and disturbing thoughts and images in which her husband was killed or horribly mutilated in a car or plane crash. It emerged that Ann's husband spent a lot of time travelling away from home and that even when he was home he often seemed distant. A year earlier Ann had discovered that her husband was having an affair which was now over. Ann was very upset by the content of her intrusions; she loved her husband very much and was very happy as they had a comfortable life due to the money his job brought in. During the course of therapy Ann started to become angry with her husband, culminating in a series of angry outbursts which felt alien and ego-dystonic to her. She had never been an angry person and could not remember having lost her temper before.

This quasi-dissociation of one or more basic emotion modules and the subsequent feeling of ego dystonia when the emotion is experienced is, we propose, a result of the individual's developmental history in which the expression of certain, or indeed any, emotions was socialised against (e.g., Izard & Ackerman, 2000); for example, because it was considered inappropriate. We propose that within SPAARS, an event that satisfies the core appraisal parameters for an emotion—for example, a blocked goal with an attribution of agency for anger—will lead simultaneously to the activation of, in this case, anger-related products, but also to the activation of schematic models that inhibit the awareness of the emotion immediately. In this analysis, the individual will undergo physiological changes associated with emotion but will not be aware of having that emotion. The schematic models that act to inhibit awareness of the experience, we suggest, are essentially the internalisation of a developmental history which socialised against such emotions.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Do Not Panic

Do Not Panic

This guide Don't Panic has tips and additional information on what you should do when you are experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. With so much going on in the world today with taking care of your family, working full time, dealing with office politics and other things, you could experience a serious meltdown. All of these things could at one point cause you to stress out and snap.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment