Two routes to emotion

One of the distinctive characteristics of the SPAARS model is the fact that emotion can occur through either of two possible routes (see Figure 11.1 above; see also Power & Dalgleish, 1999). The first route is one that is shared with other appraisal theories of emotion and has been sketched in the previous section. The second route, however, requires further comment, both in terms of its operation and in terms of its relationship to the interpretive-appraisal route.

The need for two routes to emotion is based in part on the fact that the basic emotions have an innate prewired component and, in addition, on the proposal that certain emotions may come to be elicited directly, without any apparent "on-line" interpretation or appraisal. For example, Seligman's (1971) proposal that in relation to phobias certain stimuli may be "prepared" stated that people are more likely to develop phobias towards snakes, rats, and spiders, than they are to cars, public transport, and kitchen sinks (despite frequent unpleasant experiences with the latter group). Seligman argued that such biological preparedness made sense on evolutionary grounds, even if individuals had little or no direct experience of these stimuli in modern society. Although Seligman's proposal has had a somewhat chequered history (e.g., Rachman, 2004), it forms part of a more general recognition that genetics provides us with a psychological starting point and a set of maturational tasks, albeit that these paths may ultimately take different courses because of their interaction with cultural, familial, and personal factors. The evidence now amassed on the universal expression and recognition of basic emotions, their physiological distinctive-ness, and their developmental sequence (see Chapter 3) provides persuasive evidence of an innate component that underlies emotion. The infant's early experience of the emotions of happiness, disgust, anger, fear, and sadness will therefore have an innate starting point, although the subsequent developmental pathways may be dramatically different from individual to individual, just as the objects of these emotional states will also vary dramatically.

An additional way in which emotion might come to be generated through a direct route is from the repeated pairing of certain event-emotion sequences that could eventually lead to an associative representation of the sequence (Power & Dalgleish, 1999). That is, in a manner akin to the learning of a skill such as swimming or cycling which eventually becomes highly automatised, it is possible that certain repeated event-emotion experiences could come to be associatively linked. In other words, the repetition eventually bypasses the need for an effortful on-line appraisal that the event has important implications for one's plans or goals, but the event becomes directly associated with the emotion. There is clear evidence, for example, from work we reviewed in Chapters 6 and 7 that learning can be implicit as well as explicit, and that the subsequent implicit memories can have a wide variety of effects on other processes (e.g., Berry, 1997; Tobias et al., 1992). It might also be speculated that prewired or prepared innate emotion reactions reflect repeated event-emotion sequences important in the survival of the species that have come to be coded genetically. We should note, however, that although we have presented the two routes as completely separate within SPAARS, many skills are likely to be performed in a semi-automatic way and there are gradations in the process of automatisation (e.g., Logan, 1988; Moors & de Houwer, 2005). Nevertheless, it is still useful to distinguish the endpoints of this dimension from each other as we have done in emphasising the two separate routes.

Examples of the direct route to emotion seem to be particularly evident in the emotional disorders, such as in the phobic individual's automatic associative processing of an object or event as anxiety provoking even though the appraisal route is processing the object or event as non-threatening. Such associative reactions are of course very likely to be developed in childhood, as for example in the teaching of disgust responses to young children towards a range of objects, foodstuffs, ideas, and beliefs (see Chapter 9). These automatic associative disgust reactions can be innocuous if they merely prevent the individual from eating oysters or escargots, or they can be life threatening if they leave individuals with disgust towards their own bodies to the extent that they view themselves as fat even in extreme anorexic states.

One of the extreme forms of the possible automatisations of emotion that we considered earlier was that, under certain circumstances, the development of one or more basic emotion modules could become particularly rigid or autonomous. In such cases the module would for example become difficult to alter because the positive feedback between the different levels would cause the module to lock in place (cf. Barnard, 2003; Teasdale & Barnard, 1993). That is, if early in emotional development there is a consistent set of instructions about, for example, the unacceptability of one or more of the basic emotions, then the development of that basic emotion module may become separated from the rest of development. As we have argued previously (Power & Brewin, 1991), one of the important functional properties of the developing nervous system is its potential for modular organisation, whether in the area of motor skills development, cognitive skills such as reading and writing or, we suggest, in the consistent experience of the basic emotions. Again, some of the strongest evidence for the possibility of modularisation of emotion comes from the clinical data in relation to emotional disorders (e.g., Power et al., 2002). For example, the typical experience of a dissociated basic emotion module is that the individual experiences the emotion as a dystonic state in which the sense of self may be lost, because the emotional experience is excluded from the definition of the self. The individual may engage in desperate attempts to rid the self of this state (e.g., Low et al., 2001), but paradoxically the lack of integration of the state into the self means that it is harder to change the state itself once it occurs. Of course, as we argued earlier, even in normal healthy adults a traumatic experience may initially be held in a quasi-dissociative state because of its pervasive implications for the self and important roles and goals; eventually, however, the healthy though traumatised individual is able to work through the experience and integrate it into the self, altering or developing key goals and plans in the process (Dalgleish, 2004). In contrast, the young child or the vulnerable adult may hold the traumatic experience in a form that is dissociated or separate from the self (see Chapter 6), and in addition may attempt to maintain the experience permanently in this dissociated state in order to protect the self and important goals and plans from the unwanted implications of the traumatic experience. This capacity for dissociation was recognised by Freud in his early book with Breuer, Studies on Hysteria (1895), but never developed by Freud presumably because of the lifelong antagonism between Freud and Janet (Perry & Laurence, 1984). Only with the advent of the object relations theorists (e.g., Fairbairn, 1952) and their recognition of the importance of so-called "splitting" does psychoanalysis seem to have regained the important insight that dissociation may be a far more universal characteristic of the mind than is repression, with repression arguably being a subtype of the former. From the point of view of the experience of emotion in individuals with emotional disorders, the problem is not simply that some individuals fail to experience emotion, but rather that many individuals are overwhelmed by emotional states which feel alien to them because they lead to a loss of the sense of self.

Other theorists have also raised the possibility that emotion can be directly generated by drugs or hormones—that is, by a direct physiological route in contrast to the direct psychological route that we have suggested. For example, Keith Oatley (1992) has argued that this physiological route is necessary to account for the effects of psychotropic drugs or hormones on emotional states (see Chapter 3). Although the general proposal that there are innately coded aspects of basic emotions might appear to make such a physiological route a possibility, we would caution against drawing such a conclusion. It is clear, for example from the study of alcohol and drug dependence, that many of the apparent physiological responses to alcohol and drugs come to be associatively conditioned to the objects and situations in which drug use occurs and may be evident therefore in the absence of the drugs themselves (e.g., Powell, 2000). Such a process would be identical to the associative generation process that we have just considered and would not therefore require a separate direct physiological route to emotion. Nor is it clear that the initial responses to drugs or hormones before any associative learning might have taken place are sufficiently consistent to argue for a prewired physiological route, although there may be some alteration at the analogical level of physiological thresholds in the manner that Jones (2001) has proposed for the bipolar disorders (see Chapter 10). Indeed, there is the history of the various arousal and arousal-appraisal theories of emotion that we considered in Chapter 3 that would argue against Keith Oatley's proposal. Instead, our model would suggest that the physiological state induced by a drug or hormone becomes the object of the interpretative-appraisal process from which consequently an emotional state may result. A drug or hormone that consistently induces a state that is appraised in a positive way may, therefore, eventually give rise to a positive emotion through the direct route because of associative learning, whereas one that consistently induces a physiological state that is appraised negatively is likely to lead to an emotion such as fear, in the way that Clark's (1986) cognitive model of panic includes physiological symptoms that are interpreted in a catastrophic manner (see Chapter 4 and Chapter 6).

One final comment that must be reiterated about the existence of two routes to emotion is that conflicting emotions may be generated via the two routes. It is clear from the work of Harter (e.g., 1977) onwards that both the experience and the acknowledgement of conflicting emotions is a developmentally sophisticated task and that the failure to achieve this ability is more often seen in children and adolescents with emotional disorders. We also noted in Chapter 10 that repressors also rarely report experiencing mixed emotions (Sincoff, 1992). One source of this problem may be that the parent too is unable to acknowledge conflicting emotions towards the child, and that the parent emphasises love while often demonstrating the opposite (e.g., Bowlby, 1980). For example, much of the evidence showing that high expressed emotion leads to relapse in depression and schizophrenia (Vaughn & Leff, 1976) may reflect the fact that the individual may be the target for overinvolved care plus hostility. The upshot of these and other studies is that two conflicting emotions may be expressed simultaneously, as in Bateson's (e.g., Bateson et al., 1956) classic "double-bind"; for example, the individual may appraise a situation in a happy way while a different emotion is generated through the direct associative route. The fact that a conflicting emotion occurs via the direct route may be obvious to others (even though denied by the individual) through, for example, fleeting facial expressions, and observable changes in physiology and body posture. The existence of a conflict between verbal report and non-verbal responses provides important clues in therapy about problems that the client may be denying or inhibiting, an aspect of the model that we will consider next.

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Letting Go, Moving On

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