Most readers I presume are familiar with the work of Kahneman and Tversky on how statements framed in either loss or gain lead to different outcomes; however this is not a post about prospect theory. Instead this is about a different type of framing: whether the goals you set for yourself are in terms of approach or avoidance, and is loosely based around the work of AJ Elliot as also that of Higgins around prevention and promotion focus.
One can set an approach goal or a goal with promotion focus (I’m using these interchangeably in this post though there are important theoretical differences) wherein one is very much focused on achieving a positive outcome. Or one could set an avoidance goal or a goal with prevention focus whereby one is overtly focused on not achieving or ending up in a negative state.
To illustrate by way of an example, if I am studying and appearing for an exam in near future, I may phrase my approach goal as ‘I want to pass in this exam’ or I may phrase my avoidance goal as ‘I don’t want to fail in this exam’. From a lay reading both goals may seem equivalent but they are not. They have different repercussions in terms of emotions felt while pursuing the goals etc.
Research has also shown that some people have a more approach oriented temperament and other more avoidance or preventive focused.
Avoidance goals are typically related to your fears and anxieties while approach goals to what you look forward to and are excited about.
Consider a scenario where you don’t currently have any overarching, activated goal. If you frame this lack of goals in avoidance terms that ‘I don’t have anything to be worried about’ you are likely to feel calm; on the other hand phrasing it as ‘I don’t have anything to look forward to’ will lead to you likely feeling bored.
Thus, while presence of an avoidance goal leads to fear, an absence of the same leads to calm; the presence of an approach goal leads to excitement/ Interest/ curiosity while the absence of same leads to boredom.
Another important theory by Carver and Scheier stresses the emergence of emotions as indicators of progress towards goals- with positive emotions arising if you are making progress toward the goal and negative emotions if you are not making sufficient progress.
Applying the same to the two different framing of goals, if you are progressing towards an approach goal say ‘I am likely to pass the exam’ you are likely to feel quite happy about the fact; however if you are far from achieving the approach goal say ‘I am unlikely to pass the exam’, you may become sad. Similarly, if you are progressing well towards an avoidance goal (‘I am likely to not fail’) you may feel relief; while if you are not making progress towards the avoidance goal (‘I am likely to fail’ ) then you will feel much stress.
Next consider the avoidance/ approach goal to be framed in zero-sum or non-zero sum game terms. A zero sum game is where if one person wins then the other loses; a non zero sum game is where there can be multiple winners and nobody’s payoff gets diminished due to others winning.
A zero sum avoidance game sees either winner or loser in a social situation and believes that the only way to not fail is to not let others succeed too and may phrase its goal like ‘I don’t want to be the loser’. This may justifiably lead to feelings of anger and aggression when interacting socially with other con-specifics while trying to pursue this goal; On the other hand a non-zero sum avoidance goal assumes that it is possible that everyone may fail or everyone may win and the attitude is more compassionate towards con-specifics who are all suffering and focused on not failing. The phrasing of goal is slightly different ‘I don’t want to be a loser’.
A zero sum approach game again sees either a winner or a loser in any social interaction but is focused on winning ‘I want to be the winner’ . This leads to justifiable competitiveness; a non zero sum reading of the same situation ‘I want to be a winner’ leads to much more altruistic and kind emotions and behaviors.
I can vouch for this from personal experience too- when I was preparing for JEE I just wanted to be one of the top 100 and did not look at my friends who were also preparing as competitors but as collaborators- because I wanted to be ‘a’ winner, not ‘the’ winner.
The last set of emotions tied to these different framing are when one either satisfactorily completes the avoidance/ approach goal or fails to do so.
Consider satisfactory completion of an avoidance goal- ‘I did not fail’ – because the initial goal if farmed negatively one may be surprised at the results; if however on does fail one may be filled with disgust.
Satisfactory completion of an approach goal – ‘I passed’ may lead to feelings of wonder/ awe/ gratitude while unsatisfactory completion or failure- I did not pass’ may lead to feelings of shock etc.
Thus, I believe there are at least 16 different types of emotional responses eight tied to approach goals and eight to avoidance goals- approach goals related emotions are excitement/ boredom; happiness/sadness; competition/ kindness; and wonder/ shock. Avoidance related emotions are fear/ calm; relief/ stress; aggression/ compassion ; and disgust/ surprise.
This of course is based on theory as well as my reading of some empirical work done on emotions related to approach/ avoidance. However, there is a lot of scope for additional research to validate these predictions- I hope someone out there does do some research around this framework.
Stress has been defined in many ways – one conceptualization that I find powerful and useful is the NUTS framework developed by Dr. Sonia Lupien. As per it, stress results when one or more of the following four ingredients are present in a situation.
|NOVELTY||Something new you have not experienced before|
|UNPREDICTABILITY||Something you had no way of knowing it would occur|
|THREAT TO THE EGO||Your competence as a person is called into question|
|SENSE OF CONTROL||You feel you have little or no control over the situation|
These conditions need not be aversive for the situation or event to feel stressful. For example, a person who is recently promoted may feel stress because of the new responsibilities that are novel and maybe he has no real option of declining the promotion, so he has little control too in the matter. Or consider the birth of a new born. So both positive and negative life events may lead to stress and maybe its more about how you are appraising stressful event.
If you are appraising a Novel event as a disruption of schedule/ comfort you will probably feel disgust; if you are appraising the same event as an opportunity to explore new stuff, you will most probably feel surprise / wonder. Its also conceivable that those high in the personality trait of Openness to experience may have more positive appraisals.
Similarly, an unpredictable situation may result in sadness if the unpredictability of rewards/ stimuli is attributed to deficits in self. If however, the unpredictability of situation is attributed to luck or external circumstances one may be more at ease and feel joy or happiness (note that ‘hap’ means luck). Its likely that those who are more Extraverted have a more positive appraisal.
A threat to ego or self may lead to feelings of fear and anxiety if the threat is considered unmanageable. On the other hand if the threat is considered manageable, it will result in the emotion of courage and facing the issue rather than running away. Those high in emotional stability (vs Neuroticism) are likely to show more positive appraisals.
Lastly, when one is in a situation that provides little options of control, one may feel anger if one is in a dominating frame of mind and needs control. On the other hand, one may feel love or compassion if one is ready to voluntarily give up control and submit oneself in the service of other. Agreeableness may mediate the relation with positive appraisals.
So as Kelly McGonigal has pointed out stress by itself is not bad; its how you appraise stressful circumstances that may be the key to suffering and wilting or rejoicing and flourishing.
To recap, here are the contradictions or tensions that these existential givens give rise to:
This paper considers four existential challenges:1) Life (and death). We are alive but we will die, and we live a world that both supports and negates life.2) Meaning (and absurdity). We have a conscious capacity and desire formeaning, but we live in a confusing and sometimes chaotic world that offers many meaning systems and also denies meaning.3) Freedom (and determinism). We are free and determined, and we live in a world that allows and constricts our freedom.4) Community (and aloneness). Human desire and capacity for authentic relatedness are countered by inauthenticity, alienation and loneliness.
Individuals high in HA tend to be cautious, careful,fearful, tense, apprehensive, nervous, timid, doubtful,discouraged, insecure, passive, negativistic, or pessimistic even in situations that do not normally worry other people. These individuals tend to be inhibited and shy in most social situations. Their energy level tends to be low and they feel chronically tired or easily fatigued. As a consequence they need more reassurance and encouragement than most people and are usually sensitive to criticism and punishment. The advantages of of high Harm Avoidance are the greater care and caution in anticipating possible danger, which leads to careful planning when danger is possible. The disadvantages occur when danger is unlikely but still anticipated, such pessimism or inhibition leads to unnecessary worry.
In contrast, individuals with low scores on this temperament dimension tend to be carefree, relaxed, daring, courageous, composed, and optimistic even in situations that worry most people. These individuals are described as outgoing, bold, and confident in most social situations. Their energy level tends to be high, and they impress others as dynamic, lively, and vigorous persons. The advantages of low Harm Avoidance are confidence in the face of danger and uncertainty,leading to optimistic and energetic efforts with little or no distress. The disadvantages are related to unresponsiveness to danger, which can lead to reckless optimism.
Consider on the other hand, Freedom (and determinism). The possibility of being free agents leads to wonder, surprise and novel behavior; while the possibility of being determined, at the other hand, fills us with disgust. This leads to polarity of Disgust-Surprise. Its my assertion that this state is associated with schizophrenic psychosis. This system has a neural basis in the Approach system, which may be associated with Dopamine system. Also sensitivity towards this given results in personality trait of Novelty Seeking. To recap:
Individuals high in Novelty Seeking tend to be quick-tempered, excitable, exploratory, curious, enthusiastic, ardent, easily bored, impulsive, and disorderly The advantages of high Novelty Seeking are enthusiastic and quick engagement with whatever is new and unfamiliar, which leads to exploration of potential rewards. The disadvantages are related to excessive anger and quick disengagement whenever their wishes are frustrated, which leads to inconsistencies in relationships and instability in efforts.
In contrast, individuals low in Novelty Seeking are described as slow tempered, indifferent, uninquisitive, unenthusiastic, umemotional, reflective, thrifty, reserved, tolerant of monotony, systematic, and orderly.
Now consider Loneliness (and community). While existential loneliness give rise to rage against the universe, the sense of community is made possible and engenders feelings of love. Thus the emotional polarities relevant here are Anger-Love. Its again my thesis that this is associated with bipolar sensitivity. This system has a neural basis in the Attach system, which may be associated with Norepinephrine system. The personality trait associated will be Reward Dependence. To recap:
Individuals who score high in Reward Dependence tend to be tender-hearted, loving and warm, sensitive, dedicated, dependent, and sociable. They seek social contact and are open to communication with other people. Typically, they find people they like everywhere they go. A major advantage of high Reward Dependence is the sensitivity to social cues, which facilitates warm social relations and understanding of others’ feelings. A major disadvantage of high Reward Dependence involves the ease with which other people can influence the dependent person’s views and feelings, possibly leading to loss of objectivity.
Individuals low on the Reward Dependence are often described as practical, tough minded, cold, and socially insensitive. They are content to be alone and rarely initiate open communication with others. They prefer to keep their distance and typically have difficulties in finding something in common with other people. An advantage of low Reward Dependence is that independence from sentimental considerations.
Lastly consider absurdity (and meaning). When confronted with the absurdity of life, the pointlessness of it all, our natural reaction is to become sad and depressed. On the other hand, if one is able to find or bestow meaning to one’s everyday acts, one lives with joy in his or her heart. This leads to polar emotions of Sadness and Joy and failure to navigate this existential given properly results in depression. The system associated with this may be called the Achieve system (all achievements being steps to endow life with essence). The personalty system associated here is Persistence. To recap:
Individuals high in Persistence tend to be industrious, hard-working, persistent, and stable despite frustration and fatigue. They typically intensify their effort in response to anticipated reward. They are ready to volunteer when there is something to be done, and are eager to start work on any assigned duty. Persistent persons tend to perceive frustration and fatigue as a personal challenge. They do not give up easily and, in fact, tend to work extra hard when criticized or confronted with mistakes in their work. Highly persistent persons tend to be ambitious overachievers who are willing to make major sacrifices to be a success. A highly persistent individual may tend to be a perfectionist and a workaholic who pushes him/herself far beyond what is necessary to get by.High Persistence is an adaptive behavioral strategy when rewards are intermittent but the contingencies remain stable. However, when the contingencies change rapidly, perseveration becomes maladaptive.
When reward contingencies are stable, individuals low in Persistence are viewed as indolent, inactive, unreliable, unstable and erratic on the basis of both self-reports and interviewer ratings. They rarely intensify their effort even in response to anticipated reward. These persons rarely volunteer for anything they do not have to do, and typically go slow in starting work, even if it is easy to do. They tend to give up easily when faced with frustration, criticism, obstacles, and fatigue. These persons are usually satisfied with their current accomplishments, rarely strive for bigger and better things, and are frequently described as underachievers who could probably accomplish for than they actually do, but do not push themselves harder than it is necessary to get by. Low scorers manifest a low level of perseverance and repetitive behaviors even in response to intermittent reward. Low Persistence is an adaptive strategy when reward contingencies change rapidly and may be maladaptive when rewards are infrequent but occur in the long run.
So my latest thinking based on different strands, ranging from existential strands to evolutionary considerations, seems to indicate that there are four basic emotional polarities and four basic temperaments.
These are summarized below:
- Harm Avoidance: Fear-Courage
- Novelty Seeking: Disgust-Surprise
- Reward Dependence: Anger-Love
- Persistence: Sadness-Joy
Of course, this leaves the question of what happens to the 3 (extended to 4 by me) character traits listed by Cloninger in his TCI. That and four new polar emotions family is the subject of a new post!!
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a proponent of the eight basic emotions theory of emotions where the eight basic emotions are fear, courage/interest, sadness, happiness, disgust, surprise/awe and anger and love. Its apparent that they are also paired in opposites as in fear and courage/ interest are opposite emotions in one sense of the word.
Today I want to elaborate on the idea that these emotions come about in opposite pairs and differ just so slightly from each other in terms of the cognitive/motivational appraisal.
Consider fear. Fear is typically thought of as arising from danger while interest/ courage may be thought of as either being in a safe environment (in a safe haven and thus curious and willing to explore) or persisting in a dangerous situation despite threat.
A more useful way to think about both fear and courage/interest is to see them as reactions to challenges. A challenge that is dangerous or appraised so, can be construed as a threat and lead to fearful behavior; on the other hand a challenge that is seen as an opportunity , say to prove oneself, can lead to courage/ interest.
The same is true for sadness. Sadness is typically construed as a reaction to loss. However it could be more generically seen as a reaction to any big change- change is typically upsetting and when construed as a door closing it may lead to feelings of sadness; however its also a fact of life that for something new to start something older has to give way- thus when one door closes, another door opens. The person who faced with a similar big and stressful change, say becoming a parent, may focus on negatives and see it as a close of a dyadic relationship with spouse , loss of freedom etc, and see parenting as burden may get into post-partum depression; while another who welcomes the stress of parenting may actually feel joyous at the arrival of the baby as a new way of life is opening up.
The right way to think about disgust and surprise/ awe is also on same lines. While both reveal facets of ourselves or world that were not known to us before, in case of disgust the revelation is construed as pointing towards ugliness in the world / ourselves ( the beast within) while in surprise/awe the same sudden realization/ revelation is about the beauty within/ outside. One has to remember that at times an Ugly cocoon is pre-requiste for the emergence of a beautiful butterfly and the moment when the long night of the soul is ending is also the time when the gliders of dawn start appearing. Again, by changing our appraisal we can find solace in disgusting situations and make something uplifting out of them.
Finally, anger and love are very social emotions. While anger is typically thought as a reaction to frustration, at a more fundamental level, one can think of anger/ aggression as one way of dealing with conspecifics- in a world of limited resources when the person we are dealing with is ‘not mine’ but ‘other’, then my natural tendency is to get angry in case of conflict and fight for the limited resources; however in a similar situation of conspecifics with limited resources and a conflict if any, if I think of the conspecific as my own – say my child- then my natural reaction is to guard his/ her interests and this is mediated by feelings of love. The same external situation, different appraisals/ value systems and different emotions!!
Thus, we have seen that by changing our underlying value and habitual appraisal systems we can move from a predominance of negative emotions is out life to a predominance of positive emotions in our life, while the external circumstances still remain the same.
Another list of basic emotions follows from the work of Carroll Izard; Izard is interested in the infants facial expressions and believes that due to lack of socialization etc there is perfect concordance between the infants facial expressions and infants emotional states. As such he has come up with a list of 10 basic facial emotional expressions as found in babies, and if we include Shanta rasa as another rasa in Navrasas then we can try to map that with the Izard’s list. That list (in no particular evolutionary / developmental order) and the mapping with navaras is given below:
1. Interest-excitement: Veera
2. Enjoyment-joy: Hasya
3. Startle- surprise : Abdhuta
4. distress- anguish: Karuna
5. Rage- anger: Raudra
6. disgust- revulsion: Bibhetsa
7. Contempt-scorn: Shringar (reverse scored)?
8. Fear-terror : Bhayanak
9. Shame-shyness-humiliation: Shringar (normally scored)?
10. Guilt-remorse : Shanta?
Now, today’s discussion centers around basic emotions as gleaned from infants facial expressions. There have been people, like Camras, who have opposed this approach saying that in infants the same emotion expressions of anger and sadness cannot be distinguished as also the same states (emotional stimuli) can lad to different emotional facial expressions. There had also been research suggesting that phobic patients show disgust reaction rather than fear reactions to fearful stimuli; thus some concern that fear and disgust are mixed/ indistinguishable.
It is instructive to pause here and return to the Eight rasas theory whereby there are four primary Rasas and the rest of the four rasas are derived from those primary rasas.
It is said that Sringara, Rowdra, Veera and Bibhatsa are the main Rasas and the others Hasya, Karuna, Adbhuta and Bhaya are derived from the former four. That means that from Sringara comes Hasya; from Rowdra comes Karuna; from Veera comes Adbhuta and from Bibhatsa comes Bhaya.
Thus, there are four constellations:
1. Karuna- Raudra: or that of sadness – anger.
2. Bhayanak- bibhitsa : or that of Fear – disgust
3. Hasya- Shringar : or that of joy-affection (love)
4. Adbhuta- Veera: or that of surprise- Interest.
In the light of above it is easy to see why Anger and sadness expressions may be mixed or why People in fearful , phobic situations may show disgust reactions; after all they are closely tied together.
That also brings me to research by Katherine Bridges and Sroufe, whereby they delineate how emotions and emotional expressions develop from diffuse to discrete emotions. As per the following table based on Bridges work, the emotions generally start with a diffuse excitement and slowly develop into discrete basic emotions like sadness, anger, fear, disgust, joy, affection, interest and surprise.
This can also be viewed schematically as follows, with diffuse emotional states leading to discrete emotions as the infant develops.
To me, the above looks very promising and supports multiple lines of evidence regarding both the exact content of basic emotions and how they develop/ are related to each other.
Camras, L., & Shutter, J. (2010). Emotional Facial Expressions in Infancy Emotion Review, 2 (2), 120-129 DOI: 10.1177/1754073909352529