Posts tagged emotion
I have written two previous posts regarding the relationship between emotions and personality. This is the third part focusing on the relationship between emotions and personality. Regular readers will note my evolutionary leanings and this post too is inspired in part from evolutionary ideas.
Four domains or spheres in which evolutionary principles are demonstrated have been labeled by Millon as Existence, Adaptation, Replication, and Abstraction. The first relates the serendipitous transformation of random or less organized states into those possessing distinct structures of greater organization; the second refers to homeostatic processes employed to sustain survival in open ecosystems; the third pertains to reproductive styles that maximize the diversification and selection of ecologically effective attributes; and the fourth concerns the emergence of competencies that foster anticipatory planning and reasoned decision-making. Polarities from the first three phases have been used by Millon to construct a theoretically-derived classification system of personality disorders.
Let us simplify the above a bit:
Existence is simply the survival of an individual organism and all the factors that come to play there. For evolution to work, there has to be stable organisms. Ultimately genes are selected, but proximally individuals , which are the vehicles of genes, are selected. The first important function that an organism faces is to maintain and enhance the integrity of its body.
Adaptation is the next problem the creature faces once it has a stable constitution- how its define its relationship with the environment. One can take a passive approach and be dependent on a particular given environment niche; or one can take an active role and mold the environment as per ones needs. In any case an adaptation to ones environment (give/ chosen.actively constructed) is essential for ensuring that one lives a long life, especially a life long enough to reach the reproductive stage. Plants and animals are two prototypical examples of two diametrically opposed adaptation strategy- passive vs active.
Replication is the next task the organism faces. Its not enough just to live- one needs to pass on ones copies – in either original or modified forms- for posterity. The capacity for replication is an important aspect of the evolutionary theory and how evolution works over an extended time. thus the organism needs to reproduce- either clones or children of oneself that can live post the death of the organism and thus enable his genes to live on. One can choose to be self propagating or other -nurturing while ensuring reproductive success. Males and female genders are prototypical examples here.
Abstraction is the next challenge- this time in use of symbolic representation, their manipulations, transmissions etc to achieve lasting effects on potentially unborn and unrelated kins via generativity and memetic transmissions. This is how I see it , not as Millon see its, but this domain is not relevant for either personality or emotions for now.
Lets us see how Millon delineates the polarities inherent in these domain as a human goes about his business of life.
Existence: The Pleasure-Pain Polarity.
The first phase, existence, concerns the maintenance of integrative phenomena, whether nuclear particle, virus, or human being, against the background of entropic decompensation. Evolutionary mechanisms derived from this stage regard life-enhancement and life-preservation. The former are concerned with orienting individuals toward enhancing survival and improvement in the quality of life; the latter with orienting individuals away from actions or environments that decrease the quality of life, or jeopardize existence itself. These may be called existential aims. At the human level of functioning such aims form, phenomenologically or metaphorically , a pleasure-pain polarity.
Adaptation: The Active-Passive Polarity
To exist is but an initial survival phase. Once an integrative structure exists, it must maintain its existence through exchanges of energy and information with its environment. The second evolutionary stage relates to what is termed Modes of Adaptation; it is also framed as a two-part polarity, a passive orientation, that is a tendency to accommodate to one’s ecological niche, versus an active orientation, that is a tendency to modify or intervene in one’s surrounds. These modes of adaptation differ from the first phase of evolution, in that they relate to how that which exists is able to endure or continue to survive in its environment.
Replication: The Self-Other Polarity.
Although organisms may be well-adapted to their environments, the existence of all life-forms is time-limited. To circumvent this limitation, organisms have developed Replication Strategies, that is, ways in which to leave progeny. These strategies reflect what biologists have referred to as r- or self-propagating strategy, at one polar extreme, and K- or other-nurturing strategy, at the other extreme. Psychologically, the former strategy is disposed toward actions which maximize self-reproduction;; here, organisms are egotistic, insensitive, inconsiderate, and socially uncaring; while the latter strategy is disposed toward protecting and sustaining kin or progeny; this leads to actions which are socially affiliative, intimate, caring, and solicitous.
As per Millon an unbalanced leaning towards one or more polarities or a reversal of polarities leads to unhealthy personality styles and personality disorders. How-ever, I’ll lave the discussion of personality disorders for another day.
For now, I’ll like to focus on emotions instead and a popular dimensional theory of emotion developed by Mehrabian amongst others. this the PAD theory that posits that there are three underlying dimensions that characterize all emotions- a Pleasure dimension, an Arousal dimension and a dominance dimension.
As emotions have evolved to solve the same kind of evolutionary problems as personality – though emotions solve the problem in a ‘state’ manner in the ‘here and now’ – it would be self-evident that emotions should also be related to the three domains as outlined above by Millon.
The correspondence can be easily seen. The Pleasure dimension of emotions documents whether the affective valence- whether the affect is subjectively felt as positive and pleasurable or negative and distressing. One can easily see how this is related to the pleasure-pain polarity of Millon.
The Arousal dimension of emotions describes whether the emotion involves feelings of being energetic and ready to act ; or are associated with feelings of relaxation and lessened arousal and passivity. This can be easily seen to correspond to the active-passive polarity of Millon.
The Dominance dimension of emotions describes whether one feels in control and in power over the situation or one feels overwhelmed and subjugated by it. It is related to the powerfulness or dominance felt by the person experiencing the emotion. One can reasonably associate this with the replication self-propagating and other-nurturing polarity. Some states and traits make us more self -focused while others make us more caring towards others.
Now the above PAD model has been found to be valid using factor analytical solutions. In an analysis of positive emotions by M Argyle et al, they found that the structure of positive emotions was best explained by a four dimensional structure.
The grouping data obtained in part 1 were submitted to multidimensional scaling (MDS) and returned a four-dimensional solution. Canonical correlations between the four MDS dimensions and the 13 emotion scales revealed that dimension 1 is best explained by ‘absorption’, dimension 2 by ‘potency’, dimension 3 by ‘altruistic’ and dimension 4 by ‘spiritual’. These correlations were then married to an interpretation of the situations falling high and low on each of the four dimensions, with the following results. Dimension 1 distinguishes internal or private situations from social situations, dimension 2, achievement from leisure situations, dimension 3, social demands from self-indulgence, and dimension 4, serious from trivial situations.
One can easily see that dimension 2 is related to arousal and active-emissivity polarity while dimension 3 is related to the self-propagating/ other-nurturing polarity. Dimension 1 may just be the dimension for valence while dimension 4 may be related to abstraction. In my subsequent posts , I’ll touch upon why I think abstraction domain may also be relevant to emotions and personality.
In my last post, I laid forth my claim that personality and emotions are interrelated; in this post I want to review the affective literature to come up with the different types of affective phenomenon ranging from emotions to moods to personality traits and see what is common and where they differ
In particular, I read this article titled ‘Psychological theories of emotion’ by Scherer; and apart from providing a broad overview of the dimensional, discrete emotions, meaning based and component theories of emotions, it also does a very good job of defining emotions and differentiating them from other affective phenomenon.
Without further ado, here is how the five major affective phenomenon are described:
- Emotions: relatively brief episodes of synchronized responses by all or most organismic subsystems to the evaluation of an external or internal event, as being of major significance (eg anger, sadness, joy fear , shame etc)
- Mood: diffuse affect state, mots pronounced as changes in subjective feeling , of low intensity, but relatively longer duration, often without apparent cause (eg cheerful, gloomy, irritable, listless , depressed, buoyant)
- Interpersonal stances: Affective stance taken towards another person in a specific interaction, coloring the interpersonal exchange in that situation. (eg. distant, cold, warm supportive , contemptuous)
- Attitudes: relatively enduring, affectively colored beliefs, preferences and predispositions towards objects or persons (eg liking, loving, hating, valuing, desiring)
- Personality Traits: emotionally laden , stable personality dispositions and action tendencies, typical for a person (eg. nervous, anxious, reckless, morose, hostile, envious, jealous)
Note how the above classification also fits the 5 stage model: emotions representing stage 1 , mood stage 2 with stress on subjectivity, Interpersonal stances stress the interpersonal angle in stage 3; while attitudes have more to do with affective and social phenomenon per se in stage 4. ; finally Personality traits is something characteristic of , and defining of, self and properly belongs to stage 5.
Anyway, all said and done, the above classification provides reason not only to differentiate emotions and personality, but by subsuming them under one rubric of affective phenomenon ,also highlighting the similarities and universal features.
I had been struggling with the how many and what framework to use for defining the basic emotions and especially as I was sure that there would be eight basic emotions/emotion systems that would lie on a eight fold evolutionary path/model.
Basic emotions research is fraught with many researchers claiming different types of basic emotions and thus there is a lot of disagreement and little consensus. I’ve looked ate Ekmans models , Plutchik’s wheel and others but found all lacking. Recently I came across the basic emotion systems as neural circuits as proposed by Jaak Panksepp and could immediately see a parallel and gleam of truth there.
First a little introduction to Panksepp’s approach. He works at the primary-process level, which is to say the sub-cortical affective brain level rather than secondary process memory or emotional learning stage or tertiary level cortical brain areas where one has thoughts about feelings as the objects of study.
He has stimulated the sub-cortical as well as cortical brain areas and found that stimulating specific sub-cortical brain areas produces specific emotionl action tendencies and behavior in animals and humans and has thus identified seven brain affective systems and a separate SELF system that subsumes them all and is the basis for affective consciousness.
Without further ado, I’ll list the eight emotionless systems as I see , ranked as per my eight fold order. Its important to note that Panksepp also arrives at these circuits keeping in mind evolution as a guiding force.
1. FEAR is characterized by bodily tenseness and a shivery negatively valenced immobility, which can burst forth into a dynamic flight pattern with chaotic-projectile movements to get out of harm’s way (which may reflect recruitment of dopamine energized SEEKING urges); this system has to do with the problem of avoiding predators.
2. SEEKING is characterized by a persistent positively-valenced exploratory inquisitiveness, with energetic for-ward locomotion — approach and engagement with the world—consisting of probing into the nooks and crannies of interesting objects and events (this system is critical also for most other basic emotional responses, such as the seeking of safety when threatened); This is related to searching for food/exploring.
3. RAGE is characterized by a vigorous casting of the body at offending objects with biting and pounding of the extremities; it is a mixture of positive and negative valence; it is related to dominance hierarchies and submission and relationship with consepcifics esp with regards to territorial behavior.
4. PANIC (separation distress) is characterized by aversive crying actions, with urgent attempts at reunion, followed by weakness and a despairing body carriage as grief sets in if reunion fails; this is related to the affiliation systems especially the mother-child bonding problem.
5. LUST is characterized by an urgent and rhythmic thrusting of the body toward receptive others, and in their absence, a craving tension with both positive and negative affective features;this is related to sexuality, adolescence and shame/dis-inhibition.
6. CARE is characterized by a gentle,caressing, enveloping body dynamic accompanied by relaxed positively valenced states of the body; this is related to the intimacy needs and the need for having an intimate relationship with another.
7.PLAY is expressed in a bounding lightness of movement that has an affectively engaging dynamic poking and rhythmic quality, at times bordering on aggression. this is related to communication needs, activity and playfulness and vibrancy dimensions.
8. SELF- the systems that lies at intersection of all emotional systems and cognition and leads to affective consciousness. In my model this would be the need for integrity and might also be related to physical/social disgust.
Here is a table summarizing the neural systems, the emotions and psychopathology associated with each. the only issues I have is placement of Shame, which I think should go with lust. Similarly Hatred/contempt may go with the eight stage that of SELF.
So what do you think of Panskepp’s neurally grounded model. Do the basic emotions that he has discovered in species as low as the rat , appeal to you? On a tangential note, I had a private conversation with Bjorn Brembs on friendfeed as per which flies though may not have ’emotion proper’ related to the above emotion circuits but definitely have traits resembling these circuits and have personalities, to speak of. thus, I believe these circuits and the problems they pose are evolutionary conserved and Panksepp is on the right track.
Panksepp, J. (2000). The neuro-evolutionary cusp between emotions and cognitions: Implications for understanding consciousness and the emergence of a unified mind science Consciousness & Emotion, 1 (1), 15-54 DOI: 10.1075/ce.1.1.04pan
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my conception of positive emotions in terms of promotion focus and negative emotions in terms of prevention focus. Today I will try to relate this to the specific action-tendency theory of negative emotions and broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions (as proposed by Barbara Fredrickson).
First its instructive to distinguish between negative and positive emotions. Negative emotions, like Fear, Anger, Disgust, traditionally have been conceptualized as specific action tendencies that get triggered or activated by particular type of threatening situations/stimuli. I view them as sensory driven. A stimuli impinges and is either presumed to be attacking/trespassing (thus arousing anger) or dangerous and threatening survival (thus arousing fear) or intimidating and overbearing (thus arousing sadness and disengagement) or sickening and to be avoided (thus arousing disgust) ; in all cases a stimuli or situation acts as an immediate trigger for a specific action tendency – that of defending, fighting or fleeing, disengaging and surrendering or vomiting and keeping away.
In contrast consider positive emotions like Joy, Interest, Contentment and Love. They all happen when the environment is safe and bodily needs are met- they are not need driven, but growth oriented. They are not based around survival, but around growth. they are non -specific thought action repertoire that is a broadened set and is not narrowly focused- rather one of the prime effects of positive emotions is to broaden attention, thought/cognition, actions and interactions. I consider them as motor driven. they are not a response to a stimulus. Rather they are specific patterns of spontaneous action tendencies and opportunities to practice giving outlet to ones spontaneous action tendencies in a safe environmental. That is why every sort of play- be it physical rough-and-tumble or intellectual play of creativity or social play of flirting – is associated with the positive emotions.
To make my analogy more clear consider the fact that actions can be classically conditioned (and thus response to US/CS stimulus) or operant conditioned (and thus not reactive or reflexive but intrinsically driven and proactive) and while former may be more or less determined by the external stimulus and internal associations and is deterministic in nature, the latter has spontaneous behavioral variability and initiation as its premise and has room for free will. What I claim today is that negative emotions are reactive and thus keep you stuck in deterministic rut, while positive emotions are expansive and provide opportunities for exercise of free will in safe and playful environments by encouraging spontaneous behavioral fluctuations and felkxibility.
It has been found time and again that positive emotions are associated with a broadening and resource-building effect. Consider Joy. It encourages one to engage in acts for acts sake or encourages rough and tumble play- it builds physical resources. Consider Interest . It encourages one to engage in exploration of a domain- be it actual physical domain or conceptual domain – it builds cognitive maps and cognitive or intellectual resources. Consider contentment. It encourages one to engage in reflection and self assessment and self integration – it builds psychological resources. consider Love (care-giving variety not romantic which is pathological and more of a negative emotion). It encourages one to engage in reciprocal interactions and to explore, act on and reflect on the other- it builds social resources.
Thus it is evident that positive emotions do help to broaden and build. That much has been proved by Barbara’s research program . My additional claim is that negative emotions are sensory oriented and reactive while positive emotions are motor oriented, spontaneous and proactive. By signalling safe environments in which behavioral flexibility can be played around with they push us to relate to life more intrinsically.
Perhaps another analogy will be relevant. there is a sympathetic nervous system and there is parasympathetic system. the sympathetic system helps us respond to stressful situations and readies the body. the parasympathetic restores the body and helps in regeneration of the body. So do negative emotions help us react to outside threats and make the mental-illness dimension while positive emotions help match intrinsic activity to opportunities in the environment and makes the mental health dimension.
The former (mental illness continuum) is a zero sum game– if I win someone looses. For eg if a dominance hierarchy is there and I am on top I may feel manic while the person at bottom may feel depressed..but as long as dominance and survival and predation and germs are there the negative emotions would be there …the latter (mental health continuum) is a win-win game. There are more opportunities for everyone to fare better if everyone is positioned high on mental health spectrum as then doors to creativity and productivity open right then and there for all concerned. thus, I have become an advocate of the positive psychology movement and would like more efforts devoted to study of positive emotions.
Fredrickson, B. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2 (3), 300-319 DOI: 10.1037//1089-26184.108.40.2060
Attention can be focused or it can be diffused. Attentional focus has been shown to be affected by mood or affect; with positive affect leading to a broadening of attentional focus; and negative affect, in general been shown to be associated with a narrowing of focus.
However, Gable and Harmon-Jones argue that emotion or affect is not a uni-dimensional construct, but has at least two dimensions: affective valence- i.e. whether it is felt as pleasurable or dis-pleasurable; and motivational direction- i.e. the action tendency to approach or avoid in pursuit of a preventive/promotional goal.
Much work on emotions has emphasized that they have a number of underlying dimensions. Two dimensions that have received considerable attention are affective valence, the felt pleasure or displeasure, and motivational direction, the action tendency associated with a particular emotional state—approach or withdrawal. Approach motivation refers to an urge or action tendency to go toward an object, whereas withdrawal motivation refers to an urge or action tendency to move away from an object.
They also argue that much of the extant literature on emotion-attention linkage has focused on emotional valence alone, with just one type of motivational direction, and thus has not clarified the (in)dependent role of valence and motivational direction as regards to attention.
Thus, for e.g., the finding that positive emotions lead to broadening of attention is focused on such research as emotions of joy, contentment etc that are low in approach motivation and are emotions felt after the goal has been reached.
Similarly, the research that has found that negative emotions lead to narrowing of focus have relied on emotions such as fear, anger etc that are high in withdrawal motivation and are pre-goal.
I believe, it is important to step back a little here and go back to our conception of happiness-ennui (mental well-being) continuum and sadness-mania (mental illness) continuum. Another way to conceptualize them is to see sadness having negative valence and low withdrawal motivation – it is passive; mania as having positive valence and high approach motivation- mania is characterized by immense desire for a goal and is pre -goal. Happiness is post goal emotion and is characterized by positive valence and low approach motivation- you have already reached the goal and do not need to exert much efforts in goal directed activity; ennui/boredom/listlessness is negative in valence and has high withdrawal motivation- it is pre-goal- a search for a worthwhile goal.
Another way to make the difference stark is employ the terminology of Berridge et al: happiness is related to liking and the opioid system; while mania is related to wanting and the dopamine system. Depression/sadness is related to disliking /feeling pain while ennui/boredom is related to dreading the outcome/feeling anxious (nothing to do and hence life is useless/meaningless!..anxiety but existential anxiety). Berridghe et al have shown that wanting/liking and dreading/disliking differ and have different neural and neurochemichal correlates.
To become a little philosophical, the wanting/disliking mental illness continuum leading to mania or depression in extremes is to be avoided (thus the dictum of all religions to shun desire/ be stoic) while the happiness-ennui/boredom/existential anxiety system is more preferable where you focus on liking positive outcomes and dreading negative/neutral ones. While the former, to paraphrase Freud, is the hysterical misery at worst, the latter is common unhappiness at worst.
But anyway that was long detour. Lets get back to the studies by Gable et al.
In the first study, the authors showed that motivational direction was relevant and was the reason behind the positivity-broadening of attentional focus effect. they showed that positive emotions lead to broadening of attention only in low approach motivation condition; but when the positive emotion had high approach motivation (emotions like desire. engagement etc), the positive affect lead to narrowing of focus.
Now a brief detour into methodology: the attentional focus is usually measured using local-global tasks whereby it is determined whether one is paying attention to global features or local features of an ambiguous/mixed stimuli. For eg, the most popular of these consists of a global big H made up of smaller (say 5 in number) F’s and then determining whether the subject notices the global H or the local F. Details can be seen in the Gable papers which are open access.
Now the authors found robust support for their hypothesis that it is the motivational direction and not affective valence that determines the attentional focus. They also relate it to adaptivity.
Positive affects, particularly those low in approach motivation, suggest a comfortable, stable environment and allow for a broadening of attention and cognition, which may serve adaptive functions (Carver, 2003; Fredrickson, 2001). However, broadening does not occur when positive affects are high in approach motivation. Such positive affects often encourage specific action tendencies, such as tenacious goal pursuit, and an associated reduction in attentional breadth. This reduced attentional breadth may prove adaptive, as it assists in obtaining goals.
They also extend these finding to negative affects and depression etc and I can easily relate them to earlier work I have covered regarding the danger or safety of environment and promotional/ preventive focus:
Together with past research, the present research supports the idea that low- and high-approach-motivated positive affect produce opposite effects on attentional breadth. It is possible that the intensity of withdrawal motivation exerts similar attentional effects; that is, low-withdrawal-motivated negative affect may cause broadening, whereas high-withdrawal-motivated negative affect may cause reduction in breadth. Indeed, such an interpretation would fit with past research. For example, individuals with depression, a low-intensity motivation, are more creative than nondepressed individuals (Andreasen, 1987) and show broadening of attention and memory (von Hecker & Meiser, 2005). In the case of low-motivated negative affects such as sadness and depression, “a more open, unfocused, unselective, low-effort mode of attention would prove not deficient but, on the contrary, beneficial” (von Hecker & Meiser, 2005, p. 456), as one disengages from a terminally blocked goal and becomes open to new possibilities (Klinger, 1975). The past research that found negative affect caused decreased attentional breadth may have evoked negative affective states that were high in withdrawal motivation (e.g., fear; Gasper & Clore, 2002).
This brings me to their current paper , aptly titled , The Blues Broaden, but the Nasty Narrows, that found exactly the effect hypothesized above that sadness/depressive mood was related to broadening of attention, while disgust, a negative emotion with high withdrawal motivation was related to narrowing of focus. they also found that the effect of negative emotion was mediated by arousal which could stand as a proxy for motivational direction.
These two experiments revealed that the relationship between negative affect and attentional precedence is more complex than commonly thought. In line with past theory and evidence, Experiment 2 demonstrated that negative affect caused a narrowing of attention. However, this narrowing occurred only when negative affect was high in motivational intensity. When negative affect was low in motivational intensity, in Experiment 1, it caused a broadening of attention. These results are consistent with the idea that the effect of emotion on local/global precedence is not due to negative versus positive affect, but is instead due to motivational intensity. Positive and negative affects of low motivational intensity broaden attention, whereas positive and negative affects of high motivational intensity narrow attention.
To me this is sufficient, clinching and converging proof of the theories I have been trying to develop with regards to emotions (specifically mania, depression, happiness and despair) and make clear that there are at least two dimensions to happiness/sadness and mental well being/illness constructs. Perhaps if we start liking what we have and stop coveting or wanting more, we have a philosophical, religious, as well as now a psychological, blueprint for how to lead the good life and how to avoid a living hell.
Gable, P., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2010). The Blues Broaden, but the Nasty Narrows: Attentional Consequences of Negative Affects Low and High in Motivational Intensity Psychological Science, 21 (2), 211-215 DOI: 10.1177/0956797609359622
Gable, P., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2008). Approach-Motivated Positive Affect Reduces Breadth of Attention Psychological Science, 19 (5), 476-482 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02112.x