Posts tagged emotions

Different Frames, Different Outcomes, Different Emotions

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.

English: Emotions Q-sort

English: Emotions Q-sort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 causes negative emotions – are you NUTS?

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
English: Emotions Q-sort

English: Emotions Q-sort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

emotions and personality: take 6

Cover of "Personality Disorders in Modern...

Cover of Personality Disorders in Modern Life

 

Today I learned that Theodore Millon died. I started reading ” personality disorders in modern life” as a tribute to him, but the monkey mind that mine is, ended up writing this post instead.

 

To recall, Theodore Millon’s model talked about four fundamental evolutionary problems faced by all humans: 1) existence 2) adaptation 3) replication and 4)  abstraction. There were also two polar ways of approaching each fundamental problem; that of pleasure-pain; activity-passivity; self-other and I added to it the fourth polarity of broad-narrow. Anyway those polarities need not concern us for this post.

 

There is an influential model of emotions – the PAD model which views emotions, not as discrete basic emotions, but as dimensional in nature and thus different emotions differ from each other not as entities in themselves, but as graded multi-dimensional affects.

 

To elaborate, while the lay man may think of emotions as a few basic discrete emotions like sadness, happiness, anger, love, wonder, disgust, fear , interest etc. , as per this theory the emotions are complex graded amalgamations of a few basic fundamental dimensions.

 

As per this PAD theory, the first dimension is valence / pleasure/ pleasantness etc. which tells us whether the emotion colloquially feels ‘good’ or ‘bad’ . As we all know , no emotion by itself is bad; negative emotions have their own benefits, if invoked for a short amount of time and are situation specific; and the benefits of positive emotions is self-evident. BTW, some people consider ‘flow’ which is a sort of neutral emotional condition to be better that either.

 

The second dimension is Arousal/ energy/ vigor etc which tells us how strong the emotion is and how much it arouses us. Some emotions like courage arouse greatly (not just the person displaying courage, but also subtly the people witnessing it) while other emotions can have a calming effect (like love and compassion { depends what sort of love one is talking about 🙂 } )

 

The third dimension is dominance/ potency etc. and to my mind represents the ability of emotion to take control of you (/ others ? ). The immediate example that springs to mind is anger, but then so can be interest/ fascination. In either case, you empower your emotions to rule over you than vice versa.

 

The for-now-final dimension that I (and others) have added to the PAD model is predictiviness/transparency of the emotion:  whether it is hard to predict/ discern in oneself/ others or is consistently and transparently available to self/ others.

 

How does this relate to personality?

 

While reading the first chapter of Millon, I had the insight that one analogous personality dimensional structure we can talk about is as follows:

 

1) Strength/ existence of personality: whether one has ‘a personality’ / quirks in the first place. How (ab) normal one is; where one fits on the normal curve of personality traits distribution. Analogous to emotions, personality quirks have a function; those familiar with evolutionary theory will know why outliers are necessary for survival (of the species).

 

2) Fitness/ adaptability of personality : whether one can fit in with the social norms/ changing landscapes. Lay men think of people in terms of having a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ personality; in reality people are just responding to the environment and adapting. The behavior of some people is flexible, while for many its more rigid.

 

3) Centrality/ hold of personality: whether the quirks that make you unique form the average person, are central to your self-definition or have peripheral value; whether you want to shape/ influence/ mold loved others (like spouse, child etc)  as per your values or are OK with the differences.

 

4) Consistency/ integrity of personality: whether you are consistent in your thoughts, words, actions etc. or are comfortable with contradictions. (as and aside, a philosophical question is whether there is consistency behind contradictions and contradiction behind {apparent} consistency). With the cognitive revolution, much focus has shifted here. Using a information processing metaphor, much of new personality research like Daryl Bem‘s self-perception theory or Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory revolve around the idea of being consistent; either by changing your behavior or your self-image or maybe the language and words you use etc. etc. For eg. my counseling teacher used to say you can either be as comfortable as Gandhi (who he said used to sleep peacefully like a child whenever he got some time) or you can be as uncomfortable as OSHO.

 

So how does this relate to my ABCD model (or even the PAD model outlined above??) ? I’ll leave that as a homework exercise for regular readers. For now, let me just briefly touch upon the terms we use in personality research.

 

1. Temperament : more about what ‘Nature’ has endowed you with. He has an ‘irritable temperament’

 

2. Character : more about how ‘Nurture’ has shaped this character.

 

3. Personality: more about what ‘passions’ drive you.

 

4. Image: more about being ‘prudent’.

 

Let me elaborate. I have previously blogged about false dichotomies. I believe Nature Vs Nurture is a false dichotomy.  Everyone knows that. What about the new dichotomy I am introducing (Passion vs. Prudence) ?  As I mention in my false dichotomy blog post, Passion is about habits- using the power of your sub/ un-conscious mind – choosing for once , by way of habits, rituals etc. what you want to choose in times of crisis (on auto-pilot etc.). Prudence is about trying to reason, using whatever information is available at hand (including your gut reactions)- not necessarily conscious- but using bounded rationality- coming to a decision afresh at each choice point.

 

As I had mentioned in my false dichotomy post, Passion via prudence is more about making meaningful choices and a belief in choice/ free will. Nature via Nurture is all about proving the right environment to people to make their best attributes shine out. Running out of how to phrase ({Passion via Prudence} via {Nature via Nurture}) and what it is all about. Maybe you can help?

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The Eight Rasas (aesthetic essences)

Guru N?ty?c?rya M?ni M?dhava Ch?ky?r performin...

Image via Wikipedia

According to Indian Aesthetics , as outlined in Bharat Muni’s Natyashatra,  there are eight Rasas or impacts that an aesthetic piece of work like dance form/ literary piece, tries to achieve/invoke in the beholder/reader. These can be loosely thought of as eight different kinds of aesthetic experiences.

 

As is evident I like all things eight, as I believe they have an underlying eight fold evo-devo stage structure behind them.  In this case in visual art from each of the rasa is associated with a predominant color that signifies that rasa. For eg Shringar or Love/beauty/erotic rasa has as its color, color green.

 

Now, I have also blogged previously about color terms and how they may have evolved in an eight step model. In brief, I believe that Black came first , white next, then Red followed; after which followed yellow, blue and green and then other terms like orange, brown and grey followed.  This I believe is also tied to the way our color vision and sensitivity would have grown/evolved.

 

Taking cue from that color term evolution model , I belive the eight rasas evolved in the same order as the color used to denote them, and that nicely fits with other aspects of the eight stage theory too, like the eight stage emotion development.

 

So, in essence, please find listed below the eight Rasaas in the correct eight stage order:

1. Bahyanak Rasa: color Black : emotion fear.

2. Hasya Rasa: color white: emotion joy/laughter

3. Rudra Rasa: color red : emotion anger

4. Adbhuta Rasa: color yellow , emotion wonder

5. Bibhitsa Rasa: color blue, emotion disgust

6. Shringar rasa: color green; emotion erotic/love

7. Veera rasa : color orange; emotion heroism

8. Karuna rasa: color grey; emotion compassion/ sadness.

 

Contrast this with the basic emotions list I have come up earlier viz.
1. Fear – Bahyanak
2. Joy/happiness – Hasya
3. Anger – Raudra
4. Sadness – Karuna
5. Disgust – Bibhitsa
6. Surprise – shringar
7. Contempt – Veera
8. Interest (anticipation) – Adbhuta

 

With just one switch between the Adbhuta (wonder/interest) and Karuna (sadness/ compassion), the eight rasas fit both the color term evolution and basic emotions evolution. That surely means we are at something and moving in the right direction as different routes are leading to the same destination. .

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Basic Emotions

Facial emotions.

Image via Wikipedia

This post is an attempt to get to the basic emotions. Regular readers of this blog will readily appreciate when I claim that there are eight basic emotions and that they follow a developmental/evolutionary time-course and follow a  particular order.

 

First let us review the attempts made till now to classify and identify the basic emotions– foremost amongst them is the tradition of Tomkins and Ekman that looked at basic and universal emotional facial expressions to come up with their list of basic emotions.

 

Tomkins listed the following as basic emotions: Anger, interest, contempt, disgust, distress, fear, joy, shame, surprise;

I agree more or less with the list except for dropping shame or subsuming it under contempt (along with say guilt too making a triad of social emotions)

Ekman on the other hand thought that only Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness and Surprise were basic based on clearly identifiable facial expressions. He left out contempt and Interest , but I am not too sympathetic to that position, though I understand that being evolutionarily novel these would be least permanently identifiable using fixed facial expressions.

Another towering figure in the emotion research is Plutchick and his wheel is a wonderful figure that not only lists the basic emotions but also highlights the relations between them- which are opposed (180 degree to each other).

The 8 basic emotions Plutchik lists are Trust(Acceptance), anger, anticipation (interest) , disgust, joy, fear, sadness, surprise .

Astute readers will note that the list is more or less same as that of Tomkins except for substitution of Trust )(acceptance) for contempt (reverse scored but same?)

Izards list viz Anger, contempt, disgust, distress, fear, guilt, interest, joy, shame, surprise is also the same as above list if we group contempt/shame/guilt together as one social emotion category.

That finally brings me to my list and ordering and how the emotions are opposed to each other on some aspect or the other, here I would like to utilize some terminology from astrology where not only opposed (180 degrees) are bad or disharmonious but even squares (90 degrees ) are somewhat disharmonious.

with that lets take a look at Plutchiks wheel and order emotions as follows:
1. Fear
2. Joy/happiness
3. Anger
4. Sadness
5. Disgust
6. Surprise
7. Contempt
8. Interest (anticipation)

One would note that on Plutchik’s wheel Fear is opposed to Anger; Happiness to Sadness; Disgust to Trust (contempt in our scheme) and Surprise to Interest.

what I will argue is that while on one intuitive level Sadness is opposed to happiness and fear to anger on a deeper level the square relation between fear and happiness is more important and similarly between anger and sadness is more important; rather I would go ahead and claim that if I had to fit them on a wheel I would have fitted them as opposites instead of squares.

why the above claim; read this post for some background, but basically my claim is that these opposed pairs follow the opposed polarities of four tasks of existence, adaptation, replication and abstraction as outlined by Theodore Millon and also the eight basic adaptive problems faced by all animals. .

To elaborate, on their opposed natures, consider the first problem of arrival of a stimuli /something/some person; now this (con-specific/ other species animal) could be either predator or prey and thus arouse either feelings of Fear or Happiness depending on whether the arrival is viewed disfavorably or favroably- as foe or as food.

Consider second, the loss (departure) of a stimuli/ something/ some person. This can either arouse feelings of anger to restore the earlier status-qua or lead to feelings of sadness if nothing can be done and this is inevitable/ unavoidable.

Now consider a novel stimuli/person/thing introduced in the environment. This can either lead to disgust reaction if intuitively it is appraised that the stimuli in question is not good for self; or the stimuli/person/thing may arouse feelings of surprise if a positive outcome is anticipated nonetheless the stimuli being novel/ unexpected. when a new person mates another that person can be seen as a constant source of surprises.

Lastly consider a familiar or expected stimuli being present in the environment; this can either lead to contempt reaction as we all know that familiarity breeds contempt; or we could still remain engaged with that and still pay attention and be interested in that familiar stimuli/person/ thing.

This also squarely fits with my earlier basic emotions post based on work by Jaak Panksepp. There the basic emotions (in the particular order that I imposed) were fear, seeking (or happiness) , anger, panic(distress) , lust (mapped to disgust they even rhyme:-) , care (mapped to Surprise) and play (mapped to contempt in new model) and lastly SELF mapped to Interest/anticipation.

Of course one can also readily see that happiness and sadness are opposed; but that misses the finer opposition and continuum on a single dimension of fear-happiness (anxiety-calmness scale) ; anger-sadness (mania-depression scale); disgust-surprise and contempt-interest (psychosis-autism scale).

To me the basic emotions and there ordering seems just perfect- and these are same set of emotions that I have also mapped to personality as enduring traits.something seems to be falling in place and I am most reasonably elated.

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