Emotion - Theories On The Experience of Emotions - Cognitive Theories

Cognitive Theories

With the two-factor theory now incorporating cognition, several theories began to argue that cognitive activity in the form of judgments, evaluations, or thoughts was entirely necessary for an emotion to occur. One of the main proponents of this view was Richard Lazarus who argued that emotions must have some cognitive intentionality. The cognitive activity involved in the interpretation of an emotional context may be conscious or unconscious and may or may not take the form of conceptual processing.

Lazarus' theory is very influential; emotion is a disturbance that occurs in the following order:

  1. Cognitive appraisal—The individual assesses the event cognitively, which cues the emotion.
  2. Physiological changes—The cognitive reaction starts biological changes such as increased heart rate or pituitary adrenal response.
  3. Action—The individual feels the emotion and chooses how to react.

For example: Jenny sees a snake.

  1. Jenny cognitively assesses the snake in her presence. Cognition allows her to understand it as a danger.
  2. Her brain activates Adrenaline gland which pumps Adrenaline through her blood stream resulting in increased heartbeat.
  3. Jenny screams and runs away.

Lazarus stressed that the quality and intensity of emotions are controlled through cognitive processes. These processes underline coping strategies that form the emotional reaction by altering the relationship between the person and the environment.

George Mandler provided an extensive theoretical and empirical discussion of emotion as influenced by cognition, consciousness, and the autonomic nervous system in two books (Mind and Emotion, 1975, and Mind and Body: Psychology of Emotion and Stress, 1984)

There are some theories on emotions arguing that cognitive activity in the form of judgements, evaluations, or thoughts is necessary in order for an emotion to occur. A prominent philosophical exponent is Robert C. Solomon (for example, The Passions, Emotions and the Meaning of Life, 1993). Solomon claims that emotions are judgements. He has put forward a more nuanced view which responds to what he has called the ‘standard objection’ to cognitivism, the idea that a judgement that something is fearsome can occur with or without emotion, so judgement cannot be identified with emotion. The theory proposed by Nico Frijda where appraisal leads to action tendencies is another example.

It has also been suggested that emotions (affect heuristics, feelings and gut-feeling reactions) are often used as shortcuts to process information and influence behavior. The affect infusion model (AIM) is a theoretical model developed by Joseph Forgas in the early 1990s that attempts to explain how emotion and mood interact with one's ability to process information.

Read more about this topic:  Emotion, Theories On The Experience of Emotions

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