To What Extent Does Cognition Control Emotion ?

To what extent does cognition control emotion ? In everyday life there is a constant evidence of interaction between cognition and emotion. If we see something funny we laugh, if we fear we run or hide, if we are distressed we find it hard to concentrate. However we do not need to present any of the emotions to others, we can regulate them, think about situations and consequences and estimate the outcome. We are able to control our emotions. Ochsner and Gross(2005,p. 242) argues that capacity to control emotion is important for human adaptation.

The question is to what extent does cognition control emotion? In the next paragraphs I will consider some theories, factors and evidence on cognitive controlling of emotion in terms of bodily reactions-arousals, appraisals, facial expressions, action tendencies. According to James-Lange (Yiend, Mackintosh,2005 ) theory cognition does not influence emotion when behaviour particularly in frightening situations was initiated too rapidly. James says that there is no time for conscious decisions. James (1890,p. 51) argued, “If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind. ” James suggests that experience of emotion depended on the behaviour and bodily reactions- arousal that followed an event and that there is no space for any cognitive processes. However Cannon and Bard (Yiend, Mackintosh,2005) disagreed with James (1890,p. 451) approach and they argued that the lower brain receives emotion producing signals and send to the cortex for interpretation and subsequent physiological responses.

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They say that arousal and specific emotion can occur simultaneously. But neither Cannon and Brad or James looked at cognitive processes as if they controlled emotions but rather then that cognitive processes were used simultaneously with processing emotions. Both of the above views were challenged by Schachter and Singer (Yiend, Mackintosh,2005) who argue that cognitive interpretations which they called cognitive appraisals are very important in emotional processing because they distinguish one emotion from another. They think it can be possible to change how we feel if we change our cognitive appraisals.

In their experiment they challenged two groups of participants. Both groups experienced an injection of epinephrine. One group was told that there will be no effect on their body after the injection. The other group was told that the injection would make their heart race. The group, which was told to experience heart race, did not experience any emotions however the one, that was told about no effect, experienced emotion. The results supported Schachter and Singer theory that an identical situation can be subjectively experienced, depends on how individuals appraised their circumstances.

If James-Lange theory were used to suggest results for Schachter and Singer’s research, it would be expected that knowing about the effect of injection would have given rise to emotional experience. The fact, that the rise had not happened and the results showed opposite reaction, gives Schachter and Singer plausible base for an assumption that cognition after all can control how emotion might be experienced. Their findings opened a path for a vast discussion and different appraisal theories were developed with a central idea, that emotions are chosen on the bases of subjective experiences and personal psychological state.

Lazarus(Yiend, Mackintosh,2005) argues that cognitive appraisal is essential for the experience of emotion. In his experiment participants had taken measurements for galvanic skin response and heart rate. It was found that explaining the reasoning behind anxiety-provoking films before the films were played by using soundtrack songs with displayed explanations reduced emotional response in participants. However if the soundtracks were not played for the film, the emotional response was higher.

Evidence from this particular study suggests that cognitive appraisal effects an emotional response by convincingly altering this response. Returning to the main question of the essay, to what extent the cognition controls emotion, Lazarus with his findings give us an other evidence, that cognition can subjectively manipulate the way we response emotionally. However Zajonc ( Yiend, Mackintosh,2005 ) argued against Lazarus ( Yiend, Mackintosh,2005 ) theories and opened up a primacy debate between cognition and emotion and their precedence.

Zajonc( Yiend, Mackintosh,2005) says there is no need for appraisal from cognition before emotion. Emotion can arise directly and that experience of emotion always precede cognitive processing of that emotion. He found in his mere exposure study that people tend to prefer familiar things. Whilst subjects were engaged in an other task, Zajonc ( Yiend, Mackintosh,2005 ) showed them some items subliminally – without conscious awareness. According to his findings participants had no conscious recognition of displayed items but they had a preference to them.

On the bases of the results he assumed that there is no need for cognitive appraisal to have affective experience. Strangely he implied that cognitive processing must be conscious only. He did not take in account at the time that even unconscious processing is a part of cognitive processes and by comparing preference judgement with affect or emotion was also rather a brave assumption. The debate between both Lazarus and Zajonc came to resolution and both sides took a step back and accepted certain flexibility in their theories.

Zajonc ( Braisby, Gelatly,2005) accepted existence of non-conscious appraisal and Lazarus ( Braisby, Gelatly,2005) conceded that although appraisal might influence emotion it does not need to be an essential component. The primacy debate results suggest that the extent to which cognition controls emotion is effected by different circumstances, situations, emotional states and ability to perceive things and also it does not need to happen always and that emotions can exist and process without cognitive influence and appraisal can appear as a consequence of emotional responding rather than a cause.

The assumptions that both Zajonc and Lazarus ( Braisby, Gelatly,2005 ) have partially truth have been evidenced in LeDoux(1992, 1996) work. He used lesioned animals in which specific neural pathways were severed by the experimenter. He found that amygdala and thalamus play different role in the generation of emotions. He suggests two different circuits in fear: low road and high road. Low road is used once there is an experience of emotion than an immediate reaction happens between thalamus sensory and amygdala.

High road is used when new experienced are learned or old once extinguish and it happens in a slow-acting thalamus to cortex to amygdala circuit involving detailed analysis of sensory information. LeDoux (1992, 1996) suggests that high road might override the quick road in new situations. Once the experience is learnt that the thread is not that dangerous after processing it more fully then in the next similar situation a low rout is used. He has emphasised the role of amygdala and he calls it a ”brain emotional computer ”. Ochsner and Gross (2005, p. 245) discuss discrepancies across different studies of amygdala activation.

According to their suggestion discrepancies might happen because of differences in stimulus characteristics and also how emotional associations are learned and altered which supports LeDoux (1992, 1996) two roads circuit used accordingly to different situations and subjective reactions to fear. Overall LeDoux (1992, 1996) and Ochsner (2005, p. 245) findings suggest that on one hand cognition controls, influences and alters emotions, on the other hand emotional associations are triggered independently once the complicated cognitive processes has been learned. Ochsner(2005, p. 44-245) bring more evidence on interaction between cognition and emotion. They argue that placebo effect is an important evidence of cognition controlling regulation over emotion. They say that two studies have shown that placebo creams and drugs blunt pain and that painful stimuli elicit pain. An other example of controlled regulation is reappraisal in which the meaning of stimulus is reinterpreted in order to achieve change in one’s emotional response. Findings from their review also suggest that cognition might be used to either generate an emotional response or alter , regulate already triggered responses.

However Critchley&Lewis (2003) discuss in their review an interaction between cognition and emotion in which cognition is the one manipulated by emotion when mood is involved with cognition. They argues that when mood at retrieval of a material is matched with the mood at encoding , more of the material would be remembered. This phenomenon is called mood dependence. On the other side if we are in a happy mood we would be able to remember more happy events of our life , so if our present mood matches with the memories that we try to recall we would be able to recall more of them, this phenomenon is called mood congruence.

Mood congruence and mood dependence are phenomenons that explicitly suggest a control of emotions over cognition. Critchley&Lewis (2003) also argues that in semantic network model (interaction between mood and cognitive process), activation of an emotion node leads to activation of many related nodes in the semantic network. Such patterns of activation produce several effects including mood-state-dependent memory, mood congruity, and thought congruity. There is evidence for all of these effects.

However, they are found more often with positive than with negative mood states, because individuals in a negative mood state are motivated to change their mood state. This paragraph is suggesting that there is not quite a clear cut between the extent to which cognition are in control of emotions or emotion control cognition. There are suggestions that the emotional state of an individual effects the extent to which situations or other materials are encoded or recalled and that it seems to be easier to manipulate cognitive processes when they get into positive mood state.

As I have mentioned at the beginning, we are able to control our emotions but to what extent is rather complicated question. The evidence thought out the essay pointed out to certain important cognitive processes such as appraisals which play an important role in controlling emotions. Lazarus ( Yiend, Mackintosh,2005 ) evidence suggested that correct appraising can change subjective emotional reaction of individuals. Ochsner&Gross (2005) say that placebo creams blunt pain and that reappraisal can change the way would respond emotionally.

On the other side Zajonc ( Yiend, Mackintosh,2005 ) argues that cognitive control are not needed and emotions can be triggered without cognitive influence. Critchley &Lewis (2003)suggest that emotions can control memory, remembering, encoding and moods and that there is a constant interaction between cognition and emotion. On the bases of all this evidence we can make an assumption that the extent to which the cognition controls emotion depends on many different aspects such as mental state, situation, type of cognition, way of appraising, cognitive circuits and many more.

Nevertheless it has to be mentioned that there is a constant interaction between cognition and emotion and at the times emotions can exist and process without cognitive influence and appraisal can also appear as a consequence of emotional responding rather than a cause. References LeDoux, J. E. (1992). Emotion as memory: Anatomical systems underlying indelible neural traces. In S-A. Christianson (Ed. ), The handbook of emotion and memory: Research and theory. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

LeDoux, J. E. (1996). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon & Schuster. James, W. (1890). Principles of psychology. New York: Holt. Ochsner, K. N. And Gross, J. J. (2005) ‘The cognitive control of emotion’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 9, no. 5, pp. 242-9. http://docs. google. com/viewer? a=v&q=cache:Chbi_WlReJQJ:citeseerx. ist. psu. edu/viewdoc/download%3Fdoi%3D10. 1. 1. 89. 9467%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf+Ochsner,+K. N. +And+Gross,+J. J. (2005)+’The+cognitive+control+of+emotion’,&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESim5g-sm39OnCVcZPICuEZejBq32ecJIyK5ISjYwEy8-ARtcaZLyVkwwfJmvhHliLFulis5l4c3S6dRK1A_h-PfP6CLkH32NjA1K79cEmJNtufLWXyFGsqBnlsHXWzBAg9EG1r3&sig=AHIEtbT17TWAZ2YeGyfhKl2P_iN5_M_2fA( last visited 27/09/2010) Lewis, P. A. And Critchley, H. D. (2003) ‘Mood -dependent memory’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 7, no. 10, pp. 431-3. in OFFPRINTS BOOKLET (2005), The Open University, Milton Keynes Yiend, J. and Mackintosh, B. (2005) ‘Cognition and Emotion’ in Braisby, N. and Gellatly, A. COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY, The Open University, Milton Keynes



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