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11-01b+Lazarus+1984 - On the Primacy of Cognition Richard S...

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On the Primacy of Cognition Richard S. Lazarus University of California, Berkeley Abstract: Zajonc and I differ greatly in our concep- tualization of emotion and its relations with cognition, as well as in our evaluation of the evidence. My reply is in two parts. First, I discuss the boundaries of emo- tion as a phenomenon and whether sensory preferences can be regarded as emotions; second, I make an anal- ysis of the evidence Zajonc regards as supporting his claims for the independence of cognition and emotion and the primacy of emotion. My aims are to sharpen the philosophical and empirical issues that underlie our disagreement and to emphasize the indetermi- nancy of the issue of cognitive versus emotional pri- macy. This latter issue is less important than the task of exploring the cognitive contents or meanings that shape each kind of emotional reaction. Finally, I offer a brief programmatic statement about what cognitiv- ists can do to advance our understanding of emotion over the life course. The latest riposte by Zajonc (1984) has, in my view, not helped to clarify our understanding of the rela- tionship between cognition and emotion. Zajonc takes my reasoning (Lazarus, 1982) to task in two major ways. First he complains that my position cannot be falsified because I defined emotion as requiring cog- nitive appraisal, then that I have ignored the evidence that emotion can occur without cognitive activity, which he cites. I believe he is wrong about my episte- mological position and wrong that the evidence sup- ports the primacy of emotion or its independence from cognition. The body of this reply consists of a discussion of the definitional issue and why I think the empirical case he makes is specious. My objective is to sharpen the issue and sustain my position and that of like-minded cognitivists. The Definitional Issue Definitions do not arise out of the blue; they are an integral part of a theory that helps delimit the phe- nomena of interest and organize observations. In my view, emotion reflects a constantly changing person- environment relationship. When central life agendas (e.g., biological survival, personal and social values and goals) are engaged, this relationship becomes a source of emotion. Therefore, an emotional experi- ence cannot be understood solely in terms of what happens inside the person or in the brain, but grows out of ongoing transactions with the environment that are evaluated. Cognitive activity is a necessary precondition of emotion because to experience an emotion, people must comprehend—whether in the form of a prim- itive evaluative perception or a highly differentiated symbolic process—that their well-being is implicated in a transaction, for better or worse. A creature that is oblivious to the significance of what is happening for its well-being does not react with an emotion.
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