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Emotions and Culture 1 Emotions and Rationality
People tend to believe that emotions make us do irrational things.
But emotions must be beneficial. Otherwise natural selection would have eliminated them.
Emotions are conscious experiences, but they seem immune to conscious control (one cannot decide to feel guilty, jealous, joyful,...).
2 Emotions are valuable functions in linking motivations to thought and action. E.g.: one avoids actions which make one feels bad, one pursues positive emotions. Among cultural animals the emotional system is highly plastic.
E.g.: one feels sad about one’s team result, envious about someone’s car, …. Thus culture can influence people’s behavior.
3 The nature of emotions
emotions vs. affects: The former are complex, the latter are simply positive or negative feelings (anxiety, anger, jealousy, … are all grouped together as negative affects).
Affects are fast reactions, while emotions can take some time to develop.
4 Affects seem linked to the automatic mind while emotions seem more closed to the conscious system. Emotions are usually conscious experiences.
Affects can occur at the margin of consciousness. 5 Emotions have two components: (i) physical arousal and (ii) mental label. The arousal doesn’t produce an emotion but it makes it likely to be felt. The mental label is based on how one interprets the situation and thus determines which emotion will be felt.
6 The temporality of emotions
Emotions are triggered by changes and departures from the status quo. As such they help drawing one’s attention toward something that just changed. Affect is one important component of attitudes. So attitudes toward most things can be assessed on a scale that simply ask for one dimensional rating: liking vs. disliking.
7 The human psyche has two separate emotion systems, one for positive and pleasant emotions, the other for unpleasant ones. This reflects a mixture of contradictory patterns: one cannot feel good and bad simultaneously.
Another dimension of emotions is high/low arousal (e.g. sadness is low in arousal).
Four categories of emotions: 1. high arousal + pleasant; 2. low arousal + pleasant; 3. high arousal + unpleasant; 4. low arousal + unpleasant.
8 Emotions and Cultural Differences
People from different cultures can translate emotion words and recognize facial expressions of emotions. Thus some aspects of emotions are universal and innate.
Innate emotional tendencies: babies express various emotions long before they could learn them (e.g.: blind babies smile when happy).
9 Facial expressions
They “translate” the natural innate part of emotions. Culture Can teach people to conceal their feelings.
E.g.: people don’t maximally express their facial expressions. 10 The role of culture is not to create emotions but to restrain and conceal them. Culture can use emotions to control behavior insofar as it can teach people to have various emotional reactions to some particular events. 11 The purpose of emotions
Emotions help to evaluate events in helping to compare current circumstances to some goals or standards. They typically use one’s needs and wants as the basis for evaluation. So emotions apprise events as good/bad depending of one’s strivings.
12 Emotions communicate from motivation to both cognition and action.
They help keeping the cognitive system focused on things that matter. 13 Emotions and Belongingness
Emotions operate to guide and support the effort to belong.
Positive emotions are linked to forming/upgrading relationships. E.g.: unpleasant emotions coming from damaging or breaking off relationships. 14 Anxiety
It’s the most powerful form of emotional distress.
Two main categories: (i) less common and less powerful is the fear of death and accident; (ii) more powerful and common is the fear of social exclusion (e.g.: rejected by loved ones, by partner, …).
Shyness and social anxiety often have the effect of making one avoiding other people for fear of being rejected.
15 Emotions link motivation and cognition
Emotions force people to think about things that matter (as defined by one’s wants and needs). One doesn’t have emotional reaction about things one doesn’t care about. 16 Mental effect of emotional arousal
During emotions one is alert and typically focused on the present.
One performs better at an intermediate levels of arousal.
No arousal means indifference while high arousal can be disruptive. 17 Emotions get the body ready for action and arise in connection with the image of the anticipated outcome.
As such they help planning.
Yet the emotional system doesn’t distinguish well between different probabilities. It works on the definitely/maybe scale without recognizing the varies scales of maybe. This facilitates quick actions.
18 Emotional distress makes people react quickly, ignoring risks and focusing merely on the outcome. Hence emotions don’t always produce the optimal outcome. 19 Emotionless people
Patients (with brain damage) lacking emotions find it difficult to make up their mind. They’re unable to make choices.
The thinking system merely contemplate and envisage plenty of ideas and potential outcomes, but it is unable to evaluate them.
E.g.: a patient was unable to chose among two dates and he finally accepted the doctor choice.
20 Emotions are vital for evaluation.
Evaluation is done by reference to what is important (considering the people’s set of wants and needs). Emotions are a crucial link between motivation and cognition. 21 Planning
Anticipated emotions enable people to compare and chose among various options that seemingly have noting in common.
E.g.: should I go for a walk, watch the game, do the homework, clean the house,…?
The option that promises the best emotional outcomes is probably a good choice.
22 Nature furnished us with some way to chose among multiple diverse outcomes and to make of rational analysis a good guide. Otherwise cultural animals would freeze up at all sort of dilemma, like a computer lacking the program enabling it to select the data.
Choosing by effect and emotions is a remarkable solution to the design problem.
23 Emotions and Actions
Emotions prepare the body for action (more blood and thus more oxygen is sent to the brain and muscle so one notices more, focuses, …).
But emotions don’t cause behavior in a direct and reliable manner.
Behavior is based on the outcome.
24 Emotions affect behavior only insofar as they affect how people process information and envisage potential outcomes.
It is thus wrong to think that emotions’ primary function is to be the initiators of behaviors and even more wrong to think that they trigger behavior.
Emotions are an important consequence of behavior rather than a cause.
25 Emotions and Learning
Emotions contribute to learning and, therefore, future actions benefit from past experiences (i.e., pastemotional outcomes).
Without emotions people may fail to profit from experience. 26 Fear It may be the best candidate for the view that emotions directly causes action.
But in most of the cases people don’t react fast enough when they face a dangerous situation. Fear like most emotions may be slow to rise. One often feel fearful after one faced a dangerous event or situation.
It is a good example showing that behavior pursues emotions. Guild doesn’t directly make one to move one’s body; guilt comes after one has done something wrong. Emotions stimulate counterfactual thinking, i.e. imagining events and outcomes that differ from reality. This is ideal for learning and planning.
28 People experience emotions when performing new, unfamiliar actions (routine does not stimulate emotions).
Habitude and routine do not generally require learning, while new and unfamiliar actions are linked to learning. Thus emotions can facilitate learning by making people think and analyze their recent actions.
29 Learning based on emotions is highly suited for a cultural animal who understand action within a system of values, expectations, communications, etc..
Emotionless people’s reactions are often bad and they tend to engage in dangerous behaviors, for they don’t fear the outcome and the emotional reactions.
The effect of emotions is to consolidate one’s lesson so as to influence future behavior.
30 Studies on sadness show that sad people are more likely to engage in helping. Sadness seems to influence behavior.
A better explanation may be that sad people engage in helping to feel better. If this is the case we have behavior pursuing emotions.
Sadness leads people to helping only if the sad one thinks that helping will change her mood. Helping is a strategy for bringing about a change in one’s emotional state.
31 Aggression is also done for the sake of improving one’s mood. Angry people tends to behave more aggressively because they think that aggression make them feel better. But if angry people are told that they got a mood
freezing pill they don’t act aggressively. Again, one behaves in order to change one’s mood.
32 Depressed people eat more cookies and junk food than happy people because they expect the food to make them feel better.
Again, the patterns is behavior pursuing emotional outcomes. 33 Representation of emotions
The ability to represents other people emotions is as important as mindreading.
Deficit in this ability (e.g. autism) may result in devastating social impairments. 34 Feelings (cf. Damasio. 1994. Descartes’ Error) It is wrong to consider the working of the brain and mind as separate from the working of the body.
The mind is part and parcel of the body.
E.g.: background feelings, i.e. the underlying awareness of the state that your body is in. 35 Background awareness depends on the various neuronal and hormonal signals arising from the body organs (skin, hearth, …) that are sent to and processed by the brain.
These signals provide a continuous update on the changes that your body state undergoes.
These background feelings provide our sense of ‘self’.
36 We process information emanating from our entire body.
Hence, we wouldn’t be the same person if our brain were transplanted in another person. For the body would provide different information. 37 On top of background feelings we also have stronger feelings arising when we experience emotions in response to particular events.
New born babies tend to show only primary emotions (e.g. fear) which are innate and pre
As we grow we develop and make more use of secondary emotions which are primary emotions tempered by experience.
Emotions become associated with particular experiences. Thus their link with learning.
38 Somatic markers (Damasio 1994)
They are a special category of secondary emotions and are used in decision making (often unconsciously).
They can function either as alarm bells (in the case of a negative somatic marker such as fear or sadness) or add incentive (positive somatic marker).
39 Somatic markers can speed up the process of decision making by ensuring that only the most reasonable options are considered.
They may be an integrated component of our theory of mind by biasing our mindreading abilities toward the most appropriate predictions for other people behavior and mind states. 40 Peptides Are neurotransmitters produced in the brain.
They are also active in the human immune system and endocrine system. Hence, they participate in the constant relationship between the brain and the body. 41 Brain and emotions (cf. LeDoux. 1994. The Emotional Brain)
Information is transmitted to the brain in two distinct ways:
1. “quick and dirty” route via the amygdala: this is unconscious and trigger instinctive responses
2. via the cortex: this produce conscious awareness of the emotion (e.g. feeling of fear).
42 The cerebral cortex is a brain structure in vertebrates. In nonliving, preserved brains, the outermost layers of the cerebrum has a grey color, hence the name "grey matter". Grey matter is formed by neurons and their unmyelinated fibers while the white matter below the grey matter of the cortex is formed predominantly by myelinated axons interconnecting different regions of the central nervous system. The human cerebral cortex is 24 mm (0.080.16 inches) thick and plays a central role in many complex brain functions including memory, attention, perceptual awareness, "thinking", language and consciousness. (Wikipedia) 43 Cortex 44 The amygdala are almondshaped groups of neurons located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system. (Wikipedia) 45 In complex vertebrates, including humans, the amygdalae perform primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. Research indicates that during fear conditioning, sensory stimuli reach the basolateral complexes of the amygdalae, particularly the lateral nuclei, where they form associations with memories of the stimuli. The association between stimuli and the aversive events they predict may be mediated by longterm potentiation, a lingering potential for affected synapses to react more readily. (Wikipedia) 46 Memories of emotional experiences imprinted in reactions of synapses in the lateral nuclei elicit fear behavior through connections with the central nucleus of the amygdalae. The central nuclei are involved in the genesis of many fear responses, including freezing (immobility), tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), increased respiration, and stress
hormone release. Damage to the amygdalae impairs both the acquisition and expression of Pavlovian fear conditioning, a formof classical conditioning of emotional responses.
47 Amgdala is evolutionary ancient (it’s present in many vertebrates).
This doesn’t mean, though, that it is not involved in higher cognitive processes.
It is associated with several aspect of the theory of mind. 48 The interconnections between the cortex and the amygdala runs both ways, but the amygdala can exert a much stronger influence over the cortex than vice versa.
This is why we often let our emotions getting the better of us. 49 ...
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- Fall '07