Tagged: emotion


From Power, M. (2010) [Emotion-Focused Cognitive Therapy, Wiley-Blackwell]:

“It is hard to know from the relevant literature how often cognitive therapists have patients […] whose emotions and moods do not appear to be triggered by reportable [Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs)]. […] But whether the answer is that there are many or very few such NAT-free cases, the fact that a proportion of any cognitive therapist’s caseload must consist of such cases raises the question of what therapists do when this happens. Perhaps the comment about Freudian patients that they always came to have Freudian dreams and Jungian patients came to have Jungian dreams might be applicable; perhaps, clients may be suggestible enough to begin to have NATs if you persist long enough pursuing them as a therapist – if the clients can stand such therapy for that long. Of course, we know from the work on false memories that the therapeutic encounter is an extremely powerful one and that some clients may even falsely recollect memories of abuse, alien abduction or such, if that is the line being pushed by the therapist (Power, 2002). So having a few negative thoughts is small fry compared to alien abduction or imagined abuse…

“The point that we wish to make is that there are many strengths to the cognition focused approach, but there may be many limitations because of the failure to give emotion its rightful place…”

“We believe (Power & Dalgleish, 1997, 2008) that the problem is that the basic theory is wrong and that it is too simple. The cognitive therapies over-emphasize the role of thought in emotional disorders, and they lack an adequate theory of emotion:…”



“There is much to be said for contentment and painlessless…”

“There is much to be said for contentment and painlessless, for these bearable and submissive days, on which neither pain nor pleasure is audible, but pass by whispering on tip-toe. But the worst of it is that it is just this contentment that I cannot endure. After a short time it fills me with irrepressible hatred and nausea. In desperation I have to escape and throw myself on the road to pleasure, or, if that cannot be, on the road to pain. When I have neither pleasure nor pain and have been breathing for a while the lukewarm insipid air of these so-called good and tolerable days, I feel so bad in my childish soul that I smash my moldering lyre of thankgiving in the face of the slumbering god of contentment and would rather feel the very devil burn in me than this warmth of a well-heated room.”

—Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (thanks to an Atelopus varius.)

Some elements of some theories of emotion

Some elements of some theories of emotion — bits that moved me :-)

You might also enjoy this lovely definition. (And this on problems with definitions.)

Basic emotions

(Table from Power & Dalgleish, 2008)

Basic emotion Appraisal
Sadness Loss or failure (actual or possible) of valued role or goal
Happiness Successful move towards or completion of a valued role or goal
Anger Blocking or frustration of a role or goal through perceived agent
Fear Physical or social threat to self or valued role or goal
Disgust A person, object, or idea repulsive to the self, and to valued roles and goals

Where you can read about it

Oatley, K. & Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1987). Towards a cognitive theory of emotions. Cognition & Emotion 1(1), 29–50.

Power, M., & Dalgleish, T. (2008), Cognition and Emotion: From Order to Disorder. Psychology Press.

A 12-Point Circumplex Structure of Core Affect

(A picture from Yik, Russell, & Steiger, 2011)

Where you can read about it

Yik, M., Russell, J. A., & Steiger, J. H. (2011). A 12-point circumplex structure of core affect. Emotion 11(4), 705–731.

Component Process Model

(Individual difference variables affecting appraisals; from Scherer 2009)

Emotion disposition / Trait affect (Emotional disorder) Appraisal tendencies or biases (motivational and cognitive) Potentially facilitating culturally dominant goal, belief, value dimensions
Trait sadness Resignation, dejection, acquiescence (Depression) Mot: Strong attachment to people and propertyCog: Low self esteem, underestimation of control, coping, and adjustment potential; tendency to ruminate; Goa: interdependent goal pursuitsBel: Human nature goodVal: Conservatism, security, embeddedness, benevolence, harmony
Trait anger Irritation, irascibility, choleric (Hostility, psychoticism) Mot: Strong goal orientation, high expectationsCog: High self esteem, external attribution, blaming, overestimation of control, power, coping, and adjustment potential; exaggerated optimism Goa: Independent goal pursuitsBel: Human nature bad, normativityVal: Conservatism, self-enhancement, autonomy, entitlement, mastery
Trait anxiety Worrier, apprehensiveness, neuroticism (general anxiety disorder) Mot: PerfectionismCog: Exaggerated sensitivity for novelty, uncertainty, and urgency (looming); low self esteem, underestimation of control, coping, and adjustment potential; exaggerated pessimism Goa: Independent goal pursuitsBel: Human nature bad, normativityVal: Conservatism, self-enhancement, autonomy, entitlement, mastery
Trait shame/guilt Embarrassment, unworthiness, disconcertment, abashment(clinical shame/guilt syndromes) Mot: High need for self-worth and social recognition; conformity; perfectionismCog: Internal attribution Goa: Interdependent goal pursuitsBel: Human nature goodVal: Conservatism, embeddedness, benevolence, harmony
Trait positive affect Joyfulness, buoyancy, cheerfulness, good spirits(manic euphoria) Mot: Hedonism, realistic aimsCog: Optimism; high self esteem, overestimation of control, coping, and adjustment potential Goa: Independent goal pursuitsBel: Human nature goodVal: Embeddedness, benevolence, harmony, openness for change
Note: Mot: motivational, Cog: cognitive, Goa: goal pursuit, Bel: beliefs about human nature, Val: value dimensions.

Where you can read about it

Scherer, K. R. (2009). The dynamic architecture of emotion: Evidence for the component process model. Cognition and Emotion 23(7), 1307–1351.

The rational agent

“… the rational agent is not simply the one who follows the normative canons of logic and probability theory, and neither is she the one who follows adapted heuristics for action choice or ‘somatic markers’. Rather the rational agent is the critically self-aware agent; the one who is aware why she acts, and who modifies her own behaviour according to her self-knowledge. As Karl Popper (1990) wrote, ‘A rationalist is simply someone for whom it is more important to learn than to be proved right’…”

Lambie, J. A. (2008). On the irrationality of emotion and the rationality of awareness. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 946-971

How about this for a definition of emotion?

From Power, M. (2010, pp. 18-19) [Emotion-Focused Cognitive Therapy, Wiley-Blackwell]:

Emotions are mental and bodily states that typically comprise a constellation of physiological, behavioural and psychological processes that follow the appraisal or evaluation of a situation or event as relevant to the individual’s goals. These goals range from basic drive-based survival goals to higher-order interpersonal and aesthetic goals. There are a limited set of such emotion states that include fear, sadness, anger disgust and happiness, all of which have come to signal in a multitask multilevel system shifts in the priority of goal-based functioning and from which an infinite range of more complex emotions are derivable. These emotion states are normally short-lived in nature and need only last a matter of seconds or minutes; when they become more chronic, they are normally referred to as “moods” for which the instigating situation or event may have been forgotten. The conscious aspect of an emotion is referred to as its “affect” or “feeling”, though under many circumstances emotions can be unconscious and have no reportable affect state.

On the inseparability of intellect and emotion (from 1933)

“[…] Imagine that we are engaged in a friendly serious discussion with some one, and that we decide to enquire into the meanings of words. For this special experiment, it is not necessary to be very exacting, as this would enormously and unnecessarily complicate the experiment. It is useful to have a piece of paper and a pencil to keep a record of the progress.

“We begin by asking the ‘meaning’ of every word uttered, being satisfied for this purpose with the roughest definitions; then we ask the ‘meaning’ of the words used in the definitions, and this process is continued usually for no more than ten to fifteen minutes, until the victim begins to speak in circles—as, for instance, defining ‘space’ by ‘length’ and ‘length’ by ‘space’. When this stage is reached, we have come usually to the undefined terms of a given individual. If we still press, no matter how gently, for definitions, a most interesting fact occurs. Sooner or later, signs of affective disturbances appear. Often the face reddens; there is bodily restlessness; sweat appears—symptoms quite similar to those seen in a schoolboy who has forgotton his lesson, which he ‘knows but cannot tell’. […] Here we have reached the bottom and the foundation of all non-elementalistic meanings—the meanings of undefined terms, which we ‘know’ somehow, but cannot tell. In fact, we have reached the un-speakable level. This ‘knowledge’ is supplied by the lower nerve centres; it represents affective first order effects, and is interwoven and interlocked with other affective states, such as those called ‘wishes’, ‘intentions’, ‘intuitions’, ‘evalution’, and many others. […]

“The above explanation, as well as the neurological attitude towards ‘meaning’, as expressed by Head, is non-elementalistic. We have not illegitimately split organismal processes into ‘intellect’ and ’emotions’.”


Korzybski, A. (1933).  Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics Institute of General Semantics.

Reasoning after a terrorist attack

On Thursday the 7th of July 2005, suicide bombers set off bombs in central London. There were four bombs: three on underground trains and one on a bus. The resulting explosions killed 52 and injured 770. Blanchette, Richards, Melnyk, and Lavda (2007) investigated the effects of these attacks on how people reason, using participants from London (UK), some of whom actually witnessed the attacks or were in the same area of city, and from Manchester and London in Canada, progressively further from the affected area.

Rapid gist of the reasoning task

The authors used syllogisms as their reasoning task, selecting two forms of problem. One is classically true in some, but not all, models:

Some A are B
Some B are C, therefore
Some A are C

Here the Some A are B and the Some B are C are the premises which you’re supposed to assume are true and the Some A are C is a conclusion.

The other form they use is classically true in all models:

Some B are A
All B are C, therefore
Some A are C

The A‘s, B‘s and C‘s were instantiated with three types of content: about terrorism (e.g. suicide bombers), generally emotional content (e.g. paedophiles, leukaemia), and neutral (e.g. reading romance novels), and the conclusion of the syllogism was either believable or unbelievable. That gives a total of 12 syllogisms from crossing all the content types, believability, and whether the syllogism was classical valid or invalid. A couple of examples:

(1) Some Muslims are terrorists, some terrorists are suicide bombers, therefore some suicide bombers are Muslim.

To enter the classical mindset, imagine a world where all you know about suicide bombers and terrorists is the two premises above. It’s certainly possible that in that world there’d be no Muslim suicide bombers. The smallest example is one where there are two terrorists. One is a Muslim and a terrorist but not a suicide bomber. The other is a terrorist and a suicide bomber but not Muslim. So, classically, you’re supposed to say that this argument is invalid. The authors hypothesised that for this kind of problem, people in London would be more likely to be influenced by their beliefs and so say that the argument was valid.

(2) Some terrorist attacks are murders, all terrorist attacks are moral acts, therefore some murders are moral acts.

This is an example of an unbelievable conclusion which, with a classical interpretation, does follow from the premises (classically). If some terrorist attacks are murders then there’s (at least) one that’s a murder. But that murder is also a moral act by the second premise, therefore some murders are moral acts. You may doubt the truth of the premises however.

The first experiment—one week after the attacks

The participants (around 30 in London, 30 in Manchester, and 15 in Canada) were all asked questions about their emotional state. The Londoners (UK) showed slightly more fear than the others (mean score of 55 versus 48 for Manchester and 37 for Canada; scores ranged from 1-100). Counterintuitively, perhaps, London showed least despair and most positive emotion. The authors explain this by arguing that the Londoners had more opportunities for “active coping”, e.g. by helping the authorities with various tasks during the aftermath of the attacks.

For the reasoning part, each participant saw 4 problems, chosen at random from the 12 under the constraints that 2 were valid, and 2 unbelievable. They were asked to decide if the syllogism was valid or not. The syllogisms were scored according to whether the answer was consistent with classical logic.

In general, people were most accurate on neutral problems, followed by terrorism content, followed by general emotional. There were no differences found between the three locations in terms of overall accuracy, nor was an interaction found between content type and location.

Now an interesting result: focusing on the terrorism content and incongruent problems (believable and invalid or unbelievable and valid), participants from London were most accurate with respect to classical logic (75%), followed by Manchester (68.4%), followed by Canada (27.3%). This is not at all what the authors expected—they thought that people from London would be more likely to show effects of belief bias.

The participants were asked to predict on a scale from 1-100 how likely it was that there’d be a similar attack in Britain within one month, one year, and five years. This led to another interesting result: those who were not classical in their responses to the terrorist-incongruent conjectures gave a higher probability that there’d be an attack in the following month (a mean of 34.5 versus 19.0).

The second experiment—six months later

In each location around half of the previously recruited participants took part. The stimuli were the same, except an unseen set of materials were given to each participant. Focusing on the reasoning results, again the groups differed only for the terrorism content and incongruent problems. Londoners was most accurate (83.3%), Canada this time came second (50%), then Manchester (38.5%).

Did the result relating risk estimates to logicality still hold? We don’t know as the analysis is not reported.

Interesting stuff

I don’t want to give my spin on how to interpret this all just yet—stay tuned. But as you may guess, I’d want to argue (following, e.g., Stenning and van Lambalgen) that a broader notion of “logical” would be more useful.

Blanchette I., Richards, A., Melnyk, L., and Lavda A. (2007). Reasoning About Emotional Contents Following Shocking Terrorist Attacks: A Tale of Three Cities. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 13(1), 47-56.