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Human Behavior in Military Contexts The Science of Emotion: What People Believe, What the Evidence Shows, and Where to Go From HereLisa Feldman Barrett As common sense has it, emotions are triggered automatically, happen to people, and cause them to act in specific and diagnostic ways. An offense triggers anger. A death triggers sadness. A gun triggers fear. As the pent-up energy of an emotion is discharged, the result is a largely inescapable set of stereotyped outputs that occur rapidly, involuntarily. People feel the heat of anger and attack, the despair of sadness and cry, or the dread of fear and freeze—or even run away. The given quality of a person’s own experience, and the way that emotion seems to control behavior without awareness, is usually taken as proof that emotions are automatic responses to things that happen in the world over which people have little control. Knowledge, expectations, and beliefs seem to have little impact on emotion, although they can regulate a response once it has been triggered. As a consequence, people assume that emotions can overcome them, rapidly overriding whatever else they might have been doing, thinking, and feeling. Regulation, if it occurs at all, happens later, after the emotion has taken hold. Anger, sadness, and fear causes behavior, just as lightning causes thunder. This folk conception of emotion—with varying degrees of elaboration and complexity—forms the basis of a consensual view that guides the scientific study of emotion. Despite the differences in their surface features, the most prominent models of emotion incorporate the intuition that emotions are automatic syndromes of behavior and bodily reactions. Those models This work was supported an NIMH Independent Scientist Research Award (K02 MH001981) to Lisa Feldman Barrett from the National Institute of Mental Health.
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts also share a common set of beliefs about the nature of emotion: emotions are categories with firm boundaries that can be observed in nature (i.e., in the brain or body) and are therefore recognized, not constructed, by the human mind. People know an instance of anger when they see it in the face, voice, or body of another person or feel it in themselves. In this paper I argue that despite the general importance of emotion in the science of the mind and the ever increasing pace of research on emotion, knowledge about emotion has accumulated more slowly than for other comparable concepts, such as memory or attention, because the acceptance of these commonsense assumptions are not warranted by the available empirical evidence. I then consider what moving beyond a commonsense view might look like and what it would mean for the scientific study of emotion. A BRIEF HISTORY The Accepted History The received wisdom in psychology is that the science of emotion began with a golden age, with Darwin’s (1859/1965) publication of Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, where he wrote that emotions cause stereotypic bodily expressions. Darwin’s book was followed by James’ 1884 critique, What Is an Emotion?, in which James argued that bodily activity causes emotion, not the other way around. James, in turn, was criticized by Cannon in his 1927 paper, The James-Lange Theory of Emotions: A Critical Examination and an Alternative Theory, in which Cannon argued that the body cannot cause emotion because visceral changes are too slow and too difficult to feel and that the same visceral changes occur in both emotional and nonemotional states. Psychology, the story goes, by then in the grip of behaviorism, sank into the dark ages and did not produce anything worthwhile on the topic of emotion for about 40 years, except for some important neurobiology papers by Papez (1937) and MacLean (1949). In the conventional story, a renaissance period then emerged in the 1960s, first with Magda Arnold’s 1960 Emotion and Personality, followed by Tomkins 1962 and 1963 books on Affect-Imagery-Consciousness. Schachter and Singer’s 1962 paper, Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of an Emotional State, was also published around this time. According to many, these works rescued the scientific study of emotion from the abyss of behaviorism and launched the modern era of scientific research on emotion. Sylvan Tomkins became the inspiration for what has been called the “basic emotion” approach. Basic emotion models share the core assumption that there are certain biologically privileged kinds of emotion. Each
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts kind of emotion issue is thought to come from a dedicated neural program or circuit that arose through evolution and is hardwired into the human brain at birth. These circuits are homologous with those found in nonhuman mammals, and they are responsible for the automatic syndrome of hormonal, muscular, and autonomic effects that constitutes the distinctive signature for that kind of emotional response. In essence, the basic emotion approach is a commonsense view of emotion. Arnold, along with Schachter and Singer, it is said, launched what is called the appraisal approach to emotion. The core assumption of appraisal models is that a person’s interpretation of an event or situation is necessary for an emotional response; emotions are not triggered merely by a stimulus in a reflexive or habitual way. In Arnold’s terms, a meaning analysis is performed on the situation that is thought to evoke or triggers emotion. In Schachter and Singer’s terms, a meaning analysis is performed on a general state of arousal in the body to render it meaningful. The initial empirical evidence for the Schachter and Singer (1962) model was weak at the outset (Reisenzein, 1983), so that Arnold’s version of appraisal theory became formative for the majority of appraisal models that followed (e.g., Scherer, 1984; Frijda, 1986; Roseman, Spindel, and Jose, 1990). Revising History From a certain vantage point, the conventional history is accurate. Tomkins, Arnold, and to a lesser extent, Schachter and Singer, did have an enormous influence on shaping modern scientific thinking about emotion. But the accepted history of the field has itself been shaped by commonsense, while the actual historical record is more complicated, and more interesting. For example: Darwin did not emphasize the functionality of emotion; he argued that the facial behaviors associated with internal emotional states (what he called “emotional expressions”) are often vestiges of the evolutionary past, like a tailbone or an appendix. The emphasis on functionality came later (Allport, 1924). William James may have inspired a century of research whose goal was to uncover the invariant autonomic nervous system (ANS) and behavioral patterns that corresponded to anger, sadness, fear, and several other emotions, but he did not, in fact, argue for one invariant biobehavioral pattern for each emotion category. “Surely there is no definite affection of anger in an entitative sense” (James, 1894, p. 206). When James stated that distinct physiologic and behavioral patterns produced an emotional feeling, he meant a specific instance of emotion (e.g., an instance of anger) was distinct from other instances, as long as it feels distinct. Arnold explicitly relied on commonsense in crafting her model of emotion (Arnold, 1960, Ch. 1) and believed, following basic emotion models,
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts that anger, sadness, fear, and so on are different biological kinds that, in essence, are grounded in distinct behaviors. Arnold’s particular brand of appraisal model and those she inspired have a lot more in common with basic emotion models than is commonly assumed (see Barrett, 2006a; Barrett, Mesquita, Ochsner, and Gross, 2007). Arnold wrote: For each emotion, there is a distinct pattern that remains more or less constant and is recognized as characteristic for that emotion…. Whether we are afraid of a bear, a snake, or a thunderstorm, our bodily sensations during these experiences are very much alike … there will always be a core that is similar from person to person and even from man to animal (Arnold, 1960, p. 179). Appraisals were imbued with the power to diagnose objects or situations as personally relevant and were given responsibility for triggering emotions that pre-exist within the individual. Most important, the dark ages in emotion science never really existed. From 1900 to the 1970s, many papers and books were published on the topic of emotion. However, they were rooted in assumptions by Wundt (1897) and had a decidedly non-commonsense flavor: emotions are psychological events that can be decomposed into more basic psychological elements (Brenner, 1974; Dashiell, 1928; Duffy, 1934, 1941; Hunt, 1941; Dunlap, 1932; Mandler, 1975; Ruckmick, 1936; Schachter, 1959; Titchener, 1909; Young, 1943). The common assumption in these works is that the human experience of emotion does not necessarily reveal the causal structure of emotion. Many of these works are grounded in the observation that empirical evidence had thus far failed to produce clear and consistent evidence for the biobehavioral distinctiveness of as the events that people colloquially call anger, sadness, and fear. The only universal element in any emotional situation is the use by all the subjects of a common term of report, i.e., “fear.” That is, while stimulus conditions and actual experiential content may vary from subject to subject, all decide upon the emotion and give it a common label, “fear” (Hunt, 1941, p. 266). This observation has been echoed in several recent papers devoted to the topic (Barrett, 2006a; Ortony and Turner, 1990; Russell, 2003). The Empirical Record The Commonsense Model A comprehensive review of the entire evidentiary body of emotion research is well beyond the scope of this paper for both practical and logical
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts reasons. Practically speaking, several recent reviews of evidence in support of basic emotion (e.g., Ekman, 1992; Ekman, Campos, Davidson, and de Waal, 2003; Keltner and Ekman, 2000; Panksepp, 1998) and appraisal models (e.g., Scherer, Schorr, and Johnstone, 2001) already exist. My goal in this paper is to provide a complementary review that highlights and summarizes evidence that is potentially disconfirming of the commonsense view. A focus on disconfirming evidence is not only practical, it is logically preferable (Popper, 1959) because it will allow interested readers to evaluate whether the evidence is weak enough to be dismissed or strong enough to call the commonsense view into question. Bodily Activation Despite rigorous research efforts, the idea that categories of emotion (e.g., anger, sadness, fear) are distinguished by distinct patterns of autonomic response remains debatable (for a review, see Barrett, 2006a). Although some studies have reported emotion-specific patterns of ANS and behavioral activation for at least some emotions (e.g., Ekman, Levenson, and Friesen, 1983; Levenson, Carstensen, Friesen, and Ekman, 1991; Levenson, Ekman, and Friesen, 1990; Mauss, Levenson, McCarter, Wilhelm, and Gross, 2005; Nyklicek, Thayer, and Van Doornen, 1997; Sinha, Lovallo, and Parsons, 1992; Stemmler, 1989; see Levenson, 1992), these are set against a backdrop of studies that suggest the claim of invariant emotion-specific ANS activity is unwarranted. Meta-analytic evidence indicates that there are few, if any, stable physiological patterns for categories of emotion (Cacioppo, Berntson, Larsen, Poehlmann, and Ito, 2000). Face and Voice The lack of emotion-related patterning that is observed in autonomic measurements can also be seen in almost all measurement modalities (Barrett, 2006a). There is an on-going, lively debate about whether perception-based studies of the face and voice (where one person judges emotion in the face or voice of another) give evidence of discrete emotion categories (see, e.g., Ekman, 1994; Elfenbein and Ambady, 2002; Izard, 1994; Russell, 1994, 1995; Keltner and Ekman, 2000; Russell, Bachorowski, and Fernandez-Dols, 2003). It is important to consider, however, that studies of emotion perception (often called “emotion recognition”) commonly use posed facial configurations that depict caricatures of emotion. In contrast to a prototypical expression (an expression that is closest to the average set of features for a kind of emotion), a caricature departs from the central tendency of its category in a way that will make it maximally distinctive from other categories. For example, an anger prototype would depict the average set of facial movements that have been identified as naturally occurring in actual anger episodes; in contrast, an anger caricature depicts facial movements that are exaggerated to maximally distinguish it from facial depictions of other emotion categories, such
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts as fear. In comparison with prototypes, caricatures are more accurately categorized as belonging to a concept when the concepts in question are highly interrelated (Goldstone, Steyvers, and Rogosky, 2003). Production-based studies of emotion in the face and voice (in which researchers measure facial muscle movements and vocal behaviors during emotionally evocative events) have thus far failed to provide clear evidence of signature patterns for particular categories of emotion. Recent summaries of the literature conclude that the bulk of evidence has failed to support the hypothesis that distinct patterns of facial muscle activity and vocal acoustics distinguish anger, sadness, fear, and so on (Cacioppo et al., 1997, 2000; Russell et al., 2003). This assessment is consistent with the evidence from infant (Camras, Lambrecht, and Michel, 1996; Camras et al., 2002; Hiatt, Compos, and Emde, 1979) and animal communication research (Seyfarth and Cheney, 2003): it has become clear that babies and animals rarely produce involuntary, reflexive displays of their emotional states. Taken together, this evidence suggests that facial movements and vocal signals do not necessarily “display” information about the sender’s emotional state (see Russell et al., 2003), even though people routinely perceive those behaviors as coordinated “expressions.” Instrumental Behaviors The evidence is also lacking for distinct behavioral profiles for each category of emotion (for a review, see Barrett, 2006a). Behavioral responses, such as flight or fight, are specific, context-bound attempts to deal with a situation and so correspond to situational demands (Cacioppo et al., 2000; Lang, Bradley, and Cuthbert, 1990). If a fear-situation is defined by the presence of threat (e.g., a predator), then fear is associated with a range of different behaviors (from vigilance, to freezing, to flight, to attack), depending on the functional demands of the situation. In rats, for example, the threat (or defense) system is organized so that an animal will engage in different behaviors, depending on its psychological distance from a predator (e.g., Fanselow and Lester, 1988); this suggests that there is no one-to-one correspondence between a particular instrumental behavior and a specific emotion. Similar behavior-situation links have been observed for systems that secure desired objects, like food (Timberlake, 1994) and sexual behavior (Akins, Domjan, and Gutierrez, 1994; Akins, 2000; see Bouton, 2005). Similarly, people can attack or withdraw or even smile in anger. Given that physiological activation provides support for behavioral demands (Obrist, 1981; Obrist et al., 1970), and the same feeling can be associated with a variety of behaviors, it seems unlikely that scientists will ever find emotion-specific autonomic patterning. Subjective Experience Contrary to popular belief, it is far from clear that everyone necessarily experiences anger, sadness, fear, and so on, as
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts qualitatively different states. Despite early factor analytic evidence that self-reports produced discrete groupings of subjective experience (e.g., Borgatta, 1961; Nowlis, 1965; Izard, 1972), there is little consistent evidence that people, on average, routinely distinguish between feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and so on. Such reports of negative emotion experience tend to correlate so highly that they often fail capture any unique variance (e.g., Feldman, 1993; Watson and Clark, 1984; Watson and Tellegen, 1985). Even scales that are explicitly built to measure discrete emotions tend to suffer from high correlations between reports of like-valenced states (e.g., Boyle, 1986; Zuckerman and Lubin, 1985; Watson and Clark, 1994). As a result, many researchers measure broad dimensions of positive and negative activation (e.g., Watson, Clark, and Tellegen, 1988), pleasure-displeasure (valence), or feelings of activation or arousal (e.g., Barrett and Russell 1998; Mayer and Gaschke, 1988; Russell, Weiss, and Mendelsohn, 1989). Idiographic studies of emotion experience demonstrate that there is considerable individual variation in emotional granularity—the extent to which people characterize their experiences in discrete emotional or in broadly affective terms (Barrett, 1998, 2004; Barrett, Gross et al., 2001; Feldman, 1995). Individuals high in granularity use the words “angry,” “sad,” and “afraid” to represent distinct experiences; those low in granularity use the words to represent a more general state of feeling “unpleasant.” The same is generally true for pleasant emotional states, with those in high in granularity using the words “happy,” “calm,” and “excited” to refer to distinct experiences, while those lower in granularity use these words to refer to a more general “pleasant” affective state. Individuals who are granular for unpleasant emotions also tend to be granular for pleasant emotions, although the two are not perfectly correlated (Linquist and Barrett, in press). These differences are not fully accounted for by verbal intelligence or how well people understand the meaning of emotion words. Neural Circuitry Meta-analyses of neuroimaging studies of emotion have failed to provide evidence for consistent and specific brain circuitry that distinguishes anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and happiness (for reviews, see Barrett 2006a; Barrett and Wager, 2006). In general, the findings from these meta-analyses are very similar to the pattern of findings for the psychophysiological data on emotion: unique activation patterns for each category of emotion were generally less consistent than expected. Furthermore, alternative explanations were not ruled out when consistency was observed. For example, the amygdala is widely believed to represent a core “fear system” in the brain, yet the meta-analyses found that no more than 60 percent of studies of fear reported increased activation in the amygdala. Moreover, stimulus features such as novelty (e.g., Wilson and Rolls, 1993; Wright, Martis et al., 2003) or uncertainty (Davis and Whalen, 2001; Kim,
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts Somerville et al., 2003; Whalen, Rauch et al., 1998) also activate the amygdala and were not ruled out as alternative explanations for the observed findings. Furthermore, simple perceptual cues (e.g., eye gaze) determine whether or not facial depictions of fear result in an increase in amygdala activation (Adams, Gordon et al., 2003), and individuals with amygdala damage can correctly classify facial depictions of fear when their attention is directed towards the eyes of a stimulus face (Adolphs, Gosselin et al., 2005). Taken together, the evidence suggests that the amygdala is not the brain locus of fear, although it seems to play an important role in affective processing. What the Evidence Shows Even as scientific studies of emotion do not provide clear evidence for the biological or behavioral distinction between emotion categories, they do give clear and consistent evidence for a distinction between positive and negative affective states. Objective measurements used in the study of emotion, such as peripheral nervous system activation (Bradley and Lang, 2000); Cacioppo et al., 1997, 2000), facial movements (Cacioppo et al., 1997, 2000; Messinger, 2002), vocal cues (Bachorowski, 1999), expressive behavior (Cacioppo and Gardner, 1999), and neural activations (Barrett and Wager, 2006) all give evidence of the intensity or hedonic quality (pleasantness or unpleasantness) of a person’s affective state. Furthermore, facial behaviors, reports of experience, and peripheral nervous system activity show strong correspondences for the affective properties of valence and intensity; effect sizes range from 0.76 to 0.90 (Lang, Greenwald et al., 1993), even when they do not show strong correspondences for anger, sadness, fear, and so on (for a review, see Barrett, 2006a). That is, affect, rather than emotion, seems to meet the criteria for a biologically verifiable state. “Affect” is generally used to refer to any state that represents how an object or situation influences a person. The term “core affect” has been recently introduced to refer to a basic, psychologically primitive state that can be described by two psychological properties: hedonic valence (pleasure/displeasure) and arousal (activation/sleepiness). It is also possible to describe core affect in terms of related properties, such as energetic arousal (wide awake/sleepy) and tense arousal (tense/calm) (Rafaeli and Revelle, 2006; Thayer, 1989), or as negative activation (anxiety to calm) and positive activation (excitement to fatigue) (Watson and Tellegen, 1985). These terminology differences really amount to preferences in how one describes the same affective space, and the different dimensions can be mathematically derived from one another (Russell and Barrett, 1999). Core affect has been characterized as the constant stream of transient alterations in an organism’s neurophysiological and somatovisceral states that represent
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts its immediate relationship to the flow of changing events (Barrett, 2006b; Russell, 2003; Russell and Barrett, 1999). In a sense, core affect is a neurophysiologic barometer of an individual’s relationship to an environment at a given time. To the extent that an object or event changes a person’s “internal milieu,” it can be said to have affective meaning; these changes are what is meant when one says that a person has an affective reaction to an object or stimulus. They are the means by which information about the external world is translated into an internal code or representations (Nauta, 1971; Damasio, 1999; Ongur and Price, 2000). Core affect functions as a kind of “core knowledge” (see Spelke, 2000), the hard wiring for which is present at birth (Bridges, 1932; Emde, Gainsbauer, and Harmon, 1976; Spitz, 1965; Sroufe, 1979) and is homologous in other mammalian species (Cardinal, Parkinson et al., 2002; Rolls, 1999; Schneirla, 1959). Core affect is universal to all humans (Russell, 1983; Wierzbicka, 1992; Scherer, 1997; Mesquita, 2003), is evident in all instrument-based measures of emotion (for a review, see Barrett, 2006b), and forms the core of emotion experience (Barrett et al., 2007; Russell, 2003). Core affect (i.e., the neurophysiological state) is available to consciousness, and it is experienced as feeling pleasant or unpleasant (valence) and, to a lesser extent, as activated or deactivated (arousal) (for a review, see Russell and Barrett, 1999). If core affect is a neurophysiologic barometer that sums up an individual’s relationship to the environment at a given time, then self-reported feelings are the barometer readings. Feelings of core affect provide a common metric for comparing qualitatively different events (Cabanac, 2002). Core affect is a precondition for first-person experiences of the world, language fluency, and memory; it modulates sensory processing to influence what people actually see, and in doing it so forms the core of conscious experience (for a review, see Duncan and Barrett, 2007). A person’s core affective state is largely, although not exclusively, influenced by a process that has been called evaluation (Bargh and Ferguson, 2000; Brendl and Higgins, 1995; Tesser and Martin, 1996), appraisal (Arnold, 1960) or primary appraisal (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984), or valuation (Barrett, 2006c). Valuation can be thought of as a simple form of meaning analysis in which something is judged as helpful or harmful in a given instance, producing some change in a person’s core affective state. Judgments about whether stimuli or events are helpful or harmful or rewarding or threatening (whether those judgments are fleeting and automatic or more deliberate and effortful) help to influence the valence property of core affect. There is consensus across a broad swath of psychological research that humans evaluate and that the process of valuation is a basic aspect of mammalian functioning. People continually and automatically evaluate situations and objects (Bargh and Ferguson, 2000, but see Storbeck and Robinson, 2004) for their relevance and value—that is, whether or not
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts object properties signify something important to well-being, leading to moment-to-moment fluctuations in core affect. An object is valuable when it is important to survival (Davis and Whalen, 2001) or when it is relevant to immediate goals (Rogers 1959; Smith and Kirby, 2001). Valuation largely occurs outside of awareness and conscious control (for a recent review, see Moors and De Houwer, 2006). Summary Overall, the available evidence suggests that there is no clear objective way to measure the experience of emotion. Emotion categories—such as anger, sadness, and fear—have thus far not clearly and consistently revealed themselves in the data on feelings, facial and vocal behaviors, peripheral nervous system responses, or instrumental behaviors. It has not yet been shown whether there are distinct brain markers for each emotion, but so far the available evidence does not encourage a commonsense view. However, scientists are able to assess a person’s affective state (i.e., pleasure and displeasure) by indirect (see Berridge and Winkielman, 2003), experiential (Russell and Barrett, 1999), and objective means (in the face or body, e.g., Cacioppo et al., 2000). This affective state is a basic and core element in emotional responding. THE EMOTION PARADOX The evidence presented thus far frames a fundamental emotion paradox: people seem compelled by their own experiences to believe that emotions are biological categories given by nature, but objective, instrument-based measures of emotion provide evidence only of a person’s core affective state. How this dilemma is resolved depends on how seriously the evidence that is inconsistent with the commonsense view is treated. One way to resolve the emotion paradox is to assume that the data are flawed or otherwise not sufficient for testing the hypothesis that discrete emotions have distinct biobehavioral signatures. Social factors, such as display rules (cf. Ekman, 1972) or other regulation processes, might mask or inhibit prepotent responses that would otherwise be easy to measure. Response systems differ in their temporal dynamics, sensitivity, and reliability of measurement, and this might obscure the measurement of any patterns that exist (cf. Bradley and Lang, 2000). Moreover, laboratory studies of emotion do not use emotion-eliciting stimuli that are strong enough to produce prototypical emotional responses and this may be why they are not observed (cf. Tassinary and Cacioppo, 1992).
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts In any of the research areas reviewed thus far, it is possible to find additional caveats to explain why the expected results have not been found. Self-reports are flawed, and experience may be epiphenomenal to emotion. Facial muscle measurements are too coarse-grained to capture complex sets of facial movements, and perceiver-based judgments of facial movements provide stronger evidence for the commonsense view. Most psychophysiological studies measure only a few output channels, providing a less than optimal test of the question of autonomic specificity. And neuroimaging investigations of emotion are just beginning, tend to confuse emotion perception with emotion induction, and do not give sufficient spatial resolution (not to mention the fact that people must lay immobilized inside a scanner). In sum, it is possible that distinct, natural kinds of emotions will reveal themselves in the brain and body if only scientists could find the right eliciting stimuli, have better measurement tools, or use more sophisticated and precise research designs. Although any of these explanations may be correct, an equally plausible explanation is that scientists have failed to observe stable and reliable biobehavioral patterns for each emotion because they are not there. If the commonsense view is held to the same empirical standard as other emotion models, then it is fair to say that the supporting evidence is equivocal at best. The evidence suggests the real possibility that there are no emotion mechanisms in the brain waiting to be discovered, producing a priori packets of outcomes in the body. Emotions may not be given to humans by nature, which raises the question of whether they are the appropriate categories to support a cumulative science. SUGGESTIONS FOR A NEW PARADIGM For the most part, the field of emotion has accepted the first solution to the emotion paradox by explaining away disconfirming evidence as the result of imprecise measures, flawed experimental designs, and so on. This solution comes with large price tag: some of the most fundamental questions about human emotion remain unanswered, and the majority of the empirical findings related to emotion do not seem to produce cumulative knowledge in the procrustean process of trying to fit the data into discrete categories. To be sure, better research about emotion means conducting better studies with better research tools. But it may also require a fundamental change in the way that researchers ask and answer questions about emotion. In essence, progress may require crafting a new scientific paradigm for the study of emotion.
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts sion, see Öhman and Mineka, 2001)—but for the most part, people have to learn whether objects in the world are helpful or harmful. An object’s value is determined by its ability to change a person’s affective state. At least three questions seem important: What are the fast, rule-based and slow, associative mechanisms by which such learning occurs (see Bliss-Moreau, Barrett, and Wright, 2007; De Houwer, Thomas, and Baeyens, 2001; De Houwer, Baeyens, and Field, 2005)? How malleable is such learning (see Bouton, 2005)? Are there individual differences in such learning (see Bliss-Moreau et al., 2006)? It would also be beneficial to study the processes involved in overcoming such learning in the moment. For example, it is well documented that there are individual differences in the capacity to use controlled processing to overcome a prepotent or habitual response (Barrett, Tugade, and Engle, 2004). A second set of questions involve the conceptual processes that contribute to the construction of emotion out of the more basic and primitive form of affective responding. For example, little is known about how language and conceptual knowledge for emotion lead people to see “anger” or “fear” in another person. Presumably, this distinction is important, because it will determine what sort of behavior the perceiver anticipates in the target person (e.g., aggression or withdrawal) and therefore what the perceiver does next. There is growing evidence from both social psychology and cognitive neuroscience research that language and conceptual information influence the perception of emotion in others. Biological measures of semantic processing (the N400 ERP signal and increased activity in the inferior frontal cortex) indicate that conceptual knowledge participates in emotion perception as early as 200 milliseconds after the presentation of an emotional face (Balconi and Pozzoli, 2005; Nakamura et al., 1999; Streit et al., 1999, 2003). Furthermore, when words for emotion are temporarily taken offline (using a behavioral paradigm called semantic satiation, which is the opposite of priming), judgments of emotions in the faces of other people are impaired (Lindquist, Barrett, Bliss-Moreau, and Russell, 2006), as is the ability to literally construct an image of a face as emotional (Gendron, Lindquist, Barrett, and Barsalou, 2006). The link between conceptual knowledge and emotion perception suggests that what people know about emotion will influence the emotions that they perceive in others (and in themselves). Yet scientists know very little about the content and structure of the conceptual system for emotion that plays a role in emotion perception. As children, people are socialized to learn the semantic, interpersonal, and behavioral scripts associated with specific emotion labels in their culture (Harris, 1993). Children as young as 2 readily label their emotional experiences (Bretherton, McNew, and Meeghly-Smith, 1981), but how they use such labels is another story (Widen and Russell, 2003). They rapidly learn the type of psychological events and
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts abstract situations that are associated with particular emotion labels (e.g., fear, sadness, happiness, anger, guilt; see, e.g., Harris et al., 1987), and they are also aware of the typical actions and expressions that are supposed to accompany a particular emotional state (Trabasso, Stein, and Johnson, 1981). However, there may be significant variation in terms of how those rudimentary concepts are elaborated on the basis of episodic experience later in life. When individuals do not learn from experience, their emotion knowledge may be more stereotypic and less sensitive to changing contexts. Those individuals who do learn from experience will have more complex emotion representations and will have a greater range of personal cues to activate those representations and produce discrete emotional experiences. Presumably, the more that knowledge about the situation in incorporated in understanding what anger (or fear or sadness) is and what to do about it, the more precisely tailored an emotional response will be to the situation, resulting in more effective behavior and decision making. It is not just what a person knows, but how he or she uses that knowledge that determines whether an emotion perception is adaptive and effective. The conceptual act model suggests that functional emotional behavior will depend in part on the resources that people have to use the conceptual knowledge they possess, especially when emotion perception is occurring in stressful situations (i.e., under cognitive load). A number of studies show that knowledge structures that are activated outside of awareness can have a profound influence on people’s subsequent thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (for a review, see Bargh and Chartrand, 1999). When the concept “old” is activated, college-aged participants walk slower (Bargh, Chen, and Burrows, 1996). When the concept “African American” is activated, European American participants act more aggressively (Bargh, Chen, and Burrows, 1996). These effects can be overcome with more controlled processing, but only when sufficient cognitive resources are available. A similar result may occur with emotion knowledge. As a result, it is reasonable to hypothesize that executive resources (such as working memory capacity) will influence the modularity of emotion perception and emotional action. A cognitive module is defined as a fast, domain-specific set of processes that have evolved to handle particular types of information. Modules are assumed to be encapsulated and impenetrable (activities and outputs cannot be influenced by other classes of information, such as expectations or beliefs), reflexive (they provide predetermined outputs when predetermined inputs are present), and unconscious (it is impossible to reflect on the operations of a module). Working memory capacity can produce a kind of “functional modularity,” however, when a system appears modular but only because of insufficient attention (rather than because of the architecture of the brain; see Barrett, Tugade, and Engel, 2004). Individuals who are lower in working memory capacity, or in situations that require
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Human Behavior in Military Contexts intensive attentional resources, may produce functionally modular or reflex-like responses that will be less strategic and flexible, and therefore less functionally effective. Theoretical Implications The conceptual act model not only suggests novel and innovative avenues of research for understanding what emotions are and how they function, but it emphasizes several broader themes that are important when understanding social behavior. First, the model emphasizes the relativity of emotion perception. Context influences the emotions that are perceived in both ambiguous (Carroll and Russell 1996; Fernandez-Dols, Wallbott, and Sanchez, 1991) and in nonambiguous (Trope, 1986) circumstances. For example, people of non-Western cultures have a more difficult time than those in Western cultures in categorizing facial behaviors into Western categories (Elfenbein and Ambady, 2002). Although people categorize facial behaviors effortlessly and often without awareness, this does not constitute evidence that categorization is a matter of merely “decoding” innate information that is “encoded” into the face. Second, the conceptual act model also has important psychological and philosophical implications for the relativity of social perception. If conceptual knowledge of categories shapes the perception of social reality, and if learning shapes conceptual development, then learning may play a much larger role in shaping social reality than previously assumed. The malleable nature of category knowledge suggests that the construction of people’s social worlds may be vastly more culturally and individually determined than commonsense implies. Finally, the conceptual act model emphasizes the malleability of emotion perception. If conceptual knowledge intrinsically shapes the emotion that people see in others, then acquisition and elaboration of culturally bound emotion categories may influence people’s perceptual capacities. Knowing about a person’s culture will help to identify that person’s emotional state and therefore better predict his or her behavior. It may be that people can be taught to become better emotion perceivers and, hence, better communicators. In this way, cultural competence should contribute to cross-cultural relations and international diplomacy. Recent research has focused on the role of transnational competence (e.g., Koehn and Rosenau, 2002) in the development of successful transnational networks, projects, and diplomatic efforts. Training people to understand the fundamental differences in people’s experiences of the world might allow for better communication and collaboration in today’s global society.
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