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Cognition and emotions

The technology and science involved in attaining pleasure is often referred to as hedonics One of the main identities of civilization has been the desire for pleasure and maximization of it. Hedonosymbionics involves attaining an altered or diverse perception of mind including transcendental or mystic state. Although this is done for spiritual development and knowledge, it is often pursued to achieve pleasurable experiences. Hedonipharmicology is the attainment of ecstasy through drugs and the abuse of it.

For instance Nanoxetine is used to improve confidence and self-image while Rhombinol allows regression of mind to primitive states and Neorexin helps in avoiding sleep (Kazlev, 2004). Elaborate research has been done to study mental states, its development, persistence and its effects. The study of cognition and emotion have enormous implications for the betterment of mankind. Such studies have notable significance in children because early development stages of cognition and emotion are crucial to later developments.

The early initial years of a child’s life are considered important for the emotional, social and cognitive development. The need for children to grow in such suitable environments where these needs are met is obviously important. Children who grow in distraught environments, which do not meet these needs, end up with learning and developmental delays. Infants (birth to one year old) learn to recognize sounds and voices and begin to focus its vision from the periphery of the eyes to the centre. Infants take to cognitive recognition by perceiving and manipulating objects.

The baby begins to grasp basic language development by listening and knowing the names of people and things. Physical interaction with the child like holding, hugging and playing with it define the way it would interact with others. The hugging and holding of the baby, helps the baby in developing bonds of trust. When infants are between 18 and 24 months, or in the sensorimotor period, they achieve object permanence, which is they realize the presence of the object although they may not be observable.

The Cognition and emotional development in children is a comparatively recent but widely studied field and associated with developmental psychology. Developmental psychology may be defined as the study of behavioral changes from birth to death, aimed at establishing the cause for such changes. For several centuries, infants and children were initially thought to be incapable of thoughts and feelings, in response to circumstances around them. Childhood was considered a period in which the mind was not organized and not properly formed.

It is no wonder therefore that there is no history of notable theories on mental development stretching from infancy to adulthood. It was in the last quarter of the nineteenth century that child behavior, observation and their mental development was acknowledged. Although research in developmental psychology is mainly attributed to child development, there is also an increasing interest in older people, than for other ages. Most developmentalists agree that behavior development is associated with genetic and environmental factors. However the extent to which these factors affects, is speculated.

Another important aspect of children’s growth is whether this growth occurs continuously or in stages. A brief analysis of cognition and emotions 3 Cognitive psychology may be defined as the theoretical approach into understanding thought, memory and human perception. Cognitive psychology analyses the way prospective students learn and grasp information and their final level of understanding. Bruning (1995) says the aim of teaching is not to transmit information but to encourage knowledge development by developing their ability to judge, organize and acquire new information.

Piaget (1969) emphasized that students understand things better when they learn through experimentation and enquiry rather than hearing it from their teacher. The cognitive theories of emotion are associated with the development of emotions, specifying the mechanisms associated with it. The idea that emotion is the result of an event’s or object’s association with an individual’s aspiration and concern has been revealed by Aristotle in the 17th century. Contemporary cognitive theories, particularly the appraisal theories emphasize on the evaluative process behind elicitation and categorization of emotions.

The term ‘emotion’ is indicative of small feelings of likes and dislikes to heavy emotional states. Although the exact definition of emotion is greatly varied among researchers in emotion, a high level of literary agreement is found in the areas of expression, physiology and subjective feeling. Emotions are not always associated with facial expressions (Ekman 1992). The term ‘cognition’ in emotion elicitation includes all simple sensory information processing to very complex processing. The stage theories like that of Sigmund Freud emphasizes that development occurs in predetermined stages and sequences.

Other theorists advocate a continues, gradual development. The existence and importance of certain crucial and sensitive phases in the course of human development is also widely acknowledged. Such sensitive periods corresponds to growth when the individual is utmost responsive to particular biological or environmental occurrences. Emotional conflict and attachment during early childhood is attributed to later psychological impacts. Broadly speaking, developmental psychology may be branched into emotional development and intellectual development.

The emotional development relates to the personal-social attribute, while the intellectual development relates to the intelligence and linguistic attributes. Face recognition and object recognition are performed through different functions by different areas within the brain. Several disorders like alexia, prosopagnosia and visual agnosia develop when recognition process is impaired. Social cognition attempts to relate personal-social development with intellectual development. Among the several theories that attempt to analyze development process, Jean Piaget’s stage theory is also a prominent one.

Piaget’s theory was first published in 1952, which equated a child’s knowledge to schemas of basic knowledge, which helps in understanding past and new experiences. According to Piaget, theses schemas are constantly modified by processes, which he preferred as ‘assimilation’ and ‘accommodation’. Incorporating new information into prevailing schema is referred to as ‘assimilation’ while ‘accommodation’ is changes within schema for accommodating new knowledge. Cognitive development according to Piaget is a continuous effort to balance assimilation and accommodation in order to achieve equilibrium. The process of

A brief analysis of cognition and emotions 4 cognitive development occurs through four universal stages of infancy; toddler and early childhood; elementary and early adolescence; and adolescence and adulthood. The development in each stage is associated with an increased level of thinking. Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, a Soviet psychologist, emphasized in his theory of cognitive development, that social interaction and culture are crucial to the development of thinking ability (Ratner). Vygotsky believed that all development including child development is based on interaction between people and the social environment they live in.

He considered cultural and traditional, symbols and signs as instruments of cognitive development. The mathematical symbols, written language and human speech bear with them a meaning and a sociocultural pattern. These also help individuals to adapt higher cognitive functions, prior to adolescence. These cultural representations helps to integrate the growing child in to the culture and also help to mould the child’s mind. These cultural tools are learnt by the child through its interaction with parents and teachers and initially uses these tools with their help.

Later they begin to use these tools independently and develop advanced mental functions. Vygotsky’s theory reiterates the idea that learning leads to development and development leads to learning. From Aristotle to Sartre, many philosophers have devoted considerable attention to the analysis of emotions. Mental states in general with some exceptions, are directed towards their objects. The mental states are intentionally conceived towards purported targets (Boruah, 1988). Most of the major human emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, pride, pity, grief, indignation, remorse, regret and gratitude are based on intentionality and object directed.

Many philosophers are of the view that emotions are belief-dependent, judgmental mental states. They argue that the analysis of an emotion involves reference to the subject’s thought or belief about the object of the emotion. However, some have pointed out that emotions should be more attributed to a heterogeneous group, as all emotions cannot be herded together has thought-generated, thought defined or belief dependent. For instances, watching sunset on a summer evening is a wonderful experience and a delightful feeling. But it is not appropriate to account this feeling with any reference to belief about sunset.

There are several theories attributed to emotions, originating from diverse sources. From Ancient Greeks to modern scholars, several philosophers had put forth their ideas on emotion. Natural scientists like animal behaviourists and physiologists have contemplated on the evolution and purpose of emotion. Coping is another psychological process related to emotions which is described by Lazarus and Folkman, as managing certain internal or external demands by constantly changing one’s cognitive demands and behaviour efforts (Rodriguez, 1995).

William James and Carl Lange put fourth separate theories that physical changes give rise to corresponding emotional feeling. Generally it is believed that physical changes associated with an emotion occurs due to the emotional experiences. A feel tone is generated in response to the mental level. However James and Lange in their theory emphasize that it is the physical changes, which give rise to the emotional feeling. James explained that ‘the bodily changes follow directly the exciting A brief analysis of cognition and emotions 5 fact.

’ According to James, the body is more like a sounding board, which in response to neural impulses create waves of change that is sensed by brain as emotional feeling (Hager). As the neural actions can create several bodily patterns, emotions are also appropriately formed and can only be categorized arbitrarily. This theory is also called the ‘Peripheral theory’ as changes take place in the peripheral parts of the body rather that in the brain. The James-Lange theory attracted a wide attention and the theory was tested by several experimental investigations.

In people suffering from certain neurological diseases, bodily changes associated with emotions cannot be felt. However, even in such cases, patients have reported emotional experience. Another aspect of the theory is that the bodily changes is effected immediately by the nervous system, but modern research indicates that certain emotional changes would take a longer time to occur. James believed that there were no brain centres specific to emotion, which again is highly doubted, given the recent findings. W. B Cannon and P.

Bard conducted several surgical experiments to find out if there was any brain centre or specialized location in the brain responsible for emotions. With their experiments on dog’s brain, they concluded that if the hypothalamus were interfered with, the animal would lose its ability to react emotionally. Cannon and Bard proposed that emotional behaviour and its associated bodily changes are activated by hypothalamus. The cerebral cortex perceives a real or imaginary affecting situation and directly stimulates the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus is also associated with the functioning of the automatic nervous system, which is closely connected, with the experience of emotions. However, further experimentation in the form of artificial stimulation of the hypothalamus, have disapproved the theory. Although hypothalamus was responsible for bodily changes, it was not responsible for triggering emotions. The appraisal theories were initially developed in response to behaviourism and emphasizes thought process as a link between object and response.

The appraisal theory was initiated with the work of Arnold and Lazarus in the sixties, which emphasized on a stimulus for emotion-arousal. The stimulus for emotion arousal is based on personal relevance and meaning to it. The relevance of an event and our relationship to that event is determined by our present intentions and previous experiences. The emotion response in this is based on the appraised understanding of the event. In principle, the appraisal theory facilitates both high and low level of cognitive processing with respect to emotions. However, evidence show that the appraisal approach is more in favour of high level processing.

Subsequent to Arnold and Lazarus theory formulations, several experiments were carried out using various commentaries for a stressful film. It was observed that the stress reactions of participants seeing the film was influenced by the different commentaries associated with the film. When the commentaries were not associated with the traumatic characteristics of the film, the participants showed lower skin conductance responses. The participants showed higher skin conductance responses when the film was either presented without a commentary or when the traumatic aspects of the film was emphasized.

Lazarus repeated the experiments by varying the A brief analysis of cognition and emotions 6 commentary and the time of the commentary. Denial commentary was used and in one situation some denial commentary preceded the film with a major portion of the denial commentary accompanying the film. In another situation, the entire denial commentary preceded the film. It was observed that skin conductance activity declined and pleasantness ratings were higher in the denial conditions. The lowest skin conductance was observed when full denial commentary was provided beforehand.

The findings showed that denial information heavily influenced the way an event was appraised. It was also revealed that providing full denial commentary beforehand gave time to form ideas and analyse information, which was the most effective way in changing people’s appraisal as stressful. The study showed how higher cognitive activity like beliefs and expectations play a role in appraising a threat towards negative stimuli, altering the emotional response. The emotional reaction is more based on the subjective evaluation of an event rather than the objective characteristics of the event.

The assumption that cognition is necessary for emotion elicitation is a subject of debate between Lazarus and Zajonc. Zajonc considers affect as a functionally different process from cognition, which can be created without any previous cognitive process. The affective properties first generate a stimulus, which is then followed by the cognitive processes. Zajonc and few other theorists argue that cognitive processing might only be one of several ways to produce emotion. Izard (1993) highlights the fact that since emotions have an important role in evolution and adjustment, there must probably be a neural mechanism to trigger emotion.

Zajonc argues for two different emotion elicitation systems based on research showing that preferences are formed for stimuli, which is not consciously conceived. Zajonc’s “affective primacy hypothesis” claims that affective reactions are generated with bare stimulus input and without any cognitive processing. The hypothesis has generated much interest and research in the field of perception and emotion. Zajonc and Murphy performed an experiment to establish positive and negative attributes for an earlier conceived neutral stimulus, using the priming procedure.

The effects of “affective” and “cognitive” priming on the judgment of neutral targets under short and long duration of the primes were compared. Face pictures showing anger and happiness were used for affective primes while squares, circles and other objects were used as cognitive primes. It was observed that the affective primes at suboptimal level induced significant shifts in the evaluation of good or bad towards the targets. On the other hand, the cognitive primes only influenced the judgments on the meaning of the projected representations like small, large, symmetric or asymmetric, in the optimal level.

It was therefore perceived that affects elicitation above conscious levels, is diffused with unspecified origins and the nonconcious affect can encroach into unrelated stimuli. According to Murphy and Zajonc, when the origin of affect is known as corresponding to optimum perception, then the affective reaction is more likely to be transferred to related stimuli. Scholars studying evaluative conditioning mechanisms have produced empirical evidence to support that transfer of affect from one stimulus onto a contingent neutral stimulus, takes place outside of the contingency awareness.

A brief analysis of cognition and emotions 7 Following Lazarus, several appraisal theories of emotion were developed to analyse emotion particularly in elicitation and differentiation of emotions (Scherer 2000). Despite the diverse disciplinary and the traditional background of the authors involved in the study, considerable agreement is established with respect to the appraisal criteria proposed by the different theories.

The perception of an environment change that catches a subject’s attention, the perception of pleasantness or unpleasantness of an event and evaluating one’s own response based on social or standard norms are some aspects of the theories which have found common grounds. The appraisal patterns obtained empirically is to some extent in agreement with theoretical patterns for various emotions. Research into social cognition shows that evolution of effective stimuli without conscious processing or elaborative cognitive would have an effect on the subsequent processing.

Modern clinical research on attention and emotion includes information-processing models to help analyse the role of emotional states and traits in sustaining emotional thoughts. Research into attention analyses in people with emotional disturbance have resulted in appropriate adaptation of the theories within cognitive psychology. People with emotional disturbance show attentional bias to information that has relevance to their worries and concerns. A low level automatic process is responsible for biasing attention to relevant information, which is activated by certain stimuli inputs.

Non-clinical groups exhibiting significant trait emotion have also been found to possess attentional bias effect. The attentional bias effect has also been observed in normal participants, subsequent to emotion induction. However, the bias effects in such cases is less prominent than in clinical patients. All theories of emotion have concentrated on the level and pace of emotional processing. The subject dominating all discussions in emotion analyses is that whether emotions follow cognition or cognition follows emotion, as reflected in the Zajonic-lazarus debate.

Lazarus emphasized that emotion cannot occur without a cognitive appraisal. Zajonic argued that the effect or emotion occurs before cognition. A broad look into the stand would reveal that the disagreements were mainly based on the definition of cognition. Zajonic considered cognition as a form of mental process while Lazarus considered cognition as a primitive evaluative perception. LeDoux through his experiments showed that fear conditioning or fear assessments are carried out by two types of processing by the brain.

The brain has two pathways to inform the animal of an impeding danger. One is the fast pathway in which the information is sent to the emotive brain centres through a direct route. The other slower pathway subjects information to higher processing of stimuli, before it can reach the brain centres. Therefore in emotion preceding cognition or vice versa, both holds true in the old debate (Alexander, 2007). Recent models attempting to describe appraisal as processing at multiple cognitive levels, emphasises the need to define the processes beneath emotion elicitation.

The current models need to be further refined and specific to allow testable hypothesis. Incorporating neuroscientific facts behind emotion relevant processing and developing the experimentation techniques could help in better understanding of multilevel appraisal models. A brief analysis of cognition and emotions.


Rodriguez R. A (1995) Walking Down The Concrete Jungle: The Coping Processes Of Female Streetwalkers [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on May 12th 2007 from

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