To What Extent Are Cognitive Processes Influenced by Emotion

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To what extent are cognitive processes influenced by emotion?

The debates surrounding the argument that emotion can influence cognitive processing are a matter of contention and cognitive psychologists understanding of how emotions can influence cognition is an area of debate in its infancy. Research studying emotion was previously negligible until methods by which emotions could be measured were devised, such as through brain imaging techniques. The essay will discuss whether emotions can influence cognition and the extent of this influence and will look into its effect on two specific cognitive processes, memory and attention. There is evidence to suggest that cognitive processes can be influenced by emotion, however there are a number of problems with studying this area. Laboratory study makes it difficult to compare results with real world situations. First there are ethical issues surrounding the type and severity of emotional material that participants can be shown and the severity of emotions that can be evoked ethically in the laboratory context. Emotions in real life are often far stronger than in a research environment and the extent of emotions that can be evoked in this setting will have bearing on the results of the extent of influence of emotion on cognition.

One of the important characteristics of emotions is that they create physiological changes, which can subsequently influence cognitive processing. For example, increased adrenalin produced as a derivative of ‘fear’ (Braisby and Gellatly 2005) can enhance performance, although too much could also impair performance. This illustrates how emotions can affect cognitive functioning. Everyday examples of this occurrence includes concentration levels plummeting if we are worried, or our memory or listening skills faltering if we are overly anxious or preoccupied with negative emotion. In this regard, emotions can influence cognitive processing by enhancing or impairing functioning when heightened levels of emotion are evident.

A very strong argument for the effect of emotion on cognitive processing is ‘Mood congruent memory’ (Braisby et al 2005), when the content of the material being processed matches the mood of the person at the time, which means it is more likely to be remembered at a later date. This has severe implications for individuals with anxiety and depression as mood congruency for such individuals creates a self-serving bias towards material that matches the mood of the individual, making things appear even bleaker to the person. Teasdale (1988) argues that such a negative bias will cause individuals to focus relentlessly on the negative aspects of their environment and themselves, which in turn will make them feel more depressed (the ‘it’s one of those days’ scenario for a person without depression) causing a vicious cycle where the bias contributes to the mood, which enhances the bias and so on. This perception of negative events and experiences can cause a myriad of distorted perceptual processing. This illustrates the implications of emotions effecting cognitive processing as a person’s mood can have a strong influence on which aspects of the environment are processed, seem most important and are remembered by the individual. Although research for the concept of mood congruent memory is generally supportive for its existence, debates about its relative influence on processing are open to debate. For example, Eysenck, Kwiatkovski and Parkinson (1994) found mood congruency only occurred with a group who were naturally depressed, whereas Erk (2003) found mood congruency still occurred for non-depressed individuals and found recall was better when the material was encoded in a positive emotional context when an individual was in a positive emotional state.

Mood dependent memory is related to transfer appropriate processing and argues that memory will be enhanced when mood at encoding corresponds to mood at retrieval. It is a more...
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