To What Extent Does Cognition Control Emotion ?

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To what extent does cognition control emotion ?

In everyday life there is a constant evidence of interaction between cognition and emotion. If we see something funny we laugh, if we fear we run or hide, if we are distressed we find it hard to concentrate. However we do not need to present any of the emotions to others, we can regulate them, think about situations and consequences and estimate the outcome. We are able to control our emotions. Ochsner and Gross(2005,p.242) argues that capacity to control emotion is important for human adaptation. The question is to what extent does cognition control emotion? In the next paragraphs I will consider some theories, factors and evidence on cognitive controlling of emotion in terms of bodily reactions-arousals, appraisals, facial expressions, action tendencies.

According to James-Lange (Yiend, Mackintosh,2005 ) theory cognition does not influence emotion when behaviour particularly in frightening situations was initiated too rapidly. James says that there is no time for conscious decisions. James (1890,p. 451) argued, “If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind.” James suggests that experience of emotion depended on the behaviour and bodily reactions- arousal that followed an event and that there is no space for any cognitive processes. However Cannon and Bard (Yiend, Mackintosh,2005) disagreed with James (1890,p.451) approach and they argued that the lower brain receives emotion producing signals and send to the cortex for interpretation and subsequent physiological responses. They say that arousal and specific emotion can occur simultaneously. But neither Cannon and Brad or James looked at cognitive processes as if they controlled emotions but rather then that cognitive processes were used simultaneously with processing emotions.

Both of the above views were challenged by Schachter and Singer (Yiend, Mackintosh,2005) who argue that cognitive interpretations which they called cognitive appraisals are very important in emotional processing because they distinguish one emotion from another. They think it can be possible to change how we feel if we change our cognitive appraisals. In their experiment they challenged two groups of participants. Both groups experienced an injection of epinephrine. One group was told that there will be no effect on their body after the injection. The other group was told that the injection would make their heart race. The group, which was told to experience heart race, did not experience any emotions however the one, that was told about no effect, experienced emotion. The results supported Schachter and Singer theory that an identical situation can be subjectively experienced, depends on how individuals appraised their circumstances. If James-Lange theory were used to suggest results for Schachter and Singer's research, it would be expected that knowing about the effect of injection would have given rise to emotional experience. The fact, that the rise had not happened and the results showed opposite reaction, gives Schachter and Singer plausible base for an assumption that cognition after all can control how emotion might be experienced. Their findings opened a path for a vast discussion and different appraisal theories were developed with a central idea, that emotions are chosen on the bases of subjective experiences and personal psychological state.

Lazarus(Yiend, Mackintosh,2005) argues that cognitive appraisal is essential for the experience of emotion. In his experiment participants had taken measurements for galvanic skin response and heart rate. It was found that explaining the reasoning behind anxiety-provoking films before the films were played by using soundtrack songs with displayed explanations reduced emotional response in participants. However if the soundtracks were not played for the...
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