Causally efficacious cognitive monitoring

Finally, there remains the question of the role of intrinsic cognitive regulation in situations where its impact on the trajectory of emotional responses seems to remain minimal. If we exclude cases in which the subject's abnormal physiological or psychological condition undermines her capacity of emotion regulation, such as intoxication, diseases, phobias, PTSD, OCD, or pathological fear of flying, the remaining cases include rationally recalcitrant emotions of ordinary people, such as survivor guilt, and evolutionarily pre-wired emotional responses, such as fear of snakes or heights. Regulation may be ineffective in altering the identity of these emotions, but it is surely capable of influencing their intensity, duration, expression, and action tendencies. Regulation can prevent fleeing from a sightseeing balcony or from the vicinity of a snake, for instance. Yet it is possible to maintain that instrumental behaviours of this kind do not belong to emotion and therefore their regulation does not count as emotion regulation. Emotions involve spontaneous expressive behaviours and action tendencies that may remain active even if their motivational impulses are overruled in instrumental behaviour. A fearful person displays expressions of fear and has an urge to flee even if she sticks to her rational judgment about the situation and decides to stay. Where is the influence of cognitive regulation in emotions of this kind, and is it significant enough to support the claim that cognitive processing plays a robust role in ordinary post-infantile human emotions?

The Stoic philosophers famously argued that emotions are evaluative judgments or opinions, not mere impressions or appearances of the goodness or badness of things from a subjective point of view. As judgments, emotions are impressions to which reason has given its assent. The Stoics admit that evaluative impressions spontaneously induce physiological changes, feelings and sensations, such as flushings, agitations, and palpitations, or involuntary behavioural responses such as facial expressions that can sometimes be so intense that an observer cannot distinguish these responses from impulses to act that belong to emotions proper. The Stoics, however, see this difference as significant. They emphasise that insofar as we do not assent to evaluative appearances, the involuntarily emerging mental and bodily perturbations amount to mere "first movements" or "pre-passions" that are less intensive and less consuming than the affections and behavioural responses that follow from assented appearances (Knuuttila, 2004; Sorabji, 2000; Nussbaum, 1993). This Stoic view indicates that cognitive regulation is capable of influencing not merely instrumental behaviour but all aspects of noncognitively elicited emotions through reappraisals that either withhold or give assent to the emotion-eliciting noncognitive evaluative appearances as these appraisals either attenuate or intensify the relevant emotional responses.

Anecdotal evidence in favour of this Stoic view is available from everyday social interaction where most people are adept at avoiding blowing up at their superiors and other people with higher power status, whereas they easily snap at those with inferior power status or those whose attachment they take for granted. Bosses sometimes behave irritatingly but we usually manage to shrug off their behaviour during the encounter and express our resentment only when alone or in the company of reliable co-workers or significant others. The usual interpretation is that intense anger is felt in the situation but the emotion is suppressed by keeping a stiff upper lip. However, an alternative interpretation suggests that the experience is moderated by reappraising an angry response as maladaptive and socially inappropriate in the situation. There is evidence that facial expressions covary with subjective experience, and even if this linkage is strongest when there is no reason to manage or modify the expression because of social circumstances, the connection implies that successful expression management influences subjective experience and other components of emotion such as distinct appraisals and physiological responses that covary with expression (Matsumoto, Keltner, Shiota, O'Sullivan, & Frank, 2008). Reappraisals on the situational warrant of emotions are guided by feeling and display rules. The more internalized the rule, the more capable it is of influencing the emerging emotion, as can be seen in my discussion on the authenticity of professional emotions in Chapter 5.

Empirical evidence for the influence of reappraisals on unfolding emotional experience can be found also from studies in which people's emotional responses to films with aversive content have been manipulated by the conditions in which they have watched the film. A classic study of this kind is Lazarus and Alfert (1964) in which students watched a film on a circumcision ritual with and without a soundtrack. The soundtrack was manipulated to distance the viewer from the negative impact of the film by denying the pain involved in the ritual and emphasizing the joyful aspects of the procedure instead. When the viewers' heart rate, skin conductance, and mood were measured, and it was found that those with a manipulated soundtrack had a slower heart rate, a lower skin conductance levels, and a more positive moods in comparison to those who watched the film without a soundtrack. These findings indicate that reappraisals, by withholding assent from noncognitive affective appraisals, significantly alter evaluations of threat and reduce the stressfulness of otherwise distressing experiences. The same cognitive mechanism underlies all instances of emotion-focused coping that Lazarus and Folkman (1984; Folkman & Lazasus, 1990) have studied in depth. Similar findings are available from more recent studies where the pleasantness of an odour was influenced by its labelling as either "Cheddar cheese" or "body odour". The different pleasantness ratings were correlated with dissimilar activations in the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala (De Araujo et al., 2005), highlighting the influence of cognition on sensory processing and experience. Together, these findings show how far linguistic representations can modulate emotional states, emotional behaviour, and emotional experience through altering emotional representations in the orbitofrontal cortex, as Rolls (2013, 129-32) has pointed out. Accordingly, cognition is capable of influencing all constitutive aspects of emotions instead of mere instrumental behaviour that is contingently associated with emotions.

Finally, when considering the role of cognition of human emotions, we should not forget that cognitive assent can be short-sighted and founded on situationally salient prescriptive and descriptive representations rather than on thoughtful reflection. Indeed cognitive assent is often of the former kind. For instance, to modify Griffith's example from above, a racist may lash out against a colored person who has accidentally poked him in the back in a nightclub queue. Yet this does not mean that the emotion is a "raw" affect programme response because the racist's cognitive regulation could have toned down the anger and aborted the aggressive response if the subject had attempted to do so. Instead, his racist beliefs and values warranted the emotional response, leading the subject to assent to the appearance of culpable harming and the aggressive response to it.

I believe that this account generalizes to other less idiosyncratic cases in which cognitive regulation does not appear to take hold of emotional responses. Cognitive regulation has a robust role in ordinary post-infantile human emotions by virtue of its monitoring function that allows regulatory processes to modulate emotional responses on the basis of their appraised situational adaptiveness or fittingness. Therefore, if such regulation remains minimal in an ordinary human emotion, we should not conclude that the emotion is a "pure" noncognitive affect programme response. Instead, we should infer - in accordance with default-interventionist theories of dual processing - that the seemingly noncognitive response bears a cognitive imprint through its approval by cognitive monitoring that could have influenced the response more thoroughly if it had not endorsed the response.


In this chapter I have discussed and defended cognitive process models of emotion after first arguing that mental representations that cause emotions are also their constituents and that these representations are not categorically noncognitive. Cognitive process models emphasise that emotion generation is a process that cognitive, semantic representations join sooner or later. The overlap and integration of emotion generative and regulative processes also supports a strong influence of cognition in even noncognitively elicited human emotions. This influence manifests as cognitive monitoring also in those cases where the influence of regulation on the trajectory of emotional responses remains minimal because a cognitive assent to a noncognitive appraisal allows the emotional response to unfold without interference. In contrast, a cognitive dissent from a noncognitive appraisal amounts to moderating the emotional response, showing the influence of cognitive regulation on the duration, intensity, and expression of emotion even in those cases where cognitive regulation is incapable of altering the identity of emotions.

I agree then with Robinson (2005, p. 76) that "emotion is a process that unfolds, as the situation is appraised and reappraised, and as continuous feedback occurs". However, my conclusion is contrary to hers. Cognitive appraisals paradigmatically influence the identity of emotions by participating in the appraisal process, in addition to monitoring the situational warrant of emotions and thereby modulating the experience, intensity and duration of human emotions. These findings show that the proper dual process model of emotional processing is default-interventionist rather than parallel-competitive: explicit processing of conceptual representations intervenes in the implicit processing of nonconceptual representations by default rather than contingently. Therefore ordinary postinfantile human emotions are cognitive at both the functional and the algorithmic levels of analysis. This conclusion wraps up my discussion on the role of cognition in the structure and dynamics of human emotions.

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