Social Cognition, Affect and Motivation Week 2

The second lecture of this course emphasises the role the bodily experience and particularly facial expression plays in our appraisal of emotions.

The concept of mirror neurons is introduced which leads us to react unconsciously to the facial expression of the person next to us. Tests have shown that we like people more who mirror us, but dislike if we notice we are mirrored. Mirroring can lead to understanding. This process even works on a sub-conscious level. Facial muscles are also activated when emotional words are read. There is a relation between power and how we respond to other people, e.g. smile at them.

Experiments in which facial muscles have been activated showed that we respond both to positive and negative stimuli differently if our muscles are engaged. These tests have been criticised for not adequately ensuring that other stimuli are left out.

Three hypothesis evolved about the relationship between muscle stimulants and emotional perception. The “necessity” hypothesis states that there can be no emotional experience without muscular feedback. The “sufficiency” hypothesis states that facial activity can provoke emotional state. The “modulation” theory states that facial expression can modulate emotional experience after external stimuli.

The relationship between facial expression and emotions has lead to experiments with botox, but these are highly controversial, especially in regards to singling out cause and effect.

Not only facial muscles, but the whole body can influence how emotions are perceived. Experiments have shown changes in regards to feeling powerful when people take on poses for a longer period of time.

Social Cognition, Affect and Motivation Week 1

In this introductory lecture an outline of the course context was given. The overall aim is to provide an understanding of the interplay between cognitive processes, affect and the social context. As the title suggests, a special focus is on the question how social cognition and affect influence motivation.

To get an overview of the area different scientific positions have been introduced, starting off with two positions on social cognition, which consider cognition to be either “hot” or “cold”. Hot in this context means a fluid approach which is hardly governed by stereotypes, but rather relies on a momentary evaluation of a situation, the senses and the emotional state.

The effect emotions have on motivation and on the evaluation has received great attention in the last 20 years, showing a strong research interest in the topic, as also indicated by the number of journals dedicated to the topic.

In the context of this course, motivation is considered to deal with the “why” of behaviour and is defined as “Internal forces that energise and direct human behaviour, including goals and needs and are linked in some level to persistence.” It lies on the interplay between direction, intensity and persistence.

Another approach to emotions is the approach-avoidance division, which states that people move towards a pleasurable experience and away from pain.

Affect is defined as a valenced emotional state and consists of moods, which are states of low intensity, diffuse affective states, no salient antecedent and little content and emotions, which are short-lived and conscious with prototypical context.

Based on evolutionary theories and funded by Darwin, emotions are inherent and used for communication. They are further divided into basic emotions (anger, fear and happiness, which are shared with other animals) and secondary emotions, which are conscious and/social. To see whether these emotions are basic, tests have been undertaken to see if they predate language and are pancultural. Further tests have been undertaken with athletes who are blind who shared the same responses as seeing athletes, which lead to the conclusion that facial expression is not learned.

People are normally well equipped to recognise if emotions are faked. Animals may show facial expressions that we appraise as emotions, even though they have less facial muscles than humans.

Another school sees emotions as valenced states with a certain intensity.

An affective state consists of an antecedent, such as appraisal, social context etc and is followed by an either cognitive or behavioural reaction.

The link between emotional sensation and the body has been researched, leading to questions in which relationship the sensation, the appraisal and the conscious emotion stand.

Asking what role emotions play in our lives it can be said that they are social communicators, are an output of an inner experience, play a role in decision-making and well-being.