Much of contemporary cognitive psychology is dominated by the computer analogy or metaphor. This has led to an emphasis on information-processing models. However, this approach does not lend itself readily to an examination of the relationship between cognition and emotion, in part because it is hard to think of computers as having emotional states.

Most cognitive psychologists have chosen to ignore the issue of the effects of emotion on cognition by trying to keep the emotional states of their participants constant. Why do they take this evasive action? In the words of Gardner (1985, p. 6), emotion is a factor "which may be important for cognitive functioning but whose inclusion at this point would unnecessarily complicate the cognitive-scientific enterprise."

In spite of this negative attitude, there is a growing volume of research on cognition and emotion. Some of that research, such as the role of emotional states in eyewitness testimony and auto-biographical memory, was discussed earlier in the book (see Chapter 8). Probably the most common approach adopted by cognitive psychologists wishing to study the effects of emotion on cognition has involved manipulating participants' emotional states in a systematic way. In contrast, some researchers (e.g., Smith & Lazarus, 1993) have studied the effects of cognition on emotion. As there are almost constant interactions between cognition and emotion in everyday life, any attempt to provide an adequate theory of cognition that ignores emotion is likely to be inadequate.

Before proceeding, it is worth considering some definitions. The term "affect" is very broad, and has been used to cover a wide variety of experiences such as emotions, moods, and preferences. In contrast, the term "emotion" tends to be used to refer to fairly brief but intense experiences, although it is also used in a broader sense. Finally, "mood" or "state" describe low-intensity but more prolonged experiences.


Suppose that a stimulus (e.g., a spider) is presented to someone, as a result of which his or her affective response to that stimulus changes. Is it essential for the stimulus to be processed cognitively for the changed affective response to occur? This issue is of theoretical importance. If affective responses to all stimuli depend on cognitive processing, it follows that theories of emotion should have a distinctly cognitive flavour. In contrast, if cognitive processing is not necessary in the development of affective responses to stimuli, then a specifically cognitive approach to emotion may be less necessary.

Zajonc (1980, 1984) argued that the affective evaluation of stimuli can occur independently of cognitive processes. According to Zajonc (1984, p. 117), "affect and cognition are separate and partially independent systems and.although they ordinarily function conjointly, affect could be generated without a prior cognitive process." In contrast, Lazarus (1982, p. 1021) claimed that some cognitive processing is an essential prerequisite for an affective reaction to a stimulus to occur: "Cognitive appraisal (of meaning or significance) underlies and is an integral feature of all emotional states."

Zajonc's position

Zajonc (1980) claimed in his affective primacy hypothesis that we often make affective judgements about people and objects even though we have processed very little information about them. Zajonc discussed several studies supporting the notion of affective primacy. In these studies, stimuli such as melodies or pictures were presented either very briefly below the level of conscious awareness or while the participant was involved in a task. Even though these stimuli could not subsequently be recognised, participants were still more likely to choose previously presented stimuli than comparable new ones when asked to select the ones they preferred. Thus, there was a positive affective reaction to the previously presented stimuli (as assessed by their preference judgements), but no evidence of cognitive processing (as assessed by recognition-memory performance). This phenomenon is known as the mere exposure effect.

Studies on the mere exposure effect do not have much obvious relevance to ordinary emotional states. Participants make superficial preference judgements about fairly meaningless stimuli unrelated to their lives, and so no more than minimal affect is involved.

Another major limitation with these studies is that the conclusion that the stimuli had not been processed cognitively was based on a failure of recognition memory. This may make sense if one equates cognition with consciousness, but very few cognitive psychologists would do so. The data do not rule out the possibility that there was extensive pre-conscious processing involving automatic and other processes. Murphy and Zajonc (1993, p. 724) have accepted that the term "cognitive" can be used to refer to non-conscious processes: "We do not require either affect or cognition to be accessible to consciousness."

According to the affective primacy hypothesis, simple affective qualities of stimuli can be processed much faster than more cognitive ones. Murphy and Zajonc (1993) provided some support for this hypothesis in a series of priming studies. In these studies, a priming stimulus was presented for either 4 milliseconds or 1 second, and was followed by a second stimulus. In one study, the priming stimuli consisted of happy and angry faces, and there was a no-priming control condition. The priming stimuli were followed by Chinese ideographs which were given liking ratings. The findings are shown in Figure 18.1. The liking ratings were influenced by the affective primes when they were presented for only 4 milliseconds, but not when they were presented for 1 second. Presumably participants in the latter condition realised that their affective reaction was produced by the priming stimulus, and so that reaction did not influence their rating of the second stimulus.

In another study, Murphy and Zajonc (1993) required participants to make a cognitive judgement. Male or female priming faces were followed by Chinese ideographs, which were rated for femininity. These ratings were influenced by the priming faces when they were presented for 1 second, but not when they were presented for 4 milliseconds (see Figure 18.1). The various findings obtained by Murphy and Zajonc (1993) suggest the following conclusions:

1. Affective processing can sometimes occur faster than cognitive processing.

2. The initial affective processing of a stimulus is very different from the later cognitive processing.

1*set angry prime

Stop Anxiety Attacks

Stop Anxiety Attacks

Here's How You Could End Anxiety and Panic Attacks For Good Prevent Anxiety in Your Golden Years Without Harmful Prescription Drugs. If You Give Me 15 minutes, I Will Show You a Breakthrough That Will Change The Way You Think About Anxiety and Panic Attacks Forever! If you are still suffering because your doctor can't help you, here's some great news...!

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment