Arenas of Cognitive Appraisal

While Damasio's SMH serves as the essential neuroscientific foundation of SAMA, his hypothesis focuses on the largely unconscious evaluation of stimuli that occurs primarily in the limbic system but utilizes other brain areas, and what is known about the processing of secondary feelings. While his hypothesis is critical to understanding the science of dispositions, basic emotions, and the emergence of feelings, it does not yet elucidate in any detail the higher behavioural levels of appraisal associated with the function of secondary feelings (see Figure 2).

It is here that appraisal theory, especially that of Lazarus' Motivational-Relational Theory of Emotions (MRTE) may have application (1994, 1999). Like the SMH, SAMA proposes the neurobiological functions of dispositions (i.e. background emotions: Damasio, 2003) and basic emotions (primary emotions: Damasio, 2003) as lower level affect where the amygdalae serve as the hub for triggering activation and coordination of other brain regions essential to affect. Basic emotions become conscious feelings when the somatic representations, or facsimiles produced by mirror neurons, are recognized by regions in the neocortex. Not only do conscious feelings involve cognition,

Figure 2: SAMA: Arenas of appraisal for secondary feelings

Cognitive and conscious appraisals of object/event

Figure 2: SAMA: Arenas of appraisal for secondary feelings so too do secondary feelings (secondary or social emotions: Damasio, 2003), which are phylogenetically more evolved brain functions than basic emotions. While dispositions involve primitive judgments regarding homeostasis; and basic emotions involve simplistic judgments regarding external and environmental aspects of survival; feelings, both conscious and secondary, involve higher levels of detailed analysis relating to emotional well-being.

It is secondary feelings where appraisal theory may be cautiously applied. I say cautiously, since neuroscience has yet to specify the neurobiological workings of secondary feelings. Secondary feelings, more sophisticated versions of basic emotions, both evolve and mature with neural, social, and emotional development, demanding delineation to help unravel their complex nature. SAMA proposes the appraisal of secondary feelings as three interacting arenas that are collectively both cognitive and conscious. In the first appraisal arena, Phase A, the object or event is examined in relation to present context and past experience. This phase corresponds to Lazarus' primary appraisal. In the second appraisal arena, Phase B, the possible actions/reactions to the object or event and corresponding possible outcomes in relation to motives and present and future goals, are examined. This phase is similar to what Lazarus (1999) terms secondary appraisal, and can be seen to include Lazarus' action tendencies. In Phase B, possible outcomes are considered and then initiated and directed. In the third appraisal arena, Phase C, coping strategies and future avoidance strategies are formulated and considered in relation to the enacted or realized outcomes of response(s) to the stimulus.

It is in these appraisal arenas that the educationally relevant constructs of metaemotion, consciousness of emotional contagion, and emotion regulation show promise. While there is not room here to define these constructs, the types of emotion regulation that are possible in each arena or phase have been explored (i.e. Gottman & Katz, 2002; Gross & John, 2003; Lewis & Steiben, 2004; Shipman, Zeman & Stegall, 2001; Silk, 2002).

Since the emergence of dispositions and basic emotions are to a large degree auto-nomic and unconscious, they cannot be recognized nor stopped until they become conscious feelings. However, they can be attenuated and avoided in the future through emotion regulation by recognizing their emergence triggers and enacting preventive measures related to specific objects and situations.

The critical point regarding these arenas ofappraisal is that they, like brain regions and brain-body interactions, function, not as distinct units, but rather as various instruments of an orchestra playing a fugue, with a combined conscious effort to produce the best possible result, which in our case is to promote present and future emotional well-being. This complex emotive-cognitive living being that we call a human remains much of an enigma, but it is the intent of SAMA to combine what is now known from the research and theorizing of neuroscientists and neuropsychologists into a tentative whole for educators, as a foundation for neuropedagogy.

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