Love, joy, hatred, sadness.
All words that are a core part of one’s vocabulary. Emotions are the essence of
what differentiates us from a machine, and are one of the main reasons why an
intelligent robot could never fully represent a human being. Everything we do
is guided by emotions- avoiding a spider due to fear,  blushing when speaking in public because we
are shy, smiling from ear to ear when seeing a loved one. So how can something
so vital in our life, so natural and ingrained, still be the subject of debates
between scientists? Throughout the years many different views on how and why
emotions arise were presented. Darwin believed that they are evolutionary
adaptive, James argued that they wouldn’t exist without activation in the
Autonomic Nervous System. Later Schachter and Singer presented their, very
influential, two-factor theory. According to them there are two components-
physiological response, and cognitive evaluation, which work together in the
elicitation of an emotion (Schachter & Singer, 1962).  The idea that thinking is an essential
building block of feeling gave the basis for many similar theories, called
appraisal theories. An opponent point of view was proposed by Zajonc. He argued
that, indeed, there is an interplay between feeling and cognition, but cognition
is not necessary to produce an emotion (Zajonc, 1980). Affect, in his opinion,
is the core of emotion elicitation. In this paper I am going to introduce both
perspectives thoroughly and I will  present
arguments in favor of appraisal theories. In case the reader does, after all,
not view them as convincing, I would believe that it was after deliberately
evaluating this paper’s content, and not because of an immediate affective
feeling elicited by it.

From my perspective, emotions
act on so many levels, and are so complex, that agreeing on one particular
standpoint would be  very hard, not to
say wrong. Each individual theoretical approach has its advantages and
limitations and they all contribute to the enrichment of the theory of
emotions. In order to express my opinion I will start with explaining Zajonc’s
reasoning. In his article Zajonc mentions that affective judgements, unlike
cognitive processes, are more influenced by context and attentional processes
have less control over them. However, since emotions are always related to our
goals, we need them to help us guide our attention, perception and memory.
Therefore, it isn’t attention that controls emotions but vice versa. Additionally,
the type of appraisals called secondary are to an enormous extent context
dependent. This is the reason why the same situation can elicit different
emotions. Not affective processing but cognitive evaluation of the context leads
to this effect. 

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An important theme for me to
tackle is the fact that I do agree with Zajonc about the importance of
affective processing. His opinion is that emotions aren’t cold nor do they
require conscious evaluation. Where I find his reasoning superficial is trying to
completely differentiate emotions from cognition. Even in neurological level we
see that both are interconnected. Unlike other species we have a highly
developed prefrontal cortex, the function of which is strongly related to
emotion regulation. We are far beyond thinking that the cortex serves to
inhibit emotions from lower brain regions but we have learned that prefrontal
damage leads to serious emotional dysfunction. It is also known that the
prefrontal cortex is tightly connected to our reasoning and judgement.
Therefore, the fact that in healthy individuals we see prefrontal activation
when emotions are elicited (e.g. empathy, happiness), together with it being a
center for processes like reasoning, gives support to the idea that emotions
and cognition are associated in the Central Nervous System. (Bechara, Damasio
& Damasio, 2000).

Next, I want to discuss an
article by Lazarus which is essential since he is one of the founding fathers
of appraisal theories. One important point that he highlights is that cognition
isn’t necessarily rational, neither is it a conscious evaluation ( Lazarus,
1982). Of course we don’t deliberately and slowly appraise each and every
situation we encounter, that would be maladaptive from an evolutionary point of
view. Nevertheless, this also doesn’t mean that cognition is independent from emotion.
As Lazarus states, we make sense of the world in means of different
schemas-  cognitive frameworks in which
we organize information. This could be related to an example from Zajonc’s
article explaning that when a rabbit encounters a snake it has no time to
engage in even the mildest cognitive process. His action to run away is
directly elicited by affective processes. The
rabbit has the schema of a snake as a predator, as something that is directly
endangering his life, this is why he immediately reacts. Lazarus also argues
that humans as higher animals would depend more on learning and symbolic
processes. This could be seen in the ways that we develop specific phobias. For
instance, 11-months old babies are not afraid of snakes until they learn to do
so. Therefore observational learning and not affect is the reason for this
behavior. Relating this to the rabbit example, yes, the animal does react
quickly and automatically. It knows that the snake is dangerous because it has
learned it either through observation or experience. Moreover, it has the
biological predisposition to learn to be afraid of a snake.

At last, we need to consider
another important implication. The affect that Zajonc repeatedly mentions may,
in my opinion, be considered as a component of emotion. It might be explained to
an extent by the subjective feeling which is difficult to verbally express. For
example he mentions the immediate repulsion or attraction that we feel to a
person when we meet them. According to Zajonc, this feeling of like or dislike
is completely automatic and can’t be controlled by cognitive processes. After
everything mentioned in this essay though, I would have to disagree. Although, I
have also found myself in that situation, I have never experienced an emotion
for a person that I was completely unable to justify. Maybe they were presenting
themselves as arrogant or they reminded me of someone I didn’t like. It could
be that in this situation my mood was very positive or negative and this
reflected on my feelings. Besides, it is also possible that the context had its
influence- did I meet the person in a bookstore picking a book I like.
Additionally, this first impression is also a subject to change, and an initial
unidentified like can always turn into a dislike.

To conclude, it is important
to say that the reason why the Emotion-Cognition debate hasn’t been resolved
might be that different authors still have different views in what exactly is
an emotion and how appraisal is defined. For some, like Zajonc, cognition is
deliberate, effortful and cold. Others see it as having different components.
On one hand it could involve such processes, but on the other hand it can also
be fast and subconscious. Nevertheless appraisal is seen as an important
component of emotion, together with physiological response, motor expression,
subjective feeling and action tendencies. It is possible that the discrepancies
between the various theories are just due to scientists viewing the complexity
of emotions from different perspectives.