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The Nature of Emotions and Theory of Mind, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1479

Essay

Emotions are part of us from the day that we are born and, including to some, even when we are still in our mother’s wombs. According to Chapter 6, it is assumed that emotional processes have been part of our evolutionary history just as motor and cognitive processes (p. 209). MacLean states:

Emotional processes involve the limbic area, the main structures of which are the amygdala, hippocampus, and insula. The medial frontal cortex is also believed to have a role in emotional decision making, and the orbital prefrontal cortex is involved in evaluating emotional contingencies, especially in relation to social and moral judgments (p. 207)

The amygdala is one of the most important structures involved in emotions and how they work. It receives processed sensory information and, as stated, is attached to the hippocampus, which helps in memory and attention. “The amygdala has projections that go to the temporal lobe. This allows it to be involved in both emotional face perception and emotional memories” (Chapter 6, p. 208). Our brains are very complex entities and need a little further information to understand how they actually affect a person’s emotions. The left temporal lobes of our brains are the places in which we have been seen to mediate positive affecter, whereas the right is related to our negative affect (Chapter 6, p. 209). The more we learn about the brain, the easier it will be to determine where emotions such as sadness, happiness, joy, anger, lust, and many other emotions come from.

In the days of Darwin, Ekman (2009) believes that Darwin made many important contributions to our understanding of emotions:

  1. Darwin saw emotions as discrete. That is to say, we experience fear, anger, disgust, and so forth as distinct entities.
  2. Darwin emphasized the human face in the expression of emotions, as illustrated by the photographs of human faces he used in his book.
  3. One of Darwin’s main ideas is that emotional processes are innate and found across a variety of species, including humans. Darwin clarified this idea by suggesting that although facial expressions are universal, gestures may be specific to a given culture.
  4. Darwin’s fourth idea is that emotions are not unique to humans and may be found in a variety of other species.
  5. Particular muscle movements may signal a particular emotion (Chapter 6, p. 191-192)

Ekman (1999a) suggested a set of characteristics common to all emotions:

  1. Distinctive universal signals
  2. Emotion-specific physiology
  3. Automatic appraisal mechanism
  4. Universal antecedent events
  5. Distinctive appearance developmentally
  6. Present in nonhuman primates
  7. Quick onset
  8. Brief duration
  9. Unbidden occurrence
  10. Distinctive thoughts and memory images, and
  11. Distinctive subjective experience. (Chapter 6, p. 200).

Distinctive universal signals refer to those facial expressions that go with each emotion. Emotion-specific physiology means that the underlying emotional states are patterns of psychological activity that is expressed in the nervous system. Automatic appraisal mechanism “means that there is a very fast, usually out-of-awareness, process that allows for appraisal of both internal and external stimuli” (Chapter 6, p. 200). Universal antecedent events occur when a person feels sadness due to the loss of something and or someone that play a significant role in their lives. Distinctive appearance developmentally means that each actual emotion may develop in each individual in the same order. Present in nonhuman primates means exactly what it says. Many emotions, if not all emotions, experienced by humans is also prevalent in nonhuman primates. Quick onset and brief duration refer to the length of time certain emotions last.  In reference to quick onset and brief duration, chapter 6 states:

The basic idea is that emotions are quick and that is their survival value. You see something disgusting, have a reaction, and move away. For clarity, it is important to distinguish emotions from moods, which are more long-lasting. It is also possible to turn an emotion into a mood by the continued presence of the stimulus or by talking to yourself about the situation (p. 201).

Unbidden occurrence means that people do not plan to have an emotional reaction to something. It just happens. Finally, “the last two characteristics suggest that each basic emotion has associated with it distinctive thoughts and memory images as well as distinctive subjective experiences” (Chapter 6, p. 201). There are many ways in which to experience emotions and many ways in which to show emotion. A lot of the ways in which we deal with emotion has to do with how our brains react to certain things or situations happening in our lives. Emotions are with us from the very beginning of our lives, along with facial expressions to communicate with others just how we are feeling.

Theory of mind is one of those things in which is very interesting to discuss and observe, but very difficult to put into words. According to Rebecca Bull, Louise H. Phillips, and Claire A. Conway (2007), “Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to interpret another’s mental states – encompassing desires, beliefs, and intentions – which may conflict with the observer’s own knowledge or with reality” (p. 2). This can be difficult to do as it is difficult to interpret your own mental states sometimes. Having to distinguish someone else’s mental state can be much more challenging. Bull et al. (2007) state:

Effective ToM skills are important for normal social functioning because they underlie the understanding of others’ behavior. An important set of cognitive processes supporting ToM skills are executive functions, which include cognitive control mechanisms such as attentional flexibility, inhibition of prepotent information, and updating information in working memory. Early conceptions of ToM emphasized the modular, domain-specific social processing involved, excluding the involvement of domain-general processes such as EFs, at least in adults. More recent literature has argued that social understanding is likely to involve both modular processes and domain-general processes such as EFs (p. 2).

It has been stated that young children and older adults have a more difficult time with Theory of Mind concepts as ToM requires a person to be able to distinguish many different facts from one another. Children and older adults just do not have the cognitive memory to remember everything that somebody says to them (Bailey and Henry, 2008, p. 219). Theory of Mind is a developmental process in which young children and older adults may not have the energy or memory to begin to understand what is being told to them. “Most studies identified age-related deficits in ToM, perspective-taking, and cognitive empathy. This suggests that, as we age, it becomes more difficult to see thing from someone else’s point of view” (Bailey and Henry, 2008, p. 219). In addition, “much of what we know about other people’s mental states comes from non-inferentially when they, or some other person, simply tell us what they know, think, want or intend” (Apperly, Back, Samson, & France, 2007, p. 2).

It is easier for a person to imply another’s mental state if there is only one dimension that they have to remember. However, it becomes more difficult for children and older adults to remember a series of certain things and be able to come out with the correct answer. “Adults typically make few errors when they only have to infer one person’s belief or one person’s belief about another’s belief” (Apperly et al., 2007, p. 2). However, it becomes much more difficult when more variable are involved. According to Apperly et al. (2007), “increasing task complexity, or placing adults under cognitive load, may lead to errors on ToM tasks because adults struggle to meet these incidental demands” (p. 3). Theory of Mind emphasizes that, if a person only has to remember minimal information, this person will be able to make an error-free conclusion. However, if the problem is more complex, using many different clusters of information, there is probably going to be an error somewhere. Apperly et al. (2007) states:

A true belief condition presents the participant with a simple strategy for reducing processing costs by reducing the information they must hold in mind: all they need remember is a single set of information about object location and colour, and a single fact about the man (i.e., “Ball on the table is yellow/Man is right”). Therefore, a true belief condition might be easier to process than a False B/R condition merely because participants had to remember less information, not because there was no interference between belief and reality information (p. 3).

According to the information given by all of the sources, Theory of Mind is used in order to gain access to the ideas of someone else. Theory of Mind is based on inferences and guesses in reference to how someone else is feeling or what that person may be thinking. The cognitive abilities in people are what create error-free beliefs about another person. However, it is said that young children and older adults are not able to make such error-free assumptions if the information is too complex. The processes of the mind create what a person knows and how he or she will see specific things whether it relates to himself or herself or anothe

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