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How Emotion can Trigger Thought II

July 18, 2012

In my last post I introduced Joseph LeDoux’s work and the idea of pattern matching to explain how emotion can sometimes happen faster than thought in situations that stimulate emotional arousal. This means that any thoughts which arise under these circumstances are triggered in reaction to emotion. This is an important matter, especially because so much has been written on the potential of thought to trigger emotion (which can also happen as another process).

Dr. Paul Ekman’s research suggests that emotions arise when something that matters to a person happens or is about to happen. These emotions may then trigger thoughts because “the desire to experience or not experience an emotion motivates much of our behavior” {Ekman, P.(2003). Emotions Revealed. New York: Henry Holt and Company}. In other words, we experience an undesirable emotion and then start thinking about a strategy to move towards a desirable emotion.

Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at The University of Virginia, has looked at how people exercise moral judgement and according to his experiments, feelings come first and then people attempt to rationalize the conclusion of those feelings {Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis. New York: Basic Books}. So the faster ’emotional’ processing takes hold before the slower ‘rational’ processing.

We can see that there are clearly several possibilities for emotion to trigger thoughts. In my next post I will discuss further how we can define these terms.

Spencer Joseph

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