This article focuses on Bob Zajonc’s views on unconscious emotion, especially in the context of the debates about the independence of affect and cognition. Historically, Bob was always interested in the “mere”—basic, fundamental processes. His empirical demonstrations of precognitive and preconscious emotional processes, combined with his elegant expositions of them, sharply contrasted with cold and complex cognitive models. Interestingly, Bob tended to believe that whereas the causes of emotion can be unconscious, the emotional state itself tends to be conscious. However, (...) he reconsidered this assumption and in his later work showed that subjects in affective priming experiments do not experience conscious affect, but instead act on basic preferences. Today, Bob’s insights continue to inspire research on “unconscious emotion.”. (shrink)
Processing of facial expressions goes beyond simple pattern recognition. To elucidate this problem, Niedenthal et al. offer a model that identifies multiple embodied and disembodied routes for expression processing, and spell out conditions triggering use of different routes. I elaborate on this model by discussing recent research on emotional recognition in individuals with autism, who can use multiple routes of emotion processing, and consequently can show atypical and typical patterns of embodied simulation and mimicry.
My commentary applauds the authors' cognitive framework for capturing the inferential complexity and flexibility of emotion processing. The framework offers generative powers, as demonstrated by new studies, and an insightful perspective on classic studies. However, at the core, the framework is still symbolic and cold—reflecting its origins in amodal views of the mind. This leads to two troubles. First, the framework cannot incorporate evidence for embodied, modal processing of emotion. Second, the framework overemphasizes conceptual and conscious processing, leading to dismissal (...) of unconscious emotion. I question whether simply updating a symbolic cognitive framework is sufficient to capture the recent empirical and theoretical developments in emotion research. It might be time for a new modal and embodied theory of emotion. (shrink)
Successful social functioning requires quick and accurate processing of emotion and generation of appropriate reactions. In typical individuals, these skills are supported by embodied processing, recruiting central and peripheral mechanisms. However, emotional processing is atypical in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals with ASD show deficits in recognition of briefly presented emotional expressions. They tend to recognize expressions using rule-based, rather than template, strategies. Individuals with ASD also do not spontaneously and quickly mimic emotional expressions, unless the task encourages (...) engagement. When processing emotional scenes, ASD individuals show atypical basic motivational responses, despite intact ability to verbally determine stimulus valence. We discuss how these findings highlight the contribution of both embodied and disembodied mechanisms to typical and atypical emotional functioning. (shrink)
We present a dynamical model of interaction between recognition memory and affect, focusing on the phenomenon of “warm glow of familiarity.” In our model, both familiarity and affect reflect quick monitoring of coherence in an attractor neural network. This model parsimoniously explains a variety of empirical phenomena, including mere-exposure and beauty-in-averages effects, and the speed of familiarity and affect judgments.
Much can be gained by specifying the operation of the emulation process. A brief review of studies from diverse domains, including complex motor-skill representation, emotion perception, and face memory, highlights that emulation theory offers precise explanations of results and novel predictions. However, the neural instantiation of the emulation process requires development to move the theory from armchair to laboratory.