Time is not the Healer!

There is a general belief among people that “time heals all wounds”. Is it really true? Has anyone who has lost his very near and dear one sometime in his life can say time has healed his wound?! Not exactly! Actually, it can haunt them after years, even decades.

Frijda says time heals no wounds! He goes one more step further and states a law, interestingly, called as The Law of Conservation of Emotional Momentum (quoting from his book on The Laws of Emotion): emotional events retain their power to elicit emotions indefinitely, unless counteracted by repetitive exposures that permit extinction or habituation, to the extent that these latter are possible.

Hence time is the not the answer to heal the wounds, rather, either it has to be overwritten by some other event, or you become habituated to it within the extent to which it is possible.  The effect of loss of a dear one never becomes a neutral event. Still life goes on for them. But does that mean the wound has healed? No. The studies have shown that anytime in future when the concerned person experience a stimuli that is similar to the original one, like, seen some unbidden images that resembles the dear one, that same fresh emotion can come back with the same or even more intensity. Likewise, there has been many instances that a person affected by a fire accident experiences a sudden shivering, panic like what he felt previously when he smells burning even after many years.

Thus as Frijda says beautifully “certain old pains just do not grow old; they only refer to old events”. So the time is not the healer!

Its not for Happiness but for Survival! (Laws of Emotion – 4)

Any human-being living in this world wants to be happy. We think that we strive for happiness and we believe happiness is the ultimate in one’s life. But biologically speaking its the other way! Our human mind is not for happiness but for instantiating the biological laws of survival! Although striving for happiness can be associated with the biological laws of survival, if you observe closely both are different. In the sequel, we will see how our mind is modelled for instantiating survival instinct than for happiness.

Frijda, in his book The Laws of Emotion, states a law called Hedonic Asymmetry that very well explains the above phenomena. Everyone in this world wants to live happily, but when they are happy do they realize it every day? Absoultely no! The reason is that we take it for granted. But, when a person goes through an ordeal, distress or a human rights violation he experiences it every day. The law of habituation says that even a so called hardship is habituated by the person after sometime but this happens only upto a certain limit. If this crosses a certain limit even a small hardship will look like a Himalayan problem and the reaction to this will be of a phenomenal order. Frijda says that the emotional nonhabituation for continuing negative events has no direct counter part for positive events. This is a big asymmetry!

Continuing pleasure, joy, relief will bring the person to a neutrality. In other words, positive emotional events do not addup unlike the negative emotional ones. Pleasure, joy, or relief depends on the change it has brought out to a person but it disappeares when it comes again and again. But pain or distress persists when adverse conditions happens to a person continously.

This gives a great lesson to all of us — emotions, for that, mind, are for signaling states that requires response. If there is no response required for some events then the signaling system swithces off. This is why happiness does not addup unlike the distress which adds up in a cumulative fashion. This shows the fact that our human minds are not made for happiness, that we always strive for, but for survival!

The Laws of Emotion – 3

After a small break here we go again!

In this entry we will discuss the fourth law of emotion:

The Law of Change, Habituation and Comparative Feeling:

First we take up the law that speaks about change and comparative feeling.

Frijda says emotions are elicited not because of favorable or unfavorable conditions a person is in but it is by actual or expected changes in favorable or unfavorable conditions. This explains that there is nothing like favorable or unfavorable conditions as such but it is always “with respect to”(theory of relativity!), i.e., there is no absolute conditions but only comparative conditions for emotions to be elicited. This, in turn, tells the important fact that we always have a frame of reference to measure the magnitude of the change. So it is not the magnitude of the event as such but the magnitude of the event with respect to your frame of reference which is the most important aspect to get one’s emotion elicited. This also shows how we perceive is important because for the same event there can be different frame of references and one can make upward or downward comparisons! For example, a student getting a percentage of 70% can be compared in a positive way or in a negative way. When we compare the same student to the students who have got less than 69% then it is upward comparison but same will be downward if we compare him with the students with more than 71%.

So far we have talked about law of changes and comparative feelings but still we have not seen the law of habituation. Habituation comes into picture when there is an iteration of some “favorable” or “unfavorable” conditions for some finite number of times in one’s life. Frijda argues that continued pleasures wear off mainly because we habituate it. This habituation in turn makes us, in some occasion, take something for granted! This shows that ones default state always increases with more and more pleasures! This habituation to positive and favorable conditions is directly connected to the notions called as hedonic treadmill and joyless economy.

As an example to the law of habituation we can take the most common example of spouses taken for granted after they spend awhile as couples. After being together for quite sometime they may not feel the love and affection when they are together but they will feel for the love and affection of the other only when they are missing their counterparts!

So, what does the law of habituation say when a person is faced with hardship continuously? Frijda says continued hardship lose their poignancy (up to a limit). For example, suppose a person, who uses his car to go to his office daily, loses his car for some reasons. Also, assume that he has to use public transport to go to his office for few months.  For the first few days/week he will experience the hardship of walking to the bus stop, waiting for the bus and so on. But after few days or weeks he will get used to it in other word he gets habituated to it.

The law of comparative feelings is also connected to envy. A person who has performed better in his/her exam might feel jealous seeing somebody else having scored more marks than him/her. In addition to this, it also has direct contact with Schadenfreude — a person who has got into some difficulty in his life sees his enemy has also got into more problems than him and feels better seeing that!

The Laws of Emotion – 2

We continue our discussion with the laws of emotion (from N Frijda’s book on Laws of Emotion)

The Law of Apparent Reality:

In the first law (in the previous post) we saw that an individual’s perception of the event is more important than the event itself. This law of apparent reality says that the meaning of the events are appraised as “real”. It says unless an individual sees/feels the event or the meaning of the event is true or at least believes it to be true it elicits no emotions. Also, it adds that the intensity of the emotion corresponds directly to the degree which the individual feels it is real. The reality refers to a more popular phenomenon in psychology called as time discounting – people, in general, prefer immediate rewards than larger rewards at a later time.

This law gives few more very important insights which we discuss in the following.

Knowing means less than seeing

Consider a person who is water phobic. We can not explain to him/her how to swim and ask him/her not to get freighten since he/she has the life support always in case some problem arises. Whenever he/she sees a water body he/she gets fearful and wants to turn his/her eyes off or even run away from that place. What it tells in general is knowing is less than seeing.

Words mean less than tone of voice

Imagine a girl telling the guy who is following her in sweet and friendly voice that do n’t follow me! Will it work in reality? Of course not. In reality the tone of the voice is more important than the words used.

Feeling means more than knowing

We might get to know some news that something has happened somewhere but unless it affects us directly it will not concern us much. For example, Frijda in his book says Chernobyl disaster was felt in Europe only after the imposition of restriction on consumption of milk. This shows that feeling means more than knowing.

Weakness of reason against the strength of passion

If an individual is very passionate in work he will not think about his health. He might work day in and day out not bothering about sleep which might affect him in the later stage of his life. Reasoning becomes weak when we consider passion.

The Laws of Emotion – 1

Most of us might have heard about Newton’s laws of motion. When we hear about the laws of emotion it might give a weird kind of a feeling – the main reason being that the emotions are the most idiosyncratic entity for any living being. So the general question we might get is how can we have laws on emotion. The answer for this questions is given by one of the most well-known researcher in the area of emotions – Nico Frijda

According to Frijda although emotions are more individualistic in nature there is a general underlying rule for emotions based on the events a living being might encounter. This underlying phenomena might be overridden by our own inhibitions for various reasons/factors consciously or in the sub-conscious state.

Frijda states nine laws of emotions we will take up the first two for our discussion in this post.

The Law of Situational Meaning

The first law states that not the meaning but the situational meaning is very important. The situational meaning of the event here refers to the full spatial and temporal context in which a specific event happened. Hence the main reason for an emotion to occur is not the event as such but the meaning he/she gets out of it when he/she is in some specific situation. This law may not be very evident because more often it is overridden by controls/factors such as social, cultural, spiritual and so on either consciously or unconsciously. This law might be very much evident if person suffers from some illness or the person is already in some motivational states like hunger, thirsty and so on. Under “ideal/normal” circumstances the law of situational meaning will be more evident. Very good example for this is “someone falling in love”.

The Law of Concern

The counterpart of the law of situational meaning is the law of concern. Emotions arise only when the event is of some importance to the person. It should be of concern either in a positive or in the negative way. If the concern is a positive one, i.e., for example, it exceeds the expectations of a person then he/she gets into a positive emotion. Likewise if the concern is a negative one, i.e., for example, a person lost his dear one, he/she gets into a negative emotion. Also note that this can lead to mixed emotions also – concerned person can get into both positive and negative emotions also. For example, a person gets a good job outside the country he/she may get into both positive and negative emotions. Positive because he/she was successful and negative because he/she has to leave the country leaving the near and dear ones. This is a very simple example to show the evidence of mixed emotions but in reality there can be much complex situations/concerns where person can get into a conflict/dilemma of what to select. The concern arises mainly because of expectations, goals and ambitions.

To be continued…

PS: The comments given above are all my takes on the book The Laws of Emotion by N. Frijda. If you feel something is wrong please correct me.

What is emotion?

There are a lot of words related to emotions that we use every day – happy, sad, confused, wonder, contented, etc. we never had any doubt about what they mean. When we use these words to communicate, we never doubted whether the other person will understand it or not.

What comes to our mind when we hear these words?

For example, what comes to our mind when we hear the word ‘happiness’?

It must be a smile or laughter. We remember cry or a frown face when we hear the word ‘sad’.

Is this what emotion is all about?

Definitely not.

According to Nico H Frijda, there are three components for emotions.

  1. Behavior/expression
  2. Subjective experience
  3. Physiological responses

Laughter, cry, smile, frown, etc. are behaviors that are associated with certain emotions. Apart from these expressions, we can observe bigger and more significant behaviors also as part of emotional behaviors, like throwing something when angry, patting a pet when affectionate, etc.

Apart from these, there are feelings or experiences that are associated with each emotion. It is very difficult for someone to explain this experience even though everyone experiences it. It is more like ‘the self’ or the ‘I’ within us experiences the emotion. This is evident when someone explains their emotional state like “I feel sad”, “I feel happy”, etc. The assumption is that if people emphasize on “I feel…” there must be something special about that feeling.

Another thing that comes into picture is physiological responses. For example, shivering, palpitations, etc. We use some nice phrases to represent the physiological changes.  ‘Broken heart’, ‘butterflies in the stomach’, etc., are some phrases we use to explain some of these states.

When we face an event, we generate all the three mentioned above as a response to what we face. This phenomenon is called emotion.

Emotion Vs Thinking

“Well, that person is very emotional!”

“Don’t be emotional!”

How many times have we heard of statements similar to this? I guess it should be almost every day. What is the objective to coin sentences similar to these? Have we thought about this? I think one of the main reasons to brand a person by saying he is emotional is to mean that he is not rational; he is not applying his mind. Now should we think emotions are hindrance to rational thinking? If your answer is yes then you are right but one fact is you are still in olden days! Because in the olden days people thought emotion is a hurdle to think rationally and logically. Plato said “passions and desires and fears make it impossible for us to think”. Descartes also said in the same vein that emotions keep the mind from pursuing its intellectual process.

In the recent times (50 years is recent in research unlike technology for which it is ancient!) researchers, especially, psychologists have explored the many positive roles of emotions in cognition and intelligence.

I am not going into the technical details to explain the positive roles of emotions in this post but I would like to suggest few examples which can substantiate to an extent the positive roles played by emotions.

Herbert Simon in one of his paper in 1967 argued that emotions perform the critical important function of interrupting normal cognition when some unattended goals require attention and servicing. This is a very important feature of emotions — in the broader sense this is called as internal goal management. The other main use of emotion is as problem solving tool. This too, was pointed out by H. Simon. For example, let us see a person who is going to perform on the stage for the first time. Just think of his varied mix of emotions. He is happy that he has got an opportunity; He fears that nothing unexpected things happens; He is anxious about his performance and the response from the audience. These are few emotions a normal person will go through. Happy makes him/her in a positive frame of mind. Fear makes him to prepare for the eventualities that he might face when he performs on the stage. Anxiousness makes him to perform to the liking of the audience according to his belief (leave out if it is ultimately a success or failure). The liking is with respect to him — he is seeing the expectation of the audience through his perception. So what we infer here — emotions are driving forces to take necessary actions for the expected events. Emotions are also in the abstract sense an umbrella term to seek solutions. I mean to say each emotion is mapped to few set of solutions. Fear can occur for various events but each occurrence of fear in a person will drive him to apply the solutions associated with fear either to run away, prepare to face it, get some help from someone and so on.

So emotions are not hindrance to thinking but the moral is to use emotion and thinking in a correct proportion. Correct proportion is very hard to define here. It comes only through experience and it also depends on one’s own personality.

Thinking without being emotional is learning to drive a car by reading books about driving; learning swimming without touching the water!