Although cognitions are not necessary to activate the fully constructed associative network, they are required to do the developmental work of building that network. Cognitive and emotional developmental stages mirror each other because cognitive skills are required to build the architecture of the emotions. No emotion can exist until the organism is cognitively advanced enough to create a corresponding emotion node in its network.
The newborn expresses approach and withdrawal responses that guide its behaviors until two months. Developmental researchers55 have noted a significant behavioral shift at two months, involving the appearance of the social smile and cooing, changes in sleep patterns and visual attentiveness, and increased potential for conditioning. Joy and surprise maybe observed at this age level, and Izard et al.56 also report anger expressions at two months. In Piaget's terms, this represents the transition to stage II of sensorimotor development and involves the coordination of senses. Without the two-month-old's coordination of sensory input, he or she is incapable of the experience and expression of surprise, joy, and anger.
Emde57 notes another biobehavioral shift at seven to nine months. The child responds fearfully to strangers but not to caregivers and becomes afraid of "visual cliffs."58 This corresponds to Piaget's stage IV of sensorimotor development with its understanding of means-ends relationships and object permanence, and this cognitive ability to anticipate events has emotional ramifications. Without an understanding that certain events bring about other events, the child could not anticipate danger and therefore would react to a frightening stimulus with shock or surprise, not fear.
Clearly this model does not propose that the cognitions necessary for building the associative network be conscious or high level. It assumes sensory and perceptual processes that are not representational.59 Higher cognitions do help build the network in the older subject, however. The more "subtle" the emotion (existential fear, for example), the higher the cognitive development required to place it in the network. As Minsky suggests:
infantile emotions are comparatively simple in character and... the complexity of adult emotions results from accumulating networks of mutual exploitations. In adults, these networks eventually become indescribably complicated, but no more so than the networks of our adult intellectual structures.60
The accumulation of associations simultaneously creates both an intricate cognitive networkbut also a complex parallel system for emotional response.
This system does not suggest that more subtle, adult emotions are created by combining more "basic" emotions. Emotions are not like colors. Complex emotions are not produced by combining more primary emotions, as one can make purple from the primary colors red and blue. Emotions are all produced through a coordination of cognitive and emotional developments. Some emotions maybe considered more "basic" in the same sense that some cognitions are more "basic" because they appear earlier in the individual's development. The sequence of emotional development is universal to the same extent that cognitive stage development is universal.61
As people develop, one of their principal tasks is to increase the inter-connectedness of their emotion network, just as they must create an ever more complicated network of thought. Individual experiences create unique associations among nodes in the network, and it is through such personal circumstances that each of us creates our distinctive emotion network.
An emotion system develops habits, just as individuals do. We try out particular emotional responses, and if they prove effective, we tend to use these responses over and over, developing a personal emotional style. One individual may tend to respond to a threatening situation angrily, whereas another may respond fearfully. One person may learn to depend more heavily on one source of emotional input, and data from that source may become more heavily weighted in the system's functioning (for example, actors trained to be particularly aware of body posture may find that a characteristic gesture allows them to feel a character's emotions). Individual experience can also alter the emotional makeup systemwide. If people are encouraged not to express or acknowledge emotion, over time their thresholds for activating the emotion system may rise.
The system is not completely malleable; there are undoubtedly limits. It is impossible to raise the system threshold so high that one cannot feel emotion, nor is it probable that one can significantly alter the emotional evaluation that occurs before conscious awareness. Given certain limits, however, the emotion system is remarkably flexible. Associations can link emotions to seemingly unconnected objects (as Freud noted in fetishes), and the emotion system can connect emotions that appear to be opposites. A roller-coaster aficionado can tie enjoyment to the irreducible fear or withdrawal affect activated by falling, and horror film fans can have rollicking fun when their uncontrollable startle reflexes are jolted. Because associations are the basic connective tissue of the emotion system, this provides the network with the necessary flexibility to become well suited to an individual's environment.
Building an emotion network, then, is a lifelong process of adding new associations on top of old ones, creating a more complexly interconnected system capable of more nuanced response as the individual assimilates new experiences.
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