Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 December 2009
All animals, including humans, are equipped with a number of more or less autonomic emotion programmes: perceived danger immediately elicits a tendency to flee (the basic fear programme), obstructive entities elicit an automatic tendency to attack (the basic anger programme), and so on. Such basic emotional reactions are mainly controlled by subcorticolimbic brain structures (MacLean, 1993; Schore, 1994). From a Darwinistic point of view, these prewired response syndromes are clearly functional, in the sense that they promote survival. This functionalist perspective seems to be in sharp contrast with the everyday life conception of emotions as disorganizing forces that interfere with one's ability to reason, which is presumably caused by the intrusive quality of emotions: our regular thought processes are often overruled by the emotion programme.
In daily life, we need these automatic emotion programmes on many occasions. Since cognition is much too slow to deal with immediate danger (Arnold, 1960), the primitive fear programme will sometimes literally function as a life-saving mechanism. Now what about less urgent circumstances? Even then, emotions are still functional in that they warn us that some interest is at stake (Frijda, 1986). However, under these circumstances, the accompanying primitive action impulse does not always serve our best interests in the complex society in which we live. We cannot attack everything that stands in our way or run away from everything that makes us nervous. Basic routines have to be adjusted to social requirements.
The first question that arises is how do we break up an automatic routine? Human emotions have three interacting components.
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