Functions of Unconscious and Conscious Emotion in the Regulation of Implicit and Explicit Motivated Behavior

Functions of Unconscious and Conscious Emotion in the Regulation of Implicit and Explicit Motivated Behavior

Mark Ashton Smith (Girne American University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-892-6.ch002


In this chapter the objective is to taxonomize unconscious and conscious affective and emotional processes and provide an account of their functional role in cognition and behavior in the context of a review of the relevant literature. The position adopted is that human affect and emotion evolved to function in motivational-cognitive systems and that emotion, motivation and cognition should be understood within a single explanatory framework. A ‘dual process’ account that integrates emotion, motivation and cognition, is put forward in which emotion plays different functional roles in implicit motivations and explicit motivations.
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Introduction To The Biopsychology Of Motivation

Biopsychological research on emotional and motivational processes has undergone an unprecedented growth spurt in the last couple of decades (Schultheiss & Wirth, 2008). Biopsychology is an insightful and fruitful discipline one for understanding the nature of human affect and motivation, and provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the functioning of not only emotional, motivational and cognitive processes that are shared with other higher mammals, but also those that may be uniquely human. A strategy of this chapter will be to develop a novel dual-process theoretical account of human motivation, emotion and cognition through the data and theoretical insights of biopsychology, and then assess this theory in the light of social and cognitive psychological research.

Biopsychology combines affect and motivation within a common explanatory framework, providing explanations of both in terms of specific functions of the brain in control of behavior. There is extensive use of mammalian animal models such as rats, mice and monkeys, with the assumption that brain functioning for basic motivational and affective processes is highly similar across species. This assumption is justified in as far as the functional architecture; neurotransmitter and endocrine systems implicated in motivated behaviors are highly similar across different mammalian species. Many mammalian motivations are readily explained in common evolutionary terms. They are adaptive, directing organisms towards or away from stimuli of obvious significance for survival and reproduction. This is true not only of basic motivations like hunger and thirst but also of motives such as paternal care, affiliation, dominance and sex. There is a clear evolutionary continuity of motivations. Either human motivations are close homologues of motives that exist in other mammals, or they are obviously derived from such motives. Humans’ hunger for a wider and more culturally informed selection of foods than other apes, and human sexual motivations are independent of the biological need to reproduce. Human dominance motivations are more complex than the socially motivated dominance behaviors of our closest relatives the chimpanzees (Wrangham & Peterson, 1996). But there are obvious continuities that enable us to explain and predict human brain function and behavior, and theorize in evidence-based ways about how such motives have become more complex in the course of human evolution.

Approach and Avoidance Motivation

Central to biopsychological theories of motivation is the idea that motivated behavior comes in two modes: approach mode aimed at attaining incentives or rewards, and avoidance mode aimed at avoiding aversive disincentives or punishments. Rewards and punishments can be understood as the unconditioned stimuli towards which all Pavlovian and instrumental learning is ultimately directed. In the case of punishments or disincentives, these include poisons or rancid food, sources of disease, physical injury and pain, defeat in intra or inter-sex competition, or social rejection. In the case of rewards, these include nutrients for hunger motivation, water for thirst, orgasm for sexual motivation, social closeness for affiliation motivation, and being on top of a social hierarchy for dominance motivation.

These rewards and punishments are critical to an organism’s genetic survival. Animals need to find food for energy, drink to quench thirst, and mate to pass on their genes to offspring. In order to do this they need to compete with and dominate other same-sex members of their species. These are recurrent adaptive goals in mammalian life over millions of years of evolutionary history. All mammals desire the rewards associated with fulfilling these functions, feel compelled to attain them repeatedly, and show invigorated responding where their behavior can be instrumental to attaining them. Evolution has equipped mammals with specialized neurobiological systems to coordinate and support the attainment of these classes of incentives. They have been described by biopsychologists in considerable detail for drinking, feeding, affiliation, dominance and sex (review, Schultheiss & Wirth, 2008).

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