Saturday, August 13, 2011

I might decide to feel differently

I had never heard of 'emotional appraisal theory'.  Looking up "emotional appraisal", I mostly found references to exciting moments when an art or antique expert tells me an old vase or belt is worth $10,000.  That's not what I am talking about.  

I am talking about psychologists studying the methods and moments in our minds when we decide that something - a view, an event, a fact - is wonderful or terrible.  Buddhists advise meditation and any other tools to give us a chance to be awake to the contents of our minds and the way we use our minds.  A book by a group of British and American psychologists and physicians, "The Mindful Way Through Depression" (and another by Germer and Salzburg on "The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion" focuses on the sort of awareness of what sparks our emotion and which emotion is sparked.  The first book, especially, discusses "cascades", series of emotional links that lead us, often habit and without good self-awareness, from one emotion to another, often very rapidly.

Emotional appraisal theory aims at understanding how we step from awareness of something to feeling an emotion about it, which clearly can happen very fast.  However, with practice, we can learn to question whether we want to lust for a pizza when we see an ad for one or for longer lashes when we see what the product did for her.  The only source I have actually looked at on this subject is "Appraisal Processes in Emotion" by Scherer, Schorr and Johnstone.  It is a 2001 book and I have looked up a few of the contributors.  There seems to be some ongoing work in the subject.  

From my viewpoint, I am interested in the idea of focusing on the little step I take from viewing a big tree fallen on the roof of my house to the not-quite-immediate step of thinking "oh, no!" and deciding I am the victim of a bad event.  I don't think I am to the point of being able to choose my emotions about something and I may never be.  However, I am far more capable of examining the emotion just after feeling it, noting it, and looking around for other possible ways to feel, in case I want to use one of them instead.

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