Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Extreme emotions as motivation
What is the motivational role of extreme emotion?
|“||"Let's not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it..." - (Vincent Van Gogh)||”|
Our lives are spent in motion. We dream, we play, we laugh and we cry. Underlying these major movements in life are the things that drive us, that push us and that set the course for our lives. Our motivation is at the core of our being. It is the phenomena that gives our behaviour energy, direction and motion. We are also creatures of deep feeling, of passion, strength, courage. Of sadness, rage and despair. Our emotions are functions that are reactive and causal to the situations around us, the environment and people we interact with and our internal biology. As such, emotions that fall at the extreme ends of what are normally felt serve to remind us that extreme emotions are a fundamental part of the visceral and rich experience that is human life.
What is emotion?
Emotion is a term that has driven a great deal of research and inquiry. There is no clear consensus between researchers on what constitutes emotion. It is multi-faceted and thought to contain aspects of:
- acute responses to stimuli
- neurological arousal
- outward expression of response.
- internalization of response (Cabanc, 2002).
The most common definitions refer to the James-Lange theory of emotion, first mentioned in literature in the 1920s. This seminal paper suggested that emotion is an organic process that involved the nervous system. This was later developed by researchers to suggest that emotion is a function of the Limbic system and represented the Insula, a part of the inner cortex (Delton & Sell, 2014).
Most broadly emotion represents a mixture of our internal states, our environment, our biology and our motivation. Once combined, these form “emotion” and it is evaluated often by how this is expressed by people (Lindquist, Wager, Bliss-Moreau, Kober & Barret, 2012; Oosterwijk et al, 2012).
What is motivation?
Motivation has a much more concrete definition. Motivation is the internal processes that begin to lead a person to behave in a particular way. It is a process that can only be inferred from external observation (Baumeister & Voh, 2007).
This area of study has historical underpinnings stemming from B.F Skinner’s principles of operant conditioning in which an action will lead to a consequence. Reinforcing the action that leads to the consequence will eventually produce a reliable pattern of behaviour and the incentive will often predict and “motivate” the behaviour (Kileen & Pellon, 2013).
Hull’s drive reduction theory suggested that any being (animal or human) is motivated by a physiological deficit. You are thirsty, your body triggers a thirst response, you arise and get a drink, the drive to drink is reduced and the body returns to homeostasis. This theory was concerned mainly with the biological processes that drive our observable actions and behaviours (Mills, 1978; Wykoff, 1959).
A popular, modern explanation for the phenomena that is motivation was suggested by Deci & Ryan in 2007. They believe in everyday life, people experience two distinct types of motivation:
- Intrinsic motivation – behaviour that is internally satisfying and interesting. Curiosity, interest and self-reward drive intrinsic motivation.
- Extrinsic Motivation – behaviour is externally motivated, involving a reward of some type or avoidance of a negative consequence (Deci and Ryan, 2007).
There are many other motivation theories, all concerned with different areas of cognition, perception and observable examples of what drives motivational forces in our everyday lives.
A Brief Overview of the History of Motivation and Emotion
Listed below are a selection of the influential and popular theories that directed research into Motivation and Emotion
Psychoanalytic Theory - Freud's suggestion that motivation arises from interaction between the Ego, Id and Superego
James-Lange Theory of Emotion – this early theory suggested that emotions evolved out of a response to physiological stimuli. You see a lion, your heart races and you feel fear. Emotions are secondary to the physiological response.
The extremes of emotion - anger and fear
Emotion is a complex area with many different theories and perspectives. However, the consensus across researchers is that there is a number of “primary” emotions. Plutchik suggested that this forms a wheel of primary emotions that, when combined or experienced, form what we consciously recognise as being human. Most distinct of the 8 identifiable emotions are Anger and Fear (Plutchik, 2002; Smith & Schneider, 2009).
|“||"Anger is just anger. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It's like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice." - ( Jim Butcher)||”|
The first of the common extreme emotions is Anger; a naturally occurring and biologically based emotion common across humans from different cultural backgrounds. It varies in intensity from mild irritations through to severe manifestations, namely rage. It occurs on a cognitive level where people perceive threats, over-predict other people’s actions and over-sensitivity to violations. It also is a physiologically based response with activation occurring in the sympathetic nervous system . Increased blood pressure, heart rate, skin conductivity and muscle tension are physical reactions of the human body when experiencing anger .
This emotion serves a particularly strong motivational role, with anger serving a function that draws together emotional and physical resources to deal with real and perceived threats within the environment. The heightened arousal allows for the brain to react instantaneously to threats. However, when this natural response remains heightened and prolonged it begins to lead to dysfunctional, problematic and maladaptive behaviours (Reifen-Tager, Frederico, Halperin, 2011).
Whilst everyone experiences anger at some point during their life, it is when this emotion continues to malinger that it ascends into an extreme representation. It is this extreme anger that serves to create aspects of hate crimes and racism. There is early research to suggest that this also serves to develop some of the underlying motivations behind terrorism. It has been proposed that prolonged heightened anger towards foreign occupation lends itself to developing a deep seeded hatred and that this anger toward these perceived invaders drives their motivation to commit acts of terror including suicide bombing, arson and killing of civilians and military personnel (Dunkel, Waterman, Schwartz, 2009; Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman & Orehek, 2009). This also occurs with racism with anger at perceived violations of one ethnic group against another. Hate crimes are undertaken to cause harm to a rival ethnic or social group; usually the victims are strangers and the attacks are designed to damage and denigrate the group as a whole. This anger and hatred fuels the motivation to cause harm and commit violent act (Ikuenobe, 2011; Saucier, Hockett & Wallenberg, 2008).
Apply your knowledge – anger in the real world
Suzanne is a middle aged retail worker. She works with a variety of people from all ethnic backgrounds. She has been working for the same company for the past 20 years and has seen many people come and go. However, recently a number of international students have passed through the business. Often she feels that their English is poor and their communication stilted and hard to understand. Initially this caused mild annoyance and anger, her record as a department manager was being challenged routinely by poor performance from all team members. As time has gone by she has begun to blame all her work-related stresses on international students with poor English skills. She is openly hostile and defensive towards new employees of any ethnic background who display with poor English skills.
She has allowed her anger to devolve and intensify to a level of extremes. This extreme prolonged anger has caused racism.
|“||""You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."" - Eleanor Roosevelt||”|
The second emotion that produces an extreme response is fear. It occurs in a very similar manner to Anger, with the presence of a threat causing a significant physiological change that prepares a person to react. Where anger spurs individuals to action, preparing them to fight and defend, fear is a response to an event or interaction that is current or perceived to have the potential to occur in the future. This event has a significant risk to an individual’s life, health, security or anything of value. It is a danger that causes the body to be ready for either confrontation or flee (fight-or-flight) (Lindquist & Barrett, 2008). Much like anger, fear causes distinct changes in the body including
- Increased rate of breathing
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased alertness
In extreme cases, fear can completely overwhelm the body and brain resulting in paralysis and this is often seen in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event (such as severe sexual assault, residency in a warzone and environmental disasters) (Hatzimoysis,2014).
Just as anger is motivational, fear too can lead to increase in motivation. Primarily, fear promotes avoidance and escape behaviours, seeking to escape. A great deal of research has occurred into fear and motivation primarily around academic motivations (Putwain & Remedios, 2014). However, extreme fear is usually only present after trauma which is distinctly different from the fear and stress that is caused by exam and university. The prolonged exposure to the flight and flight response has generated interesting results particularly in regards to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Franz et al, 2013; Zoellner, Pruitt, Farach & Jun, 2014).
It has been revealed that heightened fear responses has the potential to cause changes in the fear activation system, directly linked to the amgydala. In one such study, individuals with distinctly identified fear-based neuroses were investigated with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The study compared them to healthy controls and showed that participants who experience fear display quicker activation in their amygdala to imagery that stimulates their fear, but also had prolonged activation in the amygdala far beyond the removal of the feared stimuli (Killgore et al, 2014). There is also evidence that the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus can be related to long-term losses in memory, as a consequence of heightened awareness and fear (Fani et al, 2012; Marin, Camprodon, Doughterty & Milad, 2014; Thomaes et al, 2013).
Apply your knowledge – fear in the real world
Rhett is a 25 year old victim of sexual assault. In his late teens as he was leaving work one night he was approached by a gang of young men who beat him, violated him and sodomized him. Police became involved and the perpetrators were recently bought to justice. Although this incident happened almost 7 years ago, Rhett still avoids going out at night alone and finds that if he is left alone at night in public that his body reacts and his mind freezes. He is receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and in the process of undertaking Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to reduce his anxiety levels at night. However, his fear of sexual assault reoccurring often overcomes his mental defenses. He seeks shelter inside buildings that are well lit and will only go out at night if he can drive himself home.
Rhett is displaying extreme levels of fear which motivate his escape and avoidance behaviour.