Filter All Projects

Project Details

Ciompi Luc | Fellow Visitor
1994-01-01 - 1995-12-31 | Research area: Cognition and Sociality
Affective-Cognitive Interactions According to the Concept of Fractal Affect-Logic

Basic notions and definitions

In general psychology and psychopathology, emotions and cognitions are usually explored as separate phenomena. Emotions are poorly integrated in current cognitivistic theories of mental functioning, and regular interactions between both are neglected. One reason for this is that there are no generally accepted definitions of both. Moreover, current defintions of emotion and cognition are often overlapping, unclear and highly variable from one discipline to another.

The theory of fractal affect-logic claims that there are obligatory circular interactions between emotion and cognition (or feeling and thinking, affectivity and logic) in all mental phenomena, on the basis of clear definitions of both. It postulates that all cognitive objects are systematically "colored" by specific affective connotations which, eventually, have multiple dynamic consequences. Basic affective states mobilise and organise cognitive activities including thinking in affect-specific ways.

These postulates are supported by current neurobiological, psychological-psychodynamical, sociodynamical, ethological and evolutionary findings, and by clinical observations and basic research in the field of psychiatry and psychopathology (mainly schizophrenia). The overall theoretical framework is system-theoretic, including current notions on self-organisation and nonlinear dynamics of complex systems far from equilibrium (chaos-theory, complexity-theory).

Both affects and cognitions are understood as fundamentally different, but functionally closely related elementary biological phenomena with deep evolutionary roots. The term of"affects" is used as a supraordinated notion defined as psycho-physical states of variable quality, duration and degree of consciousness, accompanied by specific neurobiological, neurovegetative and psychomotor-expressive phenomena.  Variable overlapping definitions of emotions, feelings, moods or "affective tuning" are included in this supraordinated notion.

An important consequence of this definition is the fact that it is not possible not to be in an affective state, as even indifference, apathy or the more "neutral" mood of everyday behaviour correspond to specific emotional "tunings" of body and mind, with specific effects on cognitive activity.

Innumerable affective nuances can be reduced to a restricted number of so-called basic emotions with deep evolutionary roots, among them interest (stimulus hunger), fear, rage, sadness and joy (according to certain authors also surprise, disgust, shame, and others). Their evolutionary origin are elementary states of tension and relaxation (sympathicotonic or parasympathicotonic states related to exploration, flight or fight, food-intake, sexuality, care for breed, a.s.o.) which are experienced as pleasure and unpleasure on the human level. More differentiated emotions are generated by mixtures of basic emotions on the one hand, and cognitive and cultural modulations of basic emotions on the other hand.

"Cognition" is defined as the capacity of establishing and further processing sensory differences. This definition corresponds to current notions in information theory, cybernetics and mathematical theories on cognition, as those elaborated in Spencer Browns "Laws of form" (1979). Already simple organisms are capable of cognition in an elementary sense. On higher levels, and especially in primates, cognition is differentiated in several functional aspects such as multimodal sensory perception, attention, memory storage and mobilisation, judgment and thinking.

"Logic" is understood in the sense of the way how cognitive elements are linked and combined. This general definition includes formal aristotelian logic as well as "everyday-logic" or "actual ways of thinking". It leads to the notion of different types of logic depending on context, in accordance with current developments in theory of science, philosophy and mathematics.

The term "affect-logic"  is a (not fully satisfactory) translation of the German expression "Affektlogik" meaning, simultaneously, "the logic of affectivity" and "the affectivity of logic". A first outline of the concept of affect-logic was published in 1982 in the book "Affektlogik. Ueber die Struktur der Psyche und ihre Entwicklung. Ein Beitrag zur Schizophrenieforschung. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart", translated into English under the title "The psyche and schizophrenia. The bond between affect and logic" (1988). The latest and most comprehensive elaboration of the concept is presented in the book "Die emotionalen Grundlagen des Denkens. Entwurf einer fraktalen Affektlogik" ("The emotional bases of thinking"). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1997

Integrated feeling-thinking-behaving programs as essential "building blocks" of the psyche

According to another basic hypothesis of the theory of affect-logic, affects, cognitions and behavior are systematically connected and integrated into functional "programs for feeling, thinking and behaving" through  repetitive action and experience. Context-related feeling- thinking-and-behaving programs of variable degrees of and complexity are the essential "building blocks" of the psyche. Encoded as "memory" in the functional configuration of the neural network by the phenomenon of neural plasticity (see below), they are organised in a flexible hierarchy according to context and remobilised in similar affective-cognitive situations.

This postulate is supported by the fact that affects, cognitions and behavior are functionally integrated in action. According to Jean Piagets (mainly cognitivistic) genetic epistemology which is completed by the emotional dimension in the theory of affect-logic, all cognitive concepts have their origin in concrete actions. These actions are differentiated, on the basis of inborn sensori-motor schemata, from the first day of life. They are progressively coordinatet, hierarchised, automatised and finally "internalised" or "mentalised", constituting thus the basis for their eventual symbolisation by language. There is, however, no action without emotion. From the point of view of survival and evolution, it is highly important that specific cognitions are stored in memory and reactivated together with their emotional connotations and behavioral consequences (as condensed in the german proverb "burnt children fear the fire") - that is under the form of integrated feeling-thinking-behaving programs.

Omnipresent operator-effects of affects on cognition

 According to the theory of affect-logic, affects mobilise, organise and integrate cognitions in specific ways. Form, speed, focus and content of cognitive activity are different in different affective states. Affects continually exert both general and specific so-called operator-effects on cognitive functions including thinking.

The main general operator effects are:

  • Affects are the essential "energisers" or "motors" of cognitive activity. They mobilise, stimulate, accelerate or inhibit thinking in affect-specific ways
  • Affects focus attention on affect-specific contents and thus establish an affect-specific cognitive hierarchy
  • Affects mobilise and store cognitive contents in affect-specific ways (state-dependent information processing, learning and memory)
  • Affects connect and combine cognitive elements of similar emotional connotation into more complex cognitive entities (affect-specific modes of logic in the above mentioned sense)
  • Affects are, in summary, the most important reducers of cognitive complexity.

Moreover, each basic affects influences cognitive behaviour in its specific way. The main affect-specific operator-effects on cognition are the following:

  • Interest provokes a general cognitive arousel
  • Anxiety and fear provoke increase of distance from fear-connotated cognitive objects
  • Rage provokes diminuition of distance, reinforcment of bounderies to and/or invasion of selected cognitive objects
  • Pleasent feelings (pleasure, joy, love etc.) provoke diminuition of distance and establishment of functional bounds with selected cognitive objects (bonding)
  • Sadness and mourning loosen and eliminate dysfunctional bounds with selected (lost) cognitive objects.

Complex context-related affective-cognitive dynamics are continually generated by the described operator effects of affects. They generate affect-specific types of "logic" in the above mentioned sense (fear-logic, rage-logic, hate-logic, joy-logic, love-logic, erotic logic, mourning-logic, a.s.o). However, affect-intensity is gradually lowered by repetition. In habitual apparently "neutral" everyday-logic and thinking, characterised by "self-evident" stereotypes, value-systems and ideologies of low average emotional intensity, the same operator effects are still at work, but  become gradually automatised and mostly inconscious.

High emotional intensity is reserved for new, difficult and potentially dangerous events. As contradictions, conflicts and paradoxes are emotionally unpleasant and resolution of tension by more harmonious (more economic) thinking is pleasant, affect-related mechanisms play also an important role in reorganising cognitive structures on higher levels of complexity, that is in abstract thinking, scientific and formal logic included. Each new insight results from the pleasure-guided resolution of an emotional tension, and this "pleasure of function" remains latently present in all "rational" cognitive operations. "Pure" rational thinking without initial, and eventually hidden, operator-effects of affectivity does not exist, not even in science and mathematics.

Affect-energetic and chaostheoretical aspects

Different affects can be understood as specifically organised and directed energetic states of the whole organism. Affects are the essential energy-vectors, or energisers and organisers of cognitive activity and behaviour in general. Different affective states carry different loads of emotional energy (bioenergy initially generated in affect-specific neuronal circuits, then transmitted to mental and body activities and, eventually, to general behaviour).

Fear-logic, hate-logic, love-logic and other global affective-cognitive patterns (global feeling-thinking-behaving programs) correspond to specific patters of distribution of emotional energy among the relevant cognitions. In other words, they are self-organising energy dissipating structures or "strange attractors" in the sense of the theory of nonlinear dynamics of complex systems (chaos-theory, complexity theory).

High energetic inputs by emotionally loaded cognitive informations can provoke critical sudden shifts (nonlinear bifurcations) from one global feeling-thinking-behaving system toward another (e.g. from fear-logic toward rage-logic, from love-logic toward hate-logic, from everyday-logic toward psychotic logic, a.s.o.). So-called butterfly effects (small causes > great effects, and vice-versa) can also be observed during phases of instability.

All the described affective-cognitive interactions can be observed on all possible levels of complexity (elementary and differentiated feeling-thinking processes, short-time and long-time processes, individual and collective processes). They are, hence, scale-independent, self-similar or of fractal structure in the sense of chaos-theory. This insight establishes a new theoretical continuity between a number of disciplines and fields of observation which, so far, have been largely separated.

Biological bases

Virtually all above mentioned postulates of affect-logic are supported by basic biological findings. The biological substratum of the assumed "feeling-thinking-behaving programs" are functionally integrated neuronal circuits generated through action by neuronal plasticity (repeated stimulation of the same synaptic connections facilitates stimulus transmission and dendritic growth) and synchronicity (simultaneous activation of remote neuronal areas creates preferential patterns of higher complexity). Different affect-specific neuronal systems with integrated cognitive, affective, sensorimotor and vegetative components have been identified, or are on the way to being identified, during the last 10-15 years; among them a so-called reward-system characterized by pleasant feelings, an anger-aggression system, a fear-anxiety system and a panic system. Furthermore, at least five global cerebral states corresponding to the mentioned basic emotions have been identified by spectral electroencephalographic methods. Other EEG-research confirms the phenomenon of state-dependent information processing and learning in different functional states of the brain. Limbic and paralimbic structures which regulate emotions are closely connected with those involved in thinking and memorisation. Recently detected rich ascending and descending connections between limbic system, neocortex, thalamus, and hypothalamus provide the neuronal basis for close mutual interactions between emotions, cognitions, sensorimotor activity and hormonal tuning of the whole body. Of particular interest is the discovery of direct connections between thalamus and amygdala, allowing for emotional emergency reactions to sensory imputs without previous high-level cognitive processing (LeDoux, 1989). These same structures are richly innervated by all major neurotransmittor systems that are related to specific affective states (e.g. noradrenaline to aggression, dopamin to anxiety and fear, serotonine to depression, and endorphins to pleasant feelings). Their projections toward distant brain areas provide the functional basis for the postulated far-reaching effects of emotions.

According to a hypothesis formulated by Ciompi in 1991, most of the described operator effects of affects on cognition could be economically explained by one single biological mechanism: A similar  emotional inprint  could be necessary both for generating and for reactivating specific neuronal pathways. Or, more explicitely: If the same neurotransmittors which activate or reactivate emotion-specific pathways would also stimulate the genesis of new neuronal connections by dendritic growth and other neuroplastic mechanisms, practically all the postulated interactions between affects and cognitions, as well as the described organizing and integrating functions of affects would become comprehensively understandable.

Nonlinear structural coupling between biological, psychological and social phenomena

It is assumed that the phenomenological domains of biological, psychological and social processes are reciprocally structurally coupled in the sense of Maturana and Varela (1982). This means that, while influencing each other in a zone of interaction, each phenomenological fields of observation functions along its own laws (is "operationally closed" in the terminology of Maturana) and cannot be reduced to the other one-to-one. This assumption leads to a truly integrative and non-reductionist model of psycho-socio-biological phenomena, without loosing the specific perspectives, properties and methods of each field of observation.

Theoretical and practical implications

The theory of fractal affect logic has implications for different fields of science, especially for general psychology, sociology, anthropology, theories on cognitive evolution, psychopathology, psychotherapy and constructivistic philosophy. The postulated fractality or self-similarity of affective-cognitive interactions on all possible levels leads not only to new insights in individual thinking dynamics and general psychodynamics, but also in collective (microsocial and macrosocial) cognitive dynamics and behaviour, with a plausible link between both. In psychiatry, the notion of systematic operator effects of affects on cognition leads to new hypotheses concerning the structure and genesis of numerous psychopathologic conditions. Schizophrenia, in particular, appears as an essentially affective (and not primarily cognitive) psychosis of a different affective-cognitive structure, however, than mania and melancolia. The basis of the still enigmatic "schizophrenogenic vulerability" could be an inborn and/or acquired lability of affective-cognitive connnections. Other practical applications concern verbal and body-centered psychotherapies, communication theories, advertising, politics. On the philosophical level, taking into account the described omnipresence of operator effects of affects on thinking leads to a new type of constructivism where the so far neglected emotional factors are fully included. In summary, the concept of affect-logic leads to a new understanding of normal and disturbed mental activity where in which emotional components are no longer excluded.