unfolding of attention
1.3.1 Arnold’s legacy
Appraisal theories of emotion originated after the work of Magda Arnold (1960) who first argued that organisms constantly evaluate the relevance of environmental changes against a finite number of criteria. She dubbed these evaluative processes “appraisals” (p. 73), referring to the rapid, au-tomatic, unconscious, and ballistic evaluations involved in this recurrent process (see also Lazarus, 1966). In this framework, an appraisal is viewed as a continuous process filtering the significance of the events occurring in the environment. A number of appraisal processes interact, generating emotions5, and thereby influencing the course of perception and action of the organism.
A central tenet of appraisal theories sees emotions as adaptive mechanisms meant to decouple perception and behaviour (Scherer, 1984). As such, emotions represent a flexible, evolutionary
justified alternative to pre-wired reflexive responses, providing the organism with the ability to respond to a greater range of situations. The elicitation and differentiation of emotions occur through the integration of the many appraisals. In other words, the process causally linking a stimulus to an emotional response is divided into multiple appraisals, which are common to every emotions. These processes evaluate the perceived object from the environment against a finite number of criteria. The integration of these appraisals yields the genesis of a particular emotion.
Unlike basic emotion theories, appraisal theories do not posit a finite number of emotions, as the appraised space can virtually contain an infinite number of emotional states.
Several theories attempt to define the very appraisal criteria involved in the recurrent evaluative process (see Table 1.1). A general picture emerges in the form of central appraisal themes spanning from low-level perceptual features (novelty, attentional grabbing) to higher-level features involving the individual’s motivations and her social environment (goals, agency, norms and standards).
The integration of the appraisals results in action tendencies that are experienced as emotions (Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003; Frijda, 2005). These action tendencies are concerned with the appro-priate reaction to the occurring event, and as such it is not surprising to see that attention (in a broad sense) is central to most appraisal theories. “Attention is tied to what the event means”
(Frijda, 2005, p. 475), and it is attention that will drive the cascading appraisal process, setting the ground for the level of action-readiness required for an appropriate reaction.
1.3.2 The component process model: Attention will be drawn by rele-vant stimuli
The idea that it is attention that will drive the unfolding appraising process is central to the compo-nent process model (CPM; Scherer, 2001; Sander & Scherer, 2005). In this model, Scherer defines the nature and the functions of the cognitive evaluations yielding the genesis of an emotion. These evaluations are described in terms of objectives encompassing the main information domains that are required to the determination and ignition of appropriate reactions to a particular situation.
The following objectives are being proposed:
1. Relevance – Is the stimulus relevant for the individual? Does it require attention deployment, further information processing?
2. Implication – What are the potential consequences of the stimulus for the individual?
Table 1.1: Comparison of appraisal criteria postulated by different theorists, adapted from Ellsworth & Scherer (2003). Appraisals related to attentional processes are generally pro-posed to occur at the beginning of the evaluative sequence.
3. Coping – Does the individual have sufficient resources to cope with the consequences of the event?
4. Normative significance – How does the stimulus relate to the individual’s social or personal norms and standards?
Each of these objectives encompasses more subtle cognitive appraisals, dubbed stimulus evaluation checks (SECs), the interaction of which yields to the differentiation of the ensuing emotion. One can see these checks as dedicated processes evaluating the occurring stimulus in regards to specific criteria. Throughout the appraising process, the evaluative function of the checks increases in complexity. The significance of the occurring event to the organism is built up, and constantly re-appraised, through recursive evaluation cycles (see also Lazarus, 1966, 1991).
Core to this theory is the proposal that appraisals occur sequentially (Grandjean & Scherer, 2008) and influence in turn each of the five components of emotion (Figure 1.3). In addition, each appraisal interacts with higher-order cognitive systems, like attention, memory or motivation. The appraisal objective concerned with relevance starts the unfolding sequence of appraising processes.
It is proposed to gather evaluations of the novelty of the stimulus, its intrinsic pleasantness, and its relevance for the goals and needs of the individual. The result of these (low-level) appraisals determine whether the individual’s limited resources should be allocated to the further processing of the occurring stimulus. In other words, the appraisal of relevance determines the amount of processing resources to be allocated, driving attention to the important information in the environment. This first series of appraisal checks thus occur pre-attentively, rapidly tuning the appraising system to sustain the extensive processing of the perceived stimulus.
The concept of relevance is central to the CPM, being the first step in the sequence of appraisals (Figure 1.3). It is of particular importance as it is believed to determine the amount of cognitive resources to be allocated to the unfolding processing of the perceived stimulus. This mechanism is evolutionarily justified in that it provides the organism with the economy of available resources, only allocating processing resources to important stimuli, thus allowing for rapid responses. In general, any stimulus that could potentially influence the goals, satisfy the needs, or maintain the individual, or her in-group members, in a sustained level of well-being is considered relevant (Scherer, 2001).
The extent to which an event will be considered relevant depends heavily on the context in which it occurs. A facial expression of fear, for instance, will represent a relevant information for the
Figure 1.3: The component process model (Scherer, 2001; Sander & Scherer, 2005). Rep-resented are the five components of emotion (vertical) as well as the sequence of appraisals (horizontal) and the interaction between subsystems that gradually shape the emotion, sup-porting the genesis of a particular feeling.
individual, signalling the occurrence of a negative event, obstructing the goals of the individual, or a potential danger. The degree to which the individual will process this information, allocating more or less resources to its processing, depends on her goals, her needs, and the present situation.
If it occurs during a safari in the savanna, it will have a different importance than if it appears on the stage of a London theatre. The ensuing reactions include the orienting of attention towards the stimulus event, the allocation of cognitive resources to its further processing, and the preparation of the organism to a behavioural response.
The concept of relevance contrasts evidently with the proposal for a fear module, and several authors propose a different reading of the results supposedly demonstrating processing biases of threat-related material (Sander et al., 2003; Vuilleumier, 2005; Fitzgerald et al., 2006; Cunningham et al., 2008). A fundamental criticism to these results concerns the fact that most studies addressed the biases of phobic populations toward phobia-related material. By definition, such material is relevant to those populations, consequently these results may have suffered from the confounding factor of relevance.