The issues of emotions and a higher level of cognition are in the focus of cognitive neuroscience since they present a set of neurobiological processes specific to human beings and constitute a significant part of their social life. Within the framework of discovering the relations between cognition and emotions, Blanchette and Richards (2010) present a broad overview of the role of a strong emotional state on such cognitive processes as interpretation, judgment, decision-making, and reasoning. The authors found that the interpretation of ambiguous stimuli dramatically depends on the presence or absence of anxiety, which determines either a positive or a negative interpretation (Blanchette & Richards, 2010). Likewise, negative mood predetermines negative judgment, as well as positive emotions, leading to a more positive estimation of the outcomes.
Also, the authors claim that anxious states and positive moods provoke risk-averse decision-making while non-anxious individuals demonstrate risk-seeking behaviors. In a similar manner, the process of reasoning is impacted by emotions, which predetermine the direction of rational thought. It has been found that when dealing with an emotionally colored subject matter, an individual is more likely to make errors in logical reasoning (Blanchette & Richards, 2010). Thus, Blanchette and Richards (2010) achieve their two goals by determining the influence of emotion on higher-level cognitive processes and identifying the mechanisms of these influences.
The study by Treanor, Brown, Rissman, and Craske (2017) provides an overview of the connection between memory and emotions. The authors use current research findings in the area of neurocognitive characteristics of memory to present their approach to the utilization of the features of memory to change under specific influences. Treanor et al. (2017) claim that the process of memory reconsolidation or disruption is applicable to the treatment of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorders by breaking the connection between emotionally colored stimuli related to previous experiences and the memory. To understand how this process may be clinically implemented, the authors identify such boundary conditions as “the duration of the reminder trial, the age and strength of the memory, and the similarity between the environments” of acquisition and retrieval of the memory (Treanor et al., 2017, p. 291).
The ability to erase painful memories that impose mental health disorders is a significant contribution to the advancement of neuroscience and the related disciplines. However, the difficulty of retrieving memories under the same conditions as they were created imposes limitations to the clinical implementation of the intervention. Despite such challenges, the advances in science provide new opportunities to apply behavioral and pharmacological techniques to modify memories for the benefit of a patient.
Gage and Baars’ (2018) chapter devoted to the investigation of emotional processing in the brain and the ways feelings are expressed and perceived provides substantial insight into the neurological mechanisms and the complex cognitive system of the human organism. There are several themes that connect the ideas covered by Gage and Baars (2018) with the ones presented by Blanchette and Richards (2010) and Treanor et al. (2017).
Firstly, all of the sources address the same neurological tendency of the undeniable connection between feelings and cognition. All the authors provide extensive theoretical background for the understanding of cognitive processes related to emotions. According to Gage and Baars (2018), emotions are an important means of non-verbal communication because a person does not only understands his or her own feelings and expresses them, but also can decipher the expressions of others to interpret them as particular emotions. It has been found that the emotional background predetermines a series of important cognitive and behavioral processes in the life of a person (Gage & Baars, 2018). Therefore, it is vital to understand how these issues are connected. Blanchete and Richards (2010) emphasize the interrelation between passion and reason as closely connected phenomena. Thus, it is impossible to separate such higher-level cognitive functions as judgment, interpretation, or decision making from the emotional background that accompanies these processes.
Secondly, the issue of memory’s dependence on feelings is also a theme that connects the analyzed readings. The authors provide extensive theoretical explanations, as well as some insights into the neurobiological processes in the brain to show the close connection of positive or negative emotions with the characteristics of the memorized experience (Gage & Baars, 2018; Treanor et al., 2017). Such a relation is discussed within the framework of human mental health. Emotions are processed by a number of interconnected brain areas, including the amygdala and the cortex, which enable the emotional functioning of a human. These brain regions facilitate facial expression recognition, thus making empathy possible. Also, the same areas are responsible for pain processing, which explains the mechanisms of interaction between stress, trauma, and emotions, which results in a series of pathologies related to (Gage & Baars, 2018). Thus, emotions play a significant role in human mental health by impacting the dependent psychological and neurological processes. The researchers emphasize the need to apply these to clinical practice with an aim to develop effective treatment of mood disorders, addictions, and posttraumatic stress disorders.
Question for Further Research
Extensive research in the field of the role of emotions in human cognitive processes contributes to the understanding of the pivotal role of feelings in people’s lives. The summarized articles demonstrate how emotions contribute to the nonverbal communication between people, the associations between higher-level cognition and feelings, and the significance of memory related to emotional experiences in such disorders as anxiety, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The application of these findings in the field of neuroscience might amplify the scope of understanding of the neurobiological processes in the brain and improve the implementation of this knowledge in the clinical setting.
One of the research questions that identify a worthy scientific problem concerns the role of cognitive reappraisal for the treatment of addictions and posttraumatic stress disorders with an emphasis put on the differences of these connections for men and women. The analyzed literature has demonstrated a broad theoretical basis for the application of emotional memory to the treatment of mental health disorders. Also, according to Gage and Baars (2018), females and males experience emotional memories in different ways. Indeed, when viewing emotional pictures, the right hemisphere amygdala was more activated for men while the left hemisphere amygdala was more activated for women (Gage & Baars, 2018). This finding implies the neurobiological differences in forming emotional memories for different sexes that might be applicable to the distinctive ways of psychological disorders for men and women. It might be beneficial to conduct research and clarify if there are differences in cognitive reappraisal as a coping method for females and males. The findings would provide the evidence base for clinical implementation of treatment measures developed upon the study results.
Since the brain mechanisms behind emotions are very complex and include many neurobiological processes, the extent to which emotions impact human behavior, mood, and reactions is also very broad. That is why it is vital to research these issues in detail. The interpretation of the information retrieved from the summarized readings allows for constructing further discussion concerning the topic of the interconnection between emotions and cognitive processes, as well as the role of memory in some mental health disorders. The discussion questions include the following:
- How do emotions affect higher-level cognition, and what neurobiological processes enable these connections?
- What is memory reconsolidation, and how can it be used for clinical purposes?
The practical clinical relevance of addressing the second question embodies the opportunities to use memory restructuring mechanisms as a tool to break the harmful links between traumatic memory and emotional background. A thorough understanding of the process of memory reconsolidation, the stages it passes, and the applicable clinical practices that make the success of the intervention possible will benefit a significant number of patients. Indeed, the widespread impairments in mental health, including post-traumatic stress disorders and addictions, are based on the automatic emotional responses to stimuli similar to the ones determining the stress. Once clinicians succeed at changing these connections, positive patient outcomes will be achieved. Therefore, the discussion of the question concerning memory reconsolidation will be beneficial for clinical practice and might contribute to the overall understanding of the vital role of feelings in the treatment of psychological issues.
Blanchette, I., & Richards, A. (2010). The influence of affect on higher level cognition: A review of research on interpretation, judgement, decision making and reasoning. In J. De Houwer & D. Hermans (Eds.), Cognition and emotion: Reviews of current research and theories (pp. 276-325). New York, NY: Psychology Press (Taylor & Francis).
Gage, N. M., & Baars, B. J. (2018). Fundamentals of cognitive neuroscience: A beginner’s guide (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
Treanor, M., Brown, L. A., Rissman, J., & Craske, M. (2017). Can memories of traumatic experiences or addiction be erased or modified? A critical review of research on the disruption of memory reconsolidation and its applications. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12, 290-305.