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Cognition and emotion: Future directions

Article · January 1999


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DALGLEISH, T. & Power, M.J.(1999). Cognition and emotion: Future directions. In T.

DALGLEISH & M. Power (Eds.), Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. Chichester: Wiley.

Cognition and emotion: Future directions

Tim Dalgleish*

MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit



Mick Power

Dept. of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh

To appear in: T. Dalgleish & M. Power (Eds.), The Handbook of Cognition and

Emotion. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley.


MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

15 Chaucer Road

Cambridge CB2 5EL


In the context of the history of ideas on emotion, the suggestion that there is an

important link between the way we cognize about the world and our emotional

responses to that same world is by no means new. In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle

makes an eloquent case for thinking of emotions as a function of appraisals about

what events mean. This thread has been unravelled across the centuries by the Stoic

philosophers, and Thomas Aquinas and Baruch Spinoza among others (see the

chapter by Lyons). More recently, the debate about the relationship between cognition

and emotion has become more fine-tuned (see the chapter by Lazarus) with many

researchers coming full circle and seeing cognition as a fundamental component of


The main aim of the present Handbook of Cognition and Emotion has been to gather

together contributions from the leading figures in the field in order to provide an

overview of cognition and emotion research some 2000 years after Aristotle’s

contribution. In this final chapter we shall endeavour to identify the principal

emergent themes in the area and make some suggestions about where research in

cognition and emotion is currently heading. In order to facilitate this process, the

chapter is divided into sections that mirror those in the book itself.

General aspects of cognition and emotion research

The contemporary community of cognition-emotion researchers employs a wealth of

different methodologies and techniques, within a variety of research designs, in order

to understand its subject matter. As Parrott & Hertel conclude in their chapter

reviewing these approaches, an appreciation is emerging that a rapprochement is

necessary between naturalistic, ecologically-valid research on the one hand and

tightly controlled laboratory-based studies on the other. Perhaps more importantly,

and this is an idea that emerges from all of the sections of the present volume, there is

a need to integrate research across different levels of explanation within psychology.

At present, cognition-emotion relations are conceptualised at a number of levels of

analysis: the neurobiological, the functional, the social, and the cultural. What will

become necessary in the short- to medium-term are theories integrating across these

various levels of analysis. This type of approach is exemplified by the provocative

ideas presented in Gray’s chapter on consciousness.

It is this need for integrative theorising and research that is likely to extend the range

of research methodologies employed in cognition and emotion over the next decade.

It is almost certain that there will be a mushrooming of research in neuroimaging

using Positron Emission Topography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

(see the chapter by Davidson). The challenge in this field will be to resist the

temptation to pursue a modern-day phrenological mapping of the brain, but, instead,

to try and utilise neuroimaging techniques to refine and develop the functional-level

theories about cognition-emotion relations such as those presented in Section Four of

the present book. It seems likely that an intermediate stage of theorising in which

functional level theories are mapped onto theories in neurobiology may be necessary

before tractable hypotheses can be generated and the potential of neuroimaging work

will begin to be realised.

At the other end of the continuum, the development of more sophisticated techniques

of qualitative data analysis is likely to provide a window into the complex cognitive

dynamics of real-life interactions and dialogues revolving around emotions and

emotional issues. These developments are already apparent in the increased interest

in narrative, particularly in the trauma literature (see for example, Pennebaker, 1995).

The emphasis on understanding supra-propositional meaning structures that emerge

out of verbal protocols echoes the idea of the role for supra-propositional

representations as formulated in the more recent multi-level theories described in the

chapter by Teasdale.

Other research methodologies that have gathered momentum in the late 1980s and

early 1990s, in terms of their application to cognition and emotion, are social

cognitive techniques (see chapter by Bentall & Kinderman) and, related to this, face

processing (see chapter by Ekman). Researchers are beginning to consider the role of

facial processing in emotional disorders and the similarities to the processing of non-

facial emotional information (see chapter by Mogg & Bradley). Faces provide an

ecologically valid set of complex emotional stimuli that avoid all of the

methodological baggage associated with laboratory studies of word lists and verbal

material in general. It seems likely that the use of faces as an heuristic tool in

laboratory studies of cognition and emotion in the future will increase.

Finally, it seems clear that the emphasis in cognitive science on computational

modelling, both connectionist and symbolic, will spread to the domain of cognition

and emotion. At present, it is only relatively low-level aspects of processing such as

attentional bias on the Stroop task that are seen as tractable in the modelling

community (see Williams, Mathews & MacLeod, 1996). However, over the next

decade, with increased emphasis on mathematical and attribute space modelling,

more high-level aspects of cognition-emotion relations are likely to become the focus

for modelling research.

In addition to integration across levels of explanation in cognition and emotion

research, there is increasing interest in integration across the life span as illustrated by

the pioneering work in developmental psychology described in the chapters by

Michael Lewis, Stein & Levine, and Lewis & Granic. The next stage of this process

might usefully see the extension across the age range of the predominantly adult-

centred theoretical ideas presented in Section Four. This is particularly important in

the area of emotional disorders, given the historically strong emphasis on the

developmental origins of many of these states (e.g. Daleiden & Vasey, 1997).

Cognitive processes

Since the mid 1980s there has been a proliferation of research examining the link

between emotional states and emotional disorders and the basic cognitive processes of

attention and memory (see chapters by Colin MacLeod, Ellis & Moore, Mogg &

Bradley and Matthews & Wells for comprehensive reviews). This research endeavour

has proved highly successful in mapping out the various cognitive changes that

accompany different normal and pathological emotional states.

An underlying theme of this work on basic cognitive processes has been the link

between emotion and emotional disorder. Research findings have illustrated, for

example, that anxious and depressed moods in the non-clinical population relate to

systematic patterns of information processing in ways broadly similar to those in

patients with anxiety disorders and clinical depression. One upshot of this aspect of

the research had been the hope that greater understanding of basic cognition-emotion

relations would lead to refinements in therapeutic interventions. Progress in this area

has been disappointing to date; however, the innovative work described by Colin

MacLeod on ‘training’ of biases for emotional information opens the door to

possibility of transferring these ideas and methodologies to the clinic, thereby

providing a potential non-self-report vehicle for assessing emotion-related processing.

Perhaps one of the greatest influences of this research on cognitive processes has

been the way in which it allows us to deconstruct the notion of a single edifice of

‘cognition’. This development is not just apparent in the distinction between research

on basic processes such as attention versus work on so-called higher-order cognitive

procedures such as appraisal or judgement (see chapters by Scherer and Andrew

MacLeod). It is also revealed by the new generation of theories that conceptualise

cognitive processes in terms of the dynamic inter-relationship between varieties of

representational systems within a given cognitive framework (see the chapter by


In addition to the ongoing deconstruction of the basic cognitive processes associated

with emotion, the 1990s has seen the research community exhibit a revived interest in

the relationship of emotion to consciousness (see the chapter by Ohman); in

particular, the intrusion of unwanted emotional material into awareness (see chapters

by Tallis and by Dalgleish et al.). This interest in inhibition has clear topical

relevance with respect to its potential to shed light on the truth or otherwise of so-

called recovered memory experiences (see chapter by Bekerian & Goodrich). Related

to the interest in consciousness is an emphasis on work into the ‘self’ (see chapters by

Michael Lewis, Andrew MacLeod and Healy & Williams). Such complex concepts

have traditionally been ducked by cognition and emotion researchers, despite

attracting considerable theoretical interest in the clinical domain. Increased attention

to consciousness and the self is likely to increase the potential for cross-fertilisation

between the clinic and the laboratory in cognition-emotion research.


Much of the research that has examined cognition-emotion interactions has

concentrated on what might be called “basic emotions” (see Ekman’s first chapter) .

Although there is some disagreement as to which emotions might be reasonably

construed as basic, there seems little controversy over the inclusion of sadness, anger,

disgust, joy and fear on the list. The current research into these emotions is covered

thoroughly in the chapters by Power, Berkowitz, Rozin et al., Isen and Colin

MacLeod respectively. Again, the relationship between the normal experience of

these emotions and emotional disorders associated with them is an emergent theme. In

particular, the 1990s have been something of a zeitgeist for research into disgust, with

emphasis not just on disgust experiences in normal subjects but also on its potentially

pivotal role in clinical states such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating

disorders, phobias and depression (Power & Dalgleish, 1997). Furthermore, it has

been the focus of studies in neuroscience that have linked disgust to the basal ganglia

regions of the brain (Phillips et al., 1997 ; Sprengelmeyer, Lange & Homberg, 1994.

In addition to the concentrated body of research on basic emotions, the focus of new

research is expanding to examine what some might call complex emotions; for

example, the self-conscious emotions of shame, embarrassment, pride and guilt (see

the chapter by Tangney) and of jealousy and envy (see the chapter by East & Watts).

A clear direction for the future is to begin to explore the links between the more

complex emotions and emotional disorder. This approach is well- exemplified by the

work on abuse, depression and shame by Paul Gilbert (e.g. Gilbert, Allan & Goss,



The current state of theoretical progress within cognition and emotion includes a

provocative mixture of the old and the new. Well-established theories are continually

being refined and the latest instantiations of appraisal theory (see the chapter by

Scherer), associative network theory (see the chapter by Forgas) and attribution

theory (see the chapter by Gotlib & Abramson) are eloquently discussed in Section


However, in addition to these historically well-established views, the next generation

of functional theoretical models is presented in the chapter by John Teasdale with

discussion of multi-level theories such as Interacting Cognitive Subsystems (ICS;

Teasdale & Barnard, 1993, and SPAARS; Power & Dalgleish, 1997). These models,

along with the dynamic coceptualisation of Marc Lewis, emphasise a systems

approach in which it is the integration of multiple representations and multiple

processes in particular patterns that defines emotion, and importantly, emotional

disorder. Furthermore, these models permit the integration of associative network

ideas with the notions of higher-order appraisals in a single approach. It seems likely

that such multi-representational architectures will provide a strong challenge in the

immediate future to the theories described by Forgas, Scherer and Gotlib &



Since the 1970s research into cognition and emotion has travelled two parallel roads.

The road of basic research has generated the data and ideas presented in the first four

sections of the present volume. However, a second road investigating the role of

cognitive processes in the applied clinical domain has also proved productive. The

central place of cognition in the cognitive therapies has always been a fertile area for

ideas (see chapter by Segal & Rokke); however, increasingly clinicians from more

diverse traditions such as behaviour therapy (see chapter by Mineka & Thomas) and

psychotherapy (see chapter by Weston) have begun to elucidate the potentially crucial

role of cognitive processing within their disciplines. In part, this represents a general

move in psychology towards cognitve models of mind; however, more locally, it

reflects the powerful impact of cognitve therapies in the field of mental health.

Finally, some less immediately obvious applications of cognition and emotion are

represented in this section by the chapters from Bekerian & Goodrich on forensic

applications and from Jim Averill on emotional creativity.

Summary and conclusions

Throughout our discussion of the content of the five sections of this book we have

sought to identify a number of emergent themes that characterise the current state of

cognition and emotion research and thereby provide pointers as to the directions in

which the area is likely to develop.

In summary, the most prominent themes that we identify are :

1) the development of systemic and multi-level theoretical characterisations of the

problems space as illustrated in the reviews by Teasdale and Marc Lewis

2) The application of neuroscience to understanding cognition-emotion relations as

illustrated in the chapters by Davidson and Gray

3) The relationship between theory and data concerning normal emotional

experiences and emotional disorders

4) The application of a developmental perspective to cognition-emotion interactions

5) The expansion of methodology to embrace neuroimaging, computational and

quantitative modelling, and qualitative techniques

6) The increasing application of basic research ideas in the clinic.

When taken together, these developments indicate that cognition-emotion research

has a healthy, methodologically sophisticated future, in which the theoretical promise

of the early basic research will increasingly be applied to tractable real-life problems.

At the same time we should recall Goethe’s maxim “those who cannot draw on three

thousand years are living from hand to mouth”. We are certainly not the first to puzzle

over the relationship between cognition and emotion, and we shall certainly not be the



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