June 15, 2011
The cat above is something I imagine most readers would see only in a zoo or animal sanctuary, but even still, you might find its threatening face quite scary. Your attention would be drawn to the tiger, temporarily losing focus on everything else in your environment. You’d even be able to feel the fear before could actually name what caused it.
Such reactions are great examples of the power of affect — it draws our attention to important stimuli in our environments and gives us information about them (like, “hey, there’s something here that might try eat me!”) faster than our conscious cognitive processes could allow.
This kind of reaction is also a good demonstration of Silvan Tomkins‘s theory of affect.
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June 14, 2011
This week, prompted by great discussion on my guest post at Genealogy of Religion, I’ll be writing a series of posts on affect. Although some of my labmates and collaborators study affect, its not a topic I’ve studied in depth. I’ll be learning as I go, and I hope to hear from others about their approaches to affect.
Affect, of course, is a major component of human experience, something we experience from infancy until death — something the absence of which is a symptom of a psychological disorder, according to the major diagnostic tool in the US. Affect serves protective and social purposes for humans. Disgust helps us avoid harmful food or waste, and a baby’s distressed cry alerts his or her caregivers that it’s time to be fed. Affect is also an important aspect of religious experience, including in ritual.
Humans the world over experience affect, and the scientific perspectives on affect are almost as diverse as the people of the world. So I won’t attempt to define affect up front. Instead, I’ll discuss definitions as they are used by different theorists. I’ll be covering major theories and studies of affect, beginning with those of Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman.
As the posts go up, links to the series will be added here: