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How Cognition and Emotion Does Relate

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The impact of emotion in our lives cannot be underscored. Over years, psychologists have been puzzled in their attempt to earth factors that affect the human emotional systems. More specifically, the connection between cognitive functions and emotions has been a subject of great interest to many researchers.   Efforts of psychologist in cognitive science seek to identity how the human mind works, as well as the overall effect it brings to the emotional schema.  The connection between emotions and cognition has been avoided by some psychologist who believes that the two have no significant connection (O’Regan, 2003). However, recent interest in these areas has sparked renewed research that attempt to find a connection between the two areas of psychology that continue to influence human in various ways. This paper will attempt to draw the relation between cognition and emotions, by highlighting the effect of cognition on human emotions.

Before expounding on the relation between cognition and emotion, it will be worthwhile to point at some definitions that will be of great value in understanding the relationship between emotion and cognition.  The term emotion is widely used in psychology literature to denote intense experiences that are brief. This term should not be confused with the term affect, which is a broad categorization of human experiences. Another term is mood, which describes experiences of low intensity. These two terms will be used to describe emotions as the paper constructs their relationship with cognitive elements.  The kernel of this paper will be placed on the various research works by psychologists who have attempted to draw conclusion from research about the relationship between emotion and cognition. As it will be seen, there is strong evidence that indicate that there are many cognitive determinants, which shape human emotion systems.

Cognitive determinants of emotions

While considering the relationship between emotion and cognition, it is vital that questions are asked concerning the factors that shape human emotional experiences. Psychologists are in agreement that there are many factors, which influence the human emotions. Nonetheless, there is a wide debate on the relevance of each of these factors and this is the reasons some believe that cognition has no impact on human emotions. Parkinson (1994) contends that there are several factors that influence the manifestation of emotion in humans. These factors are: appraisal resulting from stimuli, body arousal, facial expressions, and action tendencies. Whereas these factors are extensive, it is critical to note that none of them are independent, but they all work to shape human emotions.  By looking at these factors in a greater depth, it will be possible to draw the line that marks the relationship between emotions and cognitions as far as cognitive and behavioral science is concerned.

Cognition has a complex and varying influence on emotion. Capturing such a relationship is a complex process that can only be done using various models that depict this relationship in a wider perspective.  There is significant need to distinguish various components of emotions such as experiences, expression and elicitors; given that cognition has a different impact on each of them. When looking at the relationship between cognition and emotions, we can adopt a two way approach. In the first approach, emphasis will be placed on emotion as the consequence of cognition. The other approach will look at cognition as consequence of emotional display.

1.  Emotion as a function of cognition

There are many theorists who believe that emotion can be depicted as a consequence of cognition and that cognitive states are responsible for producing varying levels of emotional display.

  The appraisal theory and its effect on emotions

This subsection of the paper posits that appraisal factors have significant effect on the human emotion. To be more specific, various appraisals instances will be discussed to draw the relationship between cognition and emotions.  To begin, the appraisal theory has undergone a lot of changes since the original version was put forth by Lazarus.  In his theory, Lazarus (1982) made a significant conclusion that cognitive factors such as appraisals have great influence on the outcomes of human emotions. This notion has been the central theme in appraisal theory, as well as in the formulation of new theories aimed at drawing relationship between cognition and emotions.  From the appraisal approach, we can look at three ways in which emotions are related to cognition. Three appraisal approaches that are widely used are primary appraisal, secondary appraisal and re-appraisal, and this will form the core of our discussion at this point.

The appraisal description given forth by psychologist point to the existence of conscious processing model despite that this is not the case. The success of the appraisal theory in marking the relationship between cognition and emotions lies in the claim that human emotions are aroused by unique pattern of appraisal. This is a fundamental notion that has been reinforced by several psychologists. According to Smith and Lazarus (1993), different appraisal systems are responsible for various emotions states, which can be distinguished from each other. In other words, emotions such as anger and anxiety are some of the emotions that have the same appraisal components in them. Other psychologists made significant improvement to the appraisal theory on the way it addresses the connection between appraisals (cognition) and emotions. At the center of this improvement is the notion that appraisals processes occur in parallel and not in solitary.  Notably, these appraisal processes are associative processing, reasoning and appraisal detection.

The association processing entails the priming, as well as the activation of memories. This is process that takes place in the cognitive domain with no intervention whatsoever. The second mechanism for appraisal is reasoning. This process involves thinking and deliberation and has effect on emotions. The last mechanism is the detection of appraisals, which serves to monitor information in the associative and reasoning process.


There are wealth of research evidence that confirm that cognitive appraisal has significant influence on human emotions. There is much evidence that point that appraisal process influence the outcome of emotions, and how they are exhibited.  Some psychologist devoted their time in the study of how human react to appraisals in terms of the emotions changes.  Participants in this study were shown films depicting scenes of anxiety, such as boys having their penises cut. In some films, horrific accidents were show to the viewers who reacted on seeing these events.  In support that cognition leads to production of emotions, the viewers were able to demonstrate various emotions responses such as denial. Some of the viewers denied that the cutting of the penises was a part of a ritual and not a pain experience as depicted.  In this research, the arousal levels of the participant were measured and recorded.  

The process of intellectualization and denial by the participants in the study led to the reduction of stress even when they were exposed to content that were horrific and shocking. Because of this experiment, it is important to note that the manipulations of cognitive appraisal had a significant impact on the physiological reaction of the participants.  Based on this, Lazarus and Smith (1993) agree that cognition influences the type of emotions that people experience.    

  In other research, Bennett, Lowe, and Honey (2003) confirmed that emotions can be produced by combination of many appraisal factors. This is a notion that was further developed by other psychologist in attempt to arrive at the relation between cognition and emotion.  Mechelens, Smiths, and de Boeck (2003) studied four different appraisals thought to have an impact on anger. These appraisals were goals obstacle, unfairness, controls and other accountability.  From their research, they found that participants expressed unpleasant experience when these appraisals were present. Kuppens et al (2006) also found out that display of emotion like anger was determined by appraisals that were flexible and could change over time. 

Most important, Smith and Kirby (2001) revealed that appraisals worked by rapid associative process, which take place below individuals consciousness. This understanding was further developed by other psychologist to point that appraisals have influence on emotions. As a result, Chartrand, van Baaren and Bargh (2006) confirm that positive words such as music and friends or negative words such as war and cancer lead to varying mood to the individuals who read them. Indeed, these findings underscore the significant influence of cognition to the emotion display of individuals. 


This section aims at relating cognitive process and the elucidation of various human emotions. Psychologists agree that appraisal process such as reasoning have great impact on the nature of emotional response. More specifically, appraisal procedures have significant influence on the precision at which individuals experience various emotional displays. Even when there are other psychologists who criticize the connection between the appraisal process and the elucidation of emotions, there is enough credence to the fact that appraisal, which are cognitive factors, influence emotions experienced and their precision (Parkinson & Manstead, 1992).

 Multi-level theories

This section will outline the several theories that have been put forward to explain the relationship between emotion and cognition. Bearing in mind that the human cognitive system is complex, the notions of theorist in this section will be of great value in understanding the relation between the emotion and cognition.

There are several reasons as to why multi-level theories have been developed to explain the relationship between emotion and cognition. The cognitive system is a complex domain, and coupled with conflicting emotions in people, the need for these theories are long overdue. Many multi-level theories have been put forward to explain the relationship between cognition and emotion, and two of them will be looked at in this section.

 Discrepancy theories

This is theory that posits that emotions are product of various levels of discrepancies that are in the mind of individuals.  This theory was first used to illustrate the fact that fear was produced by events experienced by people. In using the example of a detached head of a monkey, Hebb (1949) demonstrated that monkeys were more frightened by the head detached from a monkey shown to them.  Whereas this is one way of looking at the relation between emotion and cognition, other psychologist has different views, as well. Siminov (1970) in his model looked at emotion as a consequence of the need for information that organism.  Based on this view, it is true that humans use information to organize themselves appropriately. The lack of information can lead to individuals activating their nervous systems to elicit negative emotions.   The kernel of this discrepancy theory forms the core of the notion that emotions are produced as a result of various cognitive processes. These processes are controlled by stimulus events that shape individual response. Emotional display is thus evident when cognitive processes elicit responses, which underscore the notion relation between emotion and cognition.

Cognition as a consequence of emotion

This section details the model that depicts cognition as a consequence of emotion. There is a lot of literature that affirm that cognitive structures are produced when individuals experience delays. This is best shown in the case of where individuals see themselves eating in order to feel good, when they are actually angry (Freud, 1960). From this argument, it is vital to point to the fact that emotions may come before cognition as motive markers, and instigators. These perspectives shape our understanding about cognition preceding emotions

Emotions as motives

The notion that emotions can serve as motives is not new psychology.  Psychologists such as Darwin (1872) have expressed their understanding that cognitive activities are actions of behavior and that they reinforce behavioral patterns. This is tied to the notion that people act in different ways as a way of achieving pleasure and avoiding pain. This can be expanded to cover the fact that emotional consequences of actions are the primary ways through which people carrying out various actions.

The argument that emotions are related to the actions is well founded. For instance, students who study to pass their exams feel nice when they do so, or otherwise experience sadness. While the actual gratification occurs once the action has been completed, it is essential to note that expected emotions motivate people into actions that exhibit positive behavior required to achieve the feeling.  Indeed, the emotion is a motivating consequence that shapes cognition and by extension behavior. However, this does not mean that behavior is chiefly preceded by emotion. Instead, this notion affirms that emotions have a role in shaping the cognitive manifestation individuals, which contribute to behavioral modification that may be varied in individuals.

Emotion as markers

It is widely believed that cognitive processes have different outcomes, which are influenced by different emotional display.  Cognitive processes have marks, which are absorbed into the human memory and used to shape behavior. Because of these markers, it is very easy for individuals to retrieve information from the memory by the help of markers.  Cognitive process such as remembering an event is thus more effective when individuals use emotional markers to classify them and file them with priority.  In a nutshell, the interaction of human memory and other cognitive process is enhanced by emotional tags.

 Emotions as instigators

Emotions have been viewed as being correlated to cognition because of their role as instigators.  Emotions can result in different thinking patterns that are tied to different cognitive processes.  When people get to hear specific information, their thoughts are changed and thus their words are also shaped by the outcomes of the thought. This process is made possible because emotion can instigate a particular cognitive process to occur. 

  Mood and cognition

There is a significant correlation between the mood and cognitive processing in individuals (Teasdale, 1999).  Mood states influence the type of cognitive process that people go through. For instance, mood influences what people think of at any given time. This relationship best exemplifies the relation between emotion and cognition. There are various theories that account for phenomenon as mentioned in the previous paragraphs.

Bower’s network theory

This theory was put forth to explain how mood and cognition are related to one another. Gilligan and Bower (1984) arrived at six assumptions that underlie our understanding of mood and cognition. These assumptions are:

a) Emotions are considered as units that make up a semantic network that has numerous connections that are related to physiological systems, events and expressive systems.

b) Emotional material is part of the semantic network and stored in the form or assertion or preposition.

c) The process of thinking takes place through the nodes in the network.

d) The nodes in the semantic networks are made active by stimuli that may be internal or external with reference with the network.

e) The activation process occurs in sequence with one node activating the other node adjacent to it.

f) Consciousness is achieved when a given threshold of nodes are activated within the network.

The above assumption forms the main tenets that ascribe cognition to mood. Most important, these assumptions denote that people are able to remember best when their moods match those experienced during the time of learning. The assumption also implies that information that is toned with emotions is best learned and retrieved as compared to those that are not. It is also clear that how individuals think or perceive things is congruent with their mood and this established the tie between mood (emotion) and cognition. The increase in an individual’s mood level results in a corresponding increase in the activation levels of the semantic network.  

The notion of mood congruity is critical to the understanding of the relationship between the mood and cognition. Mood congruity is best understood as a situation where the people who are at good moods learning something positive that can be remembered when they experience positive emotions association with the event.  With the use of the semantic network discussed above, it can be noted that nodes marked with negative events such as sadness are associated to negative emotions. At this level, the semantic network diagram underscores the fact that mood can influence recall and the success of the retrieval process.

 Affect infusion model

            This is a theoretical focus that is more general as compared to the Bower’s network theory. This model posits that effective information has a tendency to influence processes such as learning, memorization and attention.  This model is reinforced by the assumption that there are fought processing strategies that form the tenets of this model. The first assumption is concerned with direct access of information that is not influenced mood in any way.  The next assumption is that processing of information can be motivated by pre-existing objectives such as mood states. These motivations are considered as those that enhance mood states in individuals. The third processing is the heuristic model that that is achieved when individual retrieved information based on the influence of their emotions.  The last processing is called substantive processing and comprise of individuals who use previous information as a basis of leaning new ones and interpreting them. The notion that mood can place influence on information process is widely acclaimed in the field of psychology (Rusting & DeHart, 2000). This understanding thus lends credence to the fact that cognition and emotion reinforce one another in the above context.

Cognitive biases and mood states

This section will focus on the cognitive process that individuals experience in given mood states.  The areas of cognitive bias have significant influence on depression and anxiety that people experience. Many researchers affirm that people who are vulnerable to clinical anxiety and depression are known to have significant levels of cognitive bias. By looking at the influence of cognitive bias, it is possible to arrive at conclusive end that point to the close interconnection between mood and emotion (MacLeod & Mathews, 1997).

There are several cognitive biases that are important in understanding why depression and anxiety are prevalent. Cognitive biases that are known are: intentional bias, explicit memory bias, and interpretive bias, interpretive bias, and implicit memory bias. The central question lies on the relationships between these cognitive biases to their influence on levels of depression and anxiety.  This relationship can be described by the Backs Schema theory and William who made significant contribution in this field.

 Beck’s Schema theory

The beck’s schema theory provides the understanding of individual difference to the vulnerability to depression or anxiety disorders (Beck, 1976). According to Beck and Clark (1988), the vulnerability of individuals to disorder and anxiety is a product of variables that include certain schema formed in the past.   In fact, for the individuals who are highly depressed or filled with anxiety, their schematic organization reveal that most of them have high levels of negativity. To a greater extent, this forms a maladaptive schema that does make individuals to experience psychological threats and at their own personal domain. Beck and Clark (1988) strongly agree that cognitive processes are heavily influenced by the nature of organization present in an individual’s schema. 

II. Williams et al. (1997) are credited for developing a theory that help to understand that connection and relation between cognition and emotion. Williams et al (1997) argued that both disorder and anxiety have different functions, which influence the information processing. The result of anxiety leads to people anticipating danger or a threat in the future. Because of this association, people are more likely to process threatening stimuli with priority than the others which are non-threatening. In their research, William et al. (1997) noted that anxiety in individuals facilitated the perceptual processing of stimuli perceived to be threatening, whereas the occurrence of depression facilitate conceptual processing of information that are considered to be threatening.

Research work by William et al. (1997) reveals that depression and anxiety can be associated with cognitive biases.  This association gives use the impression that depression and anxiety must be considered as cognitive processes. This can be translated to the fact the emotions are influenced by cognitive variables such as cognitive biases.  It is predicted that individuals who are more anxious have high levels of attentional and implicit memory bias.   This information supports the notion that cognitive processes are central to the elucidation of the emotional responses such as anxiety and depression.


Despite the wide debate on the link between emotion and cognition, there is enough research that shows the cognition processes and emotional responses are associated with one another (Williams et al. 1997; Beck, 1976). This paper has employed several approaches to construct the understanding that emotion and cognition are related. The question of how the two are related has been addressed by several perspectives that have been highlighted in the paper.

The paper has explored the notion that cognition is a function of emotion. In this section, the paper has focuses on how cognition influences the manifestation of various emotions. This section of the paper was guided by the fact that many psychologists believe that emotions are a consequence of cognition (Lazarus, 1982).  This understanding was reinforced by the notion that emotions are caused by different appraisal patterns (Bennett, Lowe, & Honey, 2003).  In addition, other theories like discrepancies and multi-level theories strengthened the fact that cognition determines the emotional outcomes that individuals go through.

Cognition as a consequence of emotion is another perspective that this paper has used to draw the connection between emotion and cognition. As exemplified in the paper, there are circumstances that people go through, which end up producing certain cognitive outcomes (Freud, 1990). This argument pointed the relation between cognition and emotion, with emotion as motives that reinforce human behavior.  It was noted that emotions shaped human behavior via cognitive activities (Darwin, 1965).  The role of emotions as markers that influence cognitive processes was also mentioned given that it influences access and retrieval of information.

The interaction between mode and cognition was extensively developed in the paper. In the paper, it is evident that mood affect cognition processes and behavior as well (Gilligan and Bower, 1984). This explains why people tend to remember things that they learned when experiencing good moods. This argument can be related to the influence of cognitive bias on the emotions. Research by Beck (1976) reveals that humans experience different emotions because of a schema they have formed over time. In addition, William et al, (1997) developed an intriguing association between emotions and cognition. In their work, they argued that emotions display like depression and anxiety were products of cognitive biases that influence behavior. Indeed, cognition and emotions share an intricate, but complex relationship.

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