Reading Joseph LeDoux's "The Emotional Brain"--a good choice to follow Damasio's "Descartes' Error." Struck by these passages this morning:

"The emotional meaning of a stimulus can begin to be appraised by the brain before the perceptual systems have fully processed the stimulus. It is, indeed, possible for your brain to know that something is good or bad for you before it knows exactly what it is." [p 69]

And particularly in light of my recent exchange with +mac macpherson,

"The systems that perform emotional appraisals are directly connected with systems involved in the control of emotional responses. Once an appraisal is made by these systems, responses occur automatically. In contrast, systems involved in cognitive processing are not so tightly coupled with response control systems. The hallmark of cognitive processing is flexibility of responses on the basis of processing. Cognition gives us choices. In contrast, activation of appraisal mechanisms narrows the response options available to a few choices that evolution has had the wisdom to connect up with the particular appraisal mechanism. This linkage between appraisal process and response mechanisms constitutes the fundamental mechanism of specific emotions." [pp 69-70]

That second passage reinforces the point that Mac was making about the difficulty (or perhaps impossibility) of managing or controlling our emotional responses. I don't disagree, but (returning to the driving metaphor I was using the other day), much of coaching involves helping people "find the brakes"--notice their emotional response and intervene before that response leads to counterproductive behaviors and choosing alternative behaviors. And I continue to wonder whether Damasio's assertion that our "secondary" emotions (i.e. those not innate at birth) are learned through associations between certain situations or stimuli and subsequent good or bad outcomes implies that these associations can be "unlearned" in some meaningful way, allowing us to intervene at an even deeper level.

And of course, bear in mind that Damasio primarily reinforced by belief in the value and the importance of "finding the gas"--getting in closer touch with our emotions and becoming more "emotionally competent" in order to make fuller use of them and express them more productively.
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