Emotion and Cognition development

Table of Content

                         The emotion – cognition – interaction (EMKONT) is the study on the integrative aspects of research in emotion, cognition and the interaction between the two. The complex association between emotion and cognition is analyzed using knowledge and methods from the separate fields of research. EKMONT can be classified into several, closely connected topics of research like neurocognition and neuroemotion research, emotional processes in everyday life interactions, social emotional research, and attachment and affect. EMKONT enables to achieve a clear empirical research including experimental studies and behavior analyses. EMKONT also helps in relating basic empirical research and applied research (Huber & Benecke, 2007). One of the main goals of EMKONT is to understand the complex relationship between these factors and to develop newer research methods for the understanding this relationship. The study of cognition and emotional development had come a long way, the benefits of which has been incorporated appropriately in other walks of life.

                         The early initial years of a child’s life are considered important for the emotional, social and cognitive development. The need for children to grow in such suitable environments where these needs are met is obviously important. Children who grow in distraught environments, which do not meet these needs, end up with learning and developmental delays. Infants (birth to one year old) learn to recognize sounds and voices and begin to focus its vision from the periphery of the eyes to the centre. Infants take to cognitive recognition by perceiving and manipulating objects. The baby begins to grasp basic language development by listening and knowing the names of people and things. Physical interaction with the child like holding, hugging and playing with it define the way it would interact with others. The hugging and holding of the baby, helps the baby in developing bonds of trust. When infants are between 18 and 24 months, or in the sensorimotor period, they achieve object permanence, which is they realize the presence of the object although they may not be observable.

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                          The Cognition and emotional development in children is a comparatively recent but widely studied field and associated with developmental psychology. Developmental psychology may be defined as the study of behavioral changes from birth to death, aimed at establishing the cause for such changes. For several centuries, infants and children were initially thought to be incapable of thoughts and feelings, in response to circumstances around them. Childhood was considered a period in which the mind was not organized and not properly formed. It is no wonder therefore that there is no history of notable theories on mental development stretching from infancy to adulthood. It was only in the last quarter of the nineteenth century that child behavior, observation and their mental development was acknowledged. Although research in developmental psychology is mainly attributed to child development, there is also an increasing interest in older people, than for other ages. Most developmentalists agree that behavior development is associated with genetic and environmental factors. However the extent to which these factors affects, is speculated. Another important aspect of children’s growth is whether this growth occurs continuously or in stages.

Cognitive psychology may be defined as the theoretical approach into understanding thought, memory and human perception. Cognitive psychology analyses the way prospective students learn and grasp information and their final level of understanding. (Bruning, 1995) says the aim of teaching is not to transmit information but to encourage knowledge development by developing their ability to judge, organize and acquire new information. (Piaget, 1969) emphasized that students understand things better when they learn through experimentation and enquiry rather than hearing it from their teacher. The cognitive theories of emotion are associated with the development of emotions, specifying the mechanisms associated with it. The idea that emotion is the result of an event’s or object’s association with an individual’s aspiration and concern has been revealed by Aristotle in the 17th century. Contemporary cognitive theories, particularly the appraisal theories emphasize on the evaluative process behind elicitation and categorization of emotions. The term ‘emotion’ is indicative of small feelings of likes and dislikes to heavy emotional states. Although the exact definition of emotion is greatly varied among researchers in emotion, a high level of literary agreement is found in the areas of expression, physiology and subjective feeling. Emotions are not always associated with facial expressions. The term ‘cognition’ in emotion elicitation includes all simple sensory information processing to very complex processing.

                         The stage theories like that of Sigmund Freud emphasizes that development occurs in predetermined stages and sequences. Other theorists advocate a continues, gradual development. The existence and importance of certain crucial and sensitive phases in the course of human development is also widely acknowledged. Such sensitive periods corresponds to growth when the individual is utmost responsive to particular biological or environmental occurrences. Emotional conflict and attachment during early childhood is attributed to later psychological impacts. Broadly speaking, developmental psychology may be branched into emotional development and intellectual development. The emotional development relates to the personal-social attribute, while the intellectual development relates to the intelligence and linguistic attributes. Face recognition and object recognition are performed through different functions by different areas within the brain. Several disorders like alexia, prosopagnosia and visual agnosia develop when recognition process is impaired. Social cognition attempts to relate personal-social development with intellectual development

                        Among the several theories that attempt to analyze development process, Jean Piaget’s   stage theory is also a prominent one. Piaget’s theory was first published in 1952, which equated a child’s knowledge to schemas of basic knowledge, which helps in understanding past and new experiences. According to Piaget, these schemas are constantly modified by processes, which he preferred as ‘assimilation’ and ‘accommodation’. Incorporating new information into prevailing schema is referred to as ‘assimilation’ while ‘accommodation’ is changes within schema for accommodating new knowledge. Cognitive development according to Piaget is a continuous effort to balance assimilation and accommodation in order to achieve equilibrium. The process of cognitive development occurs through four universal stages of infancy; toddler and early childhood; elementary and early adolescence; and, adolescence and adulthood. The development in each stage is associated with an increased level of thinking.

                          Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, a Soviet psychologist, emphasized in his theory of cognitive development, that social interaction and culture are crucial to the development of thinking ability (Ratner). Vygotsky believed that all development including child development is based on interaction between people and the social environment they live in. He considered cultural and traditional, symbols and signs as instruments of cognitive development. The mathematical symbols, written language and human speech bear with them a meaning and a sociocultural pattern. These also help individuals to adapt higher cognitive functions, prior to adolescence. These cultural representations helps to integrate the growing child into the culture and also help to mould the child’s mind. These cultural tools are learnt by the child through its interaction with parents and teachers, and initially uses these tools with their help. Later they begin to use these tools independently and develop advanced mental functions. Vygotsky’s theory reiterates the idea that learning leads to development and development leads to learning.

                         From Aristotle to Sartre, many philosophers have devoted considerable attention to the analysis of emotions. Mental states in general with some exceptions, are directed towards their objects. The mental states are intentionally conceived towards purported targets (Boruah, 1988). Most of the major human emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, pride, pity, grief, indignation, remorse, regret and gratitude are based on intentionality and object directed. Many philosophers are of the view that emotions are belief-dependent, judgmental mental states. They argue that the analysis of an emotion involves reference to the subject’s thought or belief about the object of the emotion. However, some have pointed out that emotions should be more attributed to a heterogeneous group, as all emotions cannot be herded together has thought-generated, thought defined or belief dependent. For instances, watching sunset on a summer evening is a wonderful experience and a delightful feeling. But it is not appropriate to account this feeling with any reference to belief about sunset.

                         There are several theories attributed to emotions, originating from diverse sources. From Ancient Greeks to modern scholars, several philosophers had put forth their ideas on emotion. Natural scientists like animal behaviourists and physiologists have contemplated  on the evolution and purpose of emotion. Coping is another psychological process related to emotions which is described by Lazarus and Folkman, as managing certain internal or external demands by constantly changing one’s cognitive demands and behaviour efforts  William James and Carl Lange put fourth separate theories that physical changes give rise to corresponding emotional feeling. Generally it is believed that physical changes associated with an emotion occurs due to the emotional experiences. A feel tone is generated in response to the mental level. However James and Lange in their theory emphasize that it is the physical changes, which give rise to the emotional feeling. James explained that ‘the bodily changes follow directly the exciting fact.’ According to James, the body is more like a sounding board, which in response to neural impulses create waves of change that is sensed by brain as emotional feeling (Hager, 2003). As the neural actions can create several bodily patterns, emotions are also appropriately formed and can only be categorized arbitrarily. This theory is also called the ‘Peripheral theory’ as changes take place in the peripheral parts of the body rather that in the brain.

                        Non-clinical groups exhibiting significant trait emotion have also been found to possess attentional bias effect. The attentional bias effect has also been observed in normal participants, subsequent to emotion induction. However, the bias effects in such cases is less prominent than in clinical patients. All theories of emotion have concentrated on the level and pace of emotional processing. The subject dominating all discussions in emotion analyses is that whether emotions follow cognition or cognition follows emotion, as reflected in the Zajonic-Lazarus debate. Lazarus emphasized that emotion cannot occur without a cognitive appraisal. Zajonic argued that the effect or emotion occurs before cognition. A broad look into the stand would reveal that the disagreements were mainly based on the definition of cognition. Zajonic considered cognition as a form of mental process while Lazarus considered cognition as a primitive evaluative perception. LeDoux through his experiments showed that fear conditioning or fear assessments are carried out by two types of processing by the brain. The brain has two pathways to inform the animal of an impeding danger. One is the fast pathway in which the information is sent to the emotive brain centres through a direct route. Theother slower pathway subjects information to higher processing of stimuli, before it can reach the brain centres. Therefore in emotion preceding cognition or vice versa, both holds true in the old debate (Thiele, 2007).

                       Recent models attempting to describe appraisal as processing at multiple cognitive levels, emphasises the need to define the processes beneath emotion elicitation. The current models need to be further refined and specific to allow testable hypothesis. Incorporating neuroscientific facts behind emotion relevant processing and developing the experimentation techniques could help in better understanding of multilevel appraisal models.


Boruah, B.H. (1988). Fiction and Emotion.- A study in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of mind. Oxford University Press
Bruning, et al., (1995). Cognitive Psychology and Instruction. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall,

Hager, J.C. (2003). Emotional Expression as Essential to Emotion Experience. [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on May 12th 2007 from http://face-and-emotion.com/dataface/emotion/theories.jsp
Huber, E.B., & Benecke, C.  (2007). Emotion – Cognition – Interaction (EMKONT) Leopold-Franzens-University of Innsbruck. [Electronic Version] Downloaded on 9th April, 2008 from http://www.uibk.ac.at/forschung/schwerpunkte/emkont.html.en
Piaget, J. (1929). The Child’s Conception of the World. Harcourt. New York

Ratner, C. Child Psychology: Vygotsky’s Conception of Psychological Development. Institute for Cultural Research & Education

Thiele, A. (April, 2007). Newcastle University. Why cognition and emotion?. [Electronic Version]. Retrieved on May 12th 2007 from www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/alex.thiele/lecture_1_handout.pdf+deba


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