Unconscious emotions


  • [Required] Winkielman, P. & Berridge, K.C. 2004. Unconscious emotion. Current Directions in Psychological Sciences, 13(3), 120-123.
  • Berridge, K.C. 2003. Pleasures of the brain. Brain & Cognition, 52 (10), 106-128.
  • taste reactions video
  • Berridge, Kent C. 1999. "Pleasure, Pain, Desire and Dread." In Kahneman, Diener and Schwarz, 1999, pp. 525-557.
  • Kahneman, Daniel, Diener, Ed, and Schwarz, Norbert (eds.). 1999. Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Jesse J. Prinz. 2004. Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion. Oxford University Press. (review)

Part 1 - Are there unconscious emotions?


  • Freud on unconscious emotions. Freud, S. (1950). Collected papers, Vol. 4 (J. Riviere, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psychoanalysis, 109-110.

@We should expect the answer to the question about unconscious feelings, emotions and affects to be just as easily given. It is surely of the essence of an emotion that we should be aware of it, i.e. that it should become known to consciousness. Thus the possibility of the attribute of unconsciousness would be completely excluded as far as emotions, feelings and affects are concerned. ... it may happen that an effective or emotional impulse is perceived but misconstrued. Owing to the repression of its proper representative it has been forced to become connected with another idea, and is now regarded by consciousness as the manifestation of that idea. If we restore the true connection, we call the original affective impulse an 'unconscious' one. Yet its affect was never unconscious; all that had happened was that its idea had undergone repression.@

  • Definition of unconscious emotion. Emotion with unconscious cause? An example from Oehman, A., Flykt, A., & Lundqvist, D. (2000). Unconscious emotion: Evolutionary perspectives, psychophysiological data and neuropsychological mechanisms. In R.D. Lane, L. Nadel, & G. Ahern (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of emotion New York: Oxford University Press.

@In this chapter we address unconscious emotion in the sense that emotion can be activated without conscious recognition of the eliciting stimulus. This may happen when an emotionally relevant stimulus, which is presented outside conscious attention, automatically redirects attention to become its focus, or when a stimulus that is prevented for reaching conscious awareness through backward masking nonetheless elicits psychophysiological responses suggesting emotional activation.@

  • Stimulus S causes emotion E in subject. Subject is not conscious of S.

Unconscious emotions?

Case #1: Unconscious anger

  • A thought-experiment: X made a mistake. Y behaves in a nasty way to X. Y denies being angry with X.

Case #2: Subliminal manipulation of emotions - The mere exposure effect

  • What it is: a positive response to repeatedly presented items. Winkielman, P. & Berridge (2004):

@In one study, some participants were first subliminally exposed to several repeated neutral stimuli consisting of random visual patterns. Later, those participants reported being in a better mood—a conscious feeling state—than participants who had been subliminally exposed to neutral stimuli that had not been repeatedly presented (Monahan, Murphy, & Zajonc, 2000)@

Case #3: Subliminal manipulation of emotions - drink consumption manipulation

  • No change in valence report. Exposure to subliminal happy (sad) face does not cause subject to report feeling happier (or sadder).
  • Subjects exposed to happy-face drink more and are more willing to pay for the drink (esp if they are thirsty)
  • Questions:
  1. Is there a change in emotions?
  2. If there is a change, is the emotion conscious?

Additional cases

See Berridge (1999).

  • Arntz (1993) - Women with spider phobia were asked to perform a series of tasks requiring increasingly close contact with spiders. Some were given an opioid antagonist drug, others a placebo. Women in the former group completed fewer tasks, but reported the same amount of subjective fear.
  • Fischman and Foltin (1992) - Two intravenous lines administered to a drug addict, one a saline solution, the other with very low level of cocaine. Each line has a button, and an addict can choose which line to release. At very low levels, addict claims there is no subjective difference, but they choose the line with cocaine more often within a period of 2-4 hours.
  • Comment: Can we be wrong about the qualitative properties of our conscious experiences?

Part 2 - Three components of emotional experience

  • Sensory component - provides real-time information about the body (pain, thirst), the environment (vision, hearing), and their relationship (gravity).
  • Appraisal components - (i) valence (pleasant / unpleasant) and (ii) goal relevance (desire).
  • Emotions as involving appraisals.
  • Constant sensory component but variation in appraisal - diminishing returns in pleasurable sensations

Reactive dissociation in pain

  • Pain sensation without affect
    • Morphine injection
    • Modulation by hypnosis (Rainville et el. 1997)
    • Pain asymbolia - Intensity and location perception intact
  • Pain affect without pain sensation
    • Report of unpleasant sensation without quality, intensity, or precise location (Ploner, Freund and Schnitzler 1999)

Wanting and Liking (Desire and pleasure)

  • Liking without wanting
    • Aphagic mice lacking dopamine show affective responses to food when force-fed. (Berridge Venier Robinsion, 1989)
  • Wanting without liking
    • Hyperdopaminergic mutant mice (Pecina S, Cagniard B, Berridge KC, Aldridge JW, Zhuang X. 2003)
    • Drug craving when pleasure is lacking and after withdrawal.
    • Obsessive self-stimulation of brain electrodes. (Heath, 1972) (Portenoy et al., 1986). Patient B19