Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview
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The Affective Self: Continuities
and Transformations from Infancy

Robert N. Emde, M.D.

It is widely acknowledged that we are in a new era concerning the psychology of emotions (Campos et al., in press). Instead of being regarded as reactive, intermittent, and disruptive states, emotions are now regarded as active, ongoing, and adaptive processes. Emotions serve evaluation; they provide signals and incentives for new plans, new thoughts, and new actions. At any given time they allow us to monitor ourselves, our states of being and engagement with the world; they also allow us to monitor others, their intentions, their needs, and their states of well‐ being and engagement. Recently I proposed another adaptive function of our emotions (Emde, in press), 1 resting on research that has shown that emotions are biologically patterned with a similar organization throughout the life span. The proposal is as follows: our

emotions provide us with a core of continuity for our self experience, an "affective self" throughout development. An affective self is adaptive in two ways.

First, because we can get in touch with our own consistent feelings, we know we are the same in spite of the many ways we change. Second, because of the biological consistency of our human "affective core," we can also get in touch with the feelings of others and be empathic.

Recent infancy research has contributed in a major way to this picture. It highlights the existence of a definitely patterned emotional signaling system between infant and caregiver, and it highlights the fact that emotional availability of both is essential for development. In this presentation a review of the recently proposed theory of a prerepresentational self and its affective core is followed by a review of the issue of continuities, with some new data concerning emotions. I then discuss transformations in infancy, times of biobehavioral shift, and some new research incentives for studying these. Finally, in a crucial addition for a theory of the affective self, I propose that affect has a transformational role in our self experience.

In this presentation I use the term affect in a more abstract sense than the term emotion. Affect refers to the general category of psychological functioning that is theoretically separable from cognition, perception, and volition. Emotion refers to one or more specific patterns of expression, state, or feelings. These include joy, surprise, interest, anger, distress, sadness, fear, and disgust as well as more complex emotions such as shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression.

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Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2
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