Inhibition Processes in
Cognition and Emotion:
A Special Case?
MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK
The notion of inhibition as an explanatory heuristic for understanding aspects of mental life has considerable currency in paradigms ranging from the psychobiological to the socio-cultural. At a biological level it is commonly held that neurones exert both excitatory and inhibitory influences on one another. This dynamic is neatly reflected in both distributed and localist connectionist models of mental processes, with their emphasis on neural plausibility (Rumelhart & McClelland, 1986). Similarly, at a functional psychological level, processes of inhibition are cited in explanations of phenomena such as forgetting (Bjork, 1989), selective attention (Tipper et al., 1991) and selection for action (Tipper, Lortie & Baylis, 1992). Finally, at the socio-cultural level the notion of inhibition has been profitably employed in accounts of, for instance, the non-expression of anger in certain cultures (Briggs, 1970), or the phases of acceptance and denial of the reality of child sexual abuse in Western society over the last 100 years (Herman, 1992).
So far we have been careful to refer to inhibition as a useful tool or heuristic
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