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  • Gloomy Duck or Cheerful Rabbit?
  • Bruce Maxwell (bio) and Christine Tappolet (bio)

cognitive–behavioral therapy, cognitive mediation, perceptual theory of emotion, judgmental theory of emotion

A great deal of Heinrichs’ and de Sousa’s replies to our paper was dedicated to challenging our use of the gestalt switch analogy to highlight the model of affective dynamics that we put forward in the paper and, regrettably, rather less to the point that we took to be its main contribution to current thinking about how to integrate recent theorizing in the philosophy of the emotions with the understanding of emotional experience that is prevalent in psychotherapeutic approaches. The paper’s starting point was the accumulating empirical evidence against the effectiveness of cognitive interventions provided primarily by component studies of cognitive–behavioral interventions for anxiety disorder and obsessive–compulsive disorder. We saw psychotherapists reacting responsibly to this evidence by calling for greater investment in behavioral interventions. What we did not see anywhere in the literature was a theoretical explanation to account for the data. Our main contribution, we believe, was to advance that the perceptual theory of emotions could provide just this missing theoretical explanation.

The rationale that initially led to the development of cognitive interventions, we suggested, was a tacit commitment to the judgmental theory of emotions. Our answer to the question of why cognitive interventions are less effective when compared with behavioral interventions parallels one of the standard objections in the philosophical literature to the judgmental theory of the emotions. This objection is based on the observation that emotions seem to be “modular” or informationally encapsulated. That is to say, because the informational states that emotions presuppose are intuitive or cognitively primitive, these states are strongly recalcitrant in the face of rational, conscious challenges. This account seemed to us compelling not only because the perceptual theory of emotions predicts the reservations emerging in the evaluation literature about the efficacy of cognitive interventions. The perceptual theory also furnishes a response to critics, especially Hayes (2004) and Longmore and Worrell (2007), who would claim that the empirical and theoretical limitations of cognitive interventions call into question cognitive–behavioral therapy’s signature aim of helping clients to restructure the cognitive content involved in mental disturbances. As long as one assumes the judgmental theory of emotion, the difficult problem remains of having to explain how “nonconceptual” or “nonrational” behavior interventions might alter “conceptual” or “rational” cognitive processes. If, however, one takes on board the more nuanced dual-system conception of cognitive content that comes with the perceptual theory of emotions then the pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place. Rational [End Page 21] processes associated with cognitive interventions can alter emotions by, as Heinrichs (2012, 17) evocatively puts it, “pounding through the highly modular intuiting system. Hence, this task is difficult and thus likely infrequent.” Alternatively, nonrational processes associated with behavioral interventions alter the nonconceptual evaluative content involved in emotions. We suggested that behavioral interventions may be more effective than cognitive interventions because the intuiting system is more likely to respond to the kinds of challenges behavioral interventions typically pose.

Quite generally, a fundamental question is how to understand affective dynamics, as illustrated by the case of a depressed person who becomes cheerful again. In the paper, we contrasted two models. According to the first model, what happens is that the depressed person corrects her evaluative judgments by being argued out of them. We proposed that a better model, which corresponds to the perceptual theory of the emotions, is one according to which affective dynamics involve emotionally perceiving the world differently. Recovery from depression involves a shift from an emotional perception of the world as negative to a more positive emotional perception. We believe that what happens in such cases is usefully understood as analogous to sensory gestalt switches, such as when we move from seeing a figure as a duck to seeing it as a rabbit. As we underlined in the paper, one interesting point that the analogy brings out is that in the same way as a variety of factors are likely to influence whether you see the figure as a rabbit or as a duck it is to be...


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pp. 21-23
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