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The synchronized co-activation of multiple responses—motivational, behavioral, and physiological—has been taken as a defining feature of emotion. Such response coherence has been observed inconsistently however, and this has led some to view emotion programs as lacking biological reality. Yet, response coherence is not always expected or desirable if an emotion program is to carry out its adaptive function. Rather, the hallmark of emotion is the capacity to orchestrate multiple mechanisms adaptively—responses will co-activate in stereotypical fashion or not depending on how the emotion orchestrator interacts with the situation. Nevertheless, might responses cohere in the general case where input variables are specified minimally? Here we focus on shame as a case study. We measure participants’ responses regarding each of 27 socially devalued actions and personal characteristics. We observe internal and external coherence: The intensities of felt shame and of various motivations of shame (hiding, lying, destroying evidence, and threatening witnesses) vary in proportion (i) to one another, and (ii) to the degree to which audiences devalue the disgraced individual—the threat shame defends against. These responses cohere both within and between the United States and India. Further, alternative explanations involving the low-level variable of arousal do not seem to account for these results, suggesting that coherence is imparted by a shame system. These findings indicate that coherence can be observed at multiple levels and raise the possibility that emotion programs orchestrate responses, even in those situations where coherence is low.
Evolutionary Psychology – SAGE
Published: Jun 1, 2021
Keywords: emotion; valuation; response coherence; adaptationism; culture
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