Affect display

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In psychology, affect display or affective display is a subject's externally displayed affect. The display can be by facial, vocal, or gestural means (APA 2006, p. 26). When displayed affect is different from the subjective affect, it is incongruent affect.[citation needed] Some professionals use the term "affect" is to mean "affect display".[1]

Affect display refers to the impetus for observable expression of emotion; for the human being that expression or feeling displayed to others through facial expressions, hand gestures, voice tone and other emotional signs such as laughter or tears is a part of a series of non-conscious or conscious cognitive events. Many aspects of the expressions vary between and within cultures and are displayed in various forms ranging from the most discrete of facial expressions to the most dramatic and prolific gestures (Batson, 1992).

Affect display is also a critical facet of communication in the social domain. Interpersonal communication is colored by displayed affect and there are various theories on affective reactions to stimuli to include conscious and non-conscious reaction and positive or negative affect.[citation needed]

Theoretical Perspective

Affect can be taken to indicate an instinctual reaction to stimulation occurring before the typical cognitive processes considered necessary for the formation of a more complex emotion.[citation needed] Robert B. Zajonc asserts that this reaction to stimuli is primary for human beings and is the dominant reaction for lower organisms. Zajonc suggests affective reactions can occur without extensive perceptual and cognitive encoding, and can be made sooner and with greater confidence than cognitive judgments (Zajonc, 1980).

Lazarus (1982) consider affect to be post-cognitive. That is, affect is elicited only after a certain amount of cognitive processing of information has been accomplished. In this view, an affective reaction, such as liking, disliking, evaluation, or the experience of pleasure or displeasure, is based on a prior cognitive process in which a variety of content discriminations are made and features are identified, examined for their value, and weighted for their contributions (Brewin, 1989).

A divergence from a narrow reinforcement model for emotion allows for other perspectives on how affect influences emotional development. Thus, temperament, cognitive development, socialization patterns, and the idiosyncrasies of one's family or subculture are mutually interactive in non-linear ways. As an example, the temperament of a highly reactive, low self-soothing infant may "disproportionately" affect the process of emotion regulation in the early months of life (Griffiths, 1997).

Non-conscious affect and perception

In relation to perception, a type of non-conscious affect may be separate from the cognitive processing of environmental stimuli. A monoheirarchy of perception, affect and cognition considers the roles of arousal, attentional tendencies, affective primacy (Zajonc, 1980), evolutionary constraints (Shepard, 1984; 1994), and covert perception (Weiskrantz, 1997) within the sensing and processing of preferences and discriminations. Emotions are complex chains of events triggered by certain stimuli. There is no way to completely describe an emotion by knowing only some of its components. Verbal reports of feelings are often inaccurate because people may not know exactly what they feel, or they may feel several different emotions at the same time. There are also situations that arise in which individuals attempt to hide their feelings, and there are some who believe that public and private events seldom coincide exactly, and that words for feelings are generally more ambiguous than are words for objects or events.

Affective responses, on the other hand, are more basic and may be less problematical in terms of assessment. Brewin has proposed two experiential processes that frame non-cognitive relations between various affective experiences. Those that are prewired dispositions (i.e.. non-conscious processes), able to “select from the total stimulus array those stimuli that are casually relevant, using such criteria as perceptual salience, spatiotemporal cues, and predictive value in relation to data stored in memory” (Brewin, 1989, p.381), and those that are automatic (i.e.. subconscious processes), characterized as “rapid, relatively inflexible and difficult to modify…(requiring) minimal attention to occur and…(capable of being) activated without intention or awareness” (1989 p.381).


Arousal is a basic physiological response to the presentation of stimuli. When this occurs, a non-conscious affective process takes the form of two control mechanisms; one mobilization, and the other immobilizing. Within the human brain, the amygdala regulates an instinctual reaction initiating this arousal process, either freezing the individual or accelerating mobilization.[citation needed]

The arousal response is illustrated in studies focused on reward systems that control food-seeking behavior (Balliene, 2005). Researchers focused on learning processes and modulatory processes that are present while encoding and retrieving goal values.[citation needed] When an organism seeks food, the anticipation of reward based on environmental events becomes another influence on food seeking that is separate from the reward of food itself. Therefore, earning the reward and anticipating the reward are separate processes and both create an excitatory influence of reward-related cues. Both processes are dissociated at the level of the amygdale and are functionally integrated within larger neural systems.

Affect and mood

Mood, like emotion, is an affective state. However, an emotion tends to have a clear focus (i.e., a self-evident cause), while mood tends to be more unfocused and diffused. Mood, according to Batson, Shaw, and Oleson (1992), involves tone and intensity and a structured set of beliefs about general expectations of a future experience of pleasure or pain, or of positive or negative affect in the future. Unlike instant reactions that produce affect or emotion, and that change with expectations of future pleasure or pain, moods, being diffused and unfocused, and thus harder to cope with, can last for days, weeks, months, or even years (Schucman, 1975). Moods are hypothetical constructs depicting an individual's emotional state. Researchers typically infer the existence of moods from a variety of behavioral referents (Blechman, 1990).

Positive affect and negative affect represent independent domains of emotion in the general population, and positive affect is strongly linked to social interaction. Positive and negative daily events show independent relationships to subjective well-being, and positive affect is strongly linked to social activityRecent research suggests that high functional support is related to higher levels of positive affect The exact process through which social support is linked to positive affect remains unclear. The process could derive from predictable, regularized social interaction, from leisure activities where the focus is on relaxation and positive mood, or from the enjoyment of shared activities.

Gender and affective displays

Template:Unreferencedsection Research has indicated many differences in affective displays due to gender. Gender, as opposed to sex, is one's self-perception of being masculine or feminine (i.e., a male can perceive himself to be more feminine or a female can perceive herself to be more masculine). One's gender association is located on a continuum of masculine and feminine, unlike sex, which is a biological affiliation of being male or female.

Affect and the present moment

In the book, The Stillness of the Mind, Eckhart focuses on self-awareness and the perception of the present that leads to a cognitive, conscious affective state of the human condition.[citation needed] This present-moment consciousness of affect includes various stimuli processed within the framework of cultures, organizations, and environments, all of which contribute toward the development of the emotional state of the human organism (Tolle, 1999, 2003).

Meanings in art

Template:Unreferencedsection The difference between the externally observable affect and the internal mood has been implicitly accepted in art and indeed, within language itself. The word "giddy," for example, carries within it the connotation that the characterized individual may be displaying a happiness that the speaker/observer believes either insincere or short-living.[citation needed]


Template:Unreferencedsection Psychologists consider affective processes to be the basis of feelings and emotions. Feelings are the result of affect, arousal, cognition, and perception in the present moment and within the social environment for human beings.

Affect is considered by some social scientists and psychologists to be a critical building block of feelings and emotions in both conscious and non-conscious states. Some argue that affect is pre-cognitive and some contend that affect is post-cognitive, based on likes, dislikes, preferences, and sensation. Affect is also a factor in emotional development, mood, arousal, and consideration of the present moment.

The influence of affect on human behavior ranges from primal, instinctual reaction and arousal to post-cognitive consideration of one’s own mortality and mood. This elemental, sensorial building block of emotion plays a critical role in the human communicative processes within the social and psychological domains.


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See also

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