Biological psychology

To a large extent, psychiatric symptoms can be interpreted in terms of radicalized temperaments and extreme emotions. ^l) For example, the shyness implicated in social phobia is connected to neuroticism or, as some researchers prefer to call it, negative affectivity. Likewise, the impulsive behaviour of a psychopathic criminal is the extreme manifestation of a trait known as sensation-seeking. Phobic reactions represent exaggerations of normal fear, while the blunted affect of a schizophrenic patient indicates the breakdown of normal emotion regulation. Thus it is obvious that the study of temperament and emotions is relevant to psychiatry.

Emotion, mood, psychopathology, and temperament all refer to what Oatley and Jenkins(H) have termed the 'affective realm'. The primary difference between these constructs has to do with the time course of the affective phenomena involved, with emotional states lasting for a few seconds and temperaments lasting for years. Although it is tempting to view affective phenomena as subjective inner experiences, research shows that they can fruitfully be conceptualized as biologically based action tendencies. Indeed, the function of affective phenomena is to guide and manage our thoughts and actions in a complex world that is difficult to predict. Accordingly, severe emotional disorders undermine real-life planning. This is exactly what the work of, for instance, Damasio (U demonstrates. Consider the following experiment. Normal subjects and patients with bilateral frontal-lobe damage are instructed to play a gambling game that involves several card decks. Some of the decks are advantageous in that they result in overall gain in the long run, while other decks are disadvantageous because they cost money in the long run. Meanwhile, it is not possible for subjects to make an exact calculation of the gains and losses associated with each deck. Therefore subjects have to sample all decks and, on the basis of this information, they gradually have to adopt a strategy in which bad decks are avoided. Normal subjects are able to develop such a strategy, but patients with bilateral frontal damage are not. They continue to sample the bad decks and consequently lose all their money. This is associated with the insensitivity of these patients to repeated losses and punishment. In more general terms, the results of this experiment accord well with the observation that, owing to their blunted affect, patients with bilateral frontal-lobe damage have great difficulties in planning ordinary life. Thus affective phenomena provide us with heuristics that guide our decisions.^l1,ยป

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