We are continuing our discussion of the three main aspects of development: feelings, language, and cognition. The last several newsletters have dealt with our earliest feelings. This month we explore questions in this area.
We also have a Guest Column this month by Daven Morrison, M.D., who examines feelings in the context of the workplace.
Questions Our discussion of innate feelings raises a host of issues. For example:
This brings us to the concept of temperament. Temperament refers to various aspects of the infant’s innate neurological responses, e.g. greater degrees of activity or passivity, levels of sensitivity to stimuli, and so on.
In actuality, things are a bit more complicated. Because the environment has such an impact on the infant right after birth, it is very difficult to sort out what contributions are made by nature and what by nurture. As Demos, Stern, and others have shown, early parental responses to the baby’s feelings or signals influence how the baby regulates these feelings.
As mentioned earlier, there are many different ways to think about and understand feelings. Other questions exist. What is the relationship between these feelings and biological drives (e.g. hunger, sex)? In an integrated system such as we are discussing, affects are amplifiers of drives; that is, they increase or decrease the power of drives. Is sadness a basic, innate feeling? Sadness seems to be a later derivative of distress, when distress is linked with the experience of loss. Some suggest there are fewer than nine innate feelings, with, for example, surprise, disgust, and dissmell considered differently.
These discussions are complex, interesting, and important, and references to them can be found in the bibliography. But when one steps back and looks at the larger picture, various sources of data support this notion of built-in feelings, or “categorical affects”—that is, a discrete number of innate, universal feelings which combine to form our complex emotional life. Neurobiological research, infant observation studies, and clinical work all tend to support the basic idea of innate universal feelings. With this foundation, let’s now look at how understanding these feelings puts a light on human experience.
References for Interested Readers: