Doing Without Feeling

Upside Down

Having introduced the idea of
the emotional unconscious in the last post, I am going to dive straight into
some of the research which attempts to prove its existence. Kent Berridge at
the University of Michigan has carried out some interesting research into the
emotional unconscious. But despite some good evidence, Berridge &
Winkielman (2003) make the point that the existence of unconscious emotions is
still controversial.
This is made clear by the
caution with which Berridge Winkielman (2003) discuss the idea when introducing
their own studies. Like LeDoux (1996), Berridge & Winkielman (2003) point
to the way in which emotion has often been defined as requiring a conscious
In the first study Berridge
& Winkielman (2003) report, Winkielman, Berridge & Wilbarger (2000)
exposed participants to subliminal emotional cues in facial expressions while
they thought they were engaged in a study about gender. They then allowed their
participants to ‘interact’ with a fruit-flavoured drink.
The results showed that those
who were thirsty and exposed to happy faces drank 50% more of the drink than
neutrally primed participants. The mirror effect was seen for the
negative-primed participants. Importantly, participants were not aware of the
priming and were not aware of being in a better or worse mood depending on
their priming condition. Further, the priming conditions had no effect on
participants who weren’t thirsty.
A similar paradigm was used in
Winkielman et al.’s (2000) second study. Here, though, instead of focussing on
the amount of drink, participants evaluated the drink. Again, the subliminal
priming had the same effect on subjective ratings of the drink. But, this time
participants completed a 20-item PANAS scale before and after the subliminal
priming and no differences were found.
These two studies certainly
look like they provide useful evidence for the emotional unconscious, but
Berridge & Winkielman (2003) consider an alternative explanation. Perhaps
the unconscious information participants were primed with was purely cognitive.
This would explain why participants did not report any affective changes –
there hadn’t been any. Berridge & Winkielman (2003) argue, however, that
this interpretation is not consistent with other evidence. This research
suggests that facial expressions do indeed induce an affective response as
shown on behavioural or physiological measures, e.g. activation of the
But, if this line of argument
isn’t convincing, then Berridge & Winkielman (2003) argue that a particular
order manipulation in their study provides further evidence of an affective
rather than cognitive process. Some participants, after subliminal priming
focussed their attention on themselves, while other participants focussed on
the drink. If the priming was cognitive, in the form of a ‘free-floating
belief’, there should have been a difference between these two conditions. This
effect was not seen, suggesting the process was affective.
About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.