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In psychology, affect is the scientific term used to describe a subject's externally displayed mood. The use of this term grew out of a developing understanding on the part of researchers and clinical psychologists that subjects, including emotionally disturbed ones, could display a mood they were not sincerely feeling (perhaps to win release from an asylum). The use of the term "affect" allows for rigorous accuracy: by noting that a subject displays, for example, "high affect," the observer is not passing judgment on whether the subject is genuinely feeling happiness or not. Given the complexity of human emotion, it is in any case impossible to define precisely at what point an emotion becomes "genuine." Finally, as a usage note, grammatical convention holds that an individual self-report a "good mood" but never a "good affect." An outside observer can choose to declare that another individual is in a "good mood" (general colloquial usage) or "displays a high affect" (scientific usage).
All human beings, insofar as they live within the bounds of cultural rules, outwardly display emotions they may not be sincerely feeling. For example, it is considered entirely appropriate for the second-place winner of the Miss World beauty pageant to express happiness after the first-place winner is announced, even though the runner-up must surely be feeling only disappointment. Very few individuals would call this outward display of happiness to be anything other than good sportsmanship or manners. Another key point is that individuals vary tremendously in how much affect they display, depending on individual personality and cultural conventions. It is entirely possible that the same individual would be considered to have bordering on pathological blunted affect in one culture and be considered merely "serious" in another.
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. The common usage of the word "affect" is solely as a verb or adjective ("affected"): here, the idea that the emotion expressed is not entirely sincere is implicit. "Affect a sadness you do not feel," one might be instructed before attending the funeral of an enemy. "She seems a bit affected" would be an entirely natural sentence in colloquial English to express the judgment that a person is "putting on airs."
Affects and moods give a direction to thought contents. In accordance with its phylogenetically developed purpose, the intellect is a “scanning mechanism” that searches for adequate realization options according to current drives and inhibitions. Particularly in complex societies, it is frequently seen how one-sided analyses can be performed by individual persons and interest groups and the problems of others are negated or undervalued. Analyses are sometimes derived from selfish anticipated solution approaches. The accuracy of the knowledge and the evaluation of various application options are frequently not kept separate here. Due to this presumptuousness justified by affect logic, pluralistic conditions are useful and necessary. If specific thought contents are highly engaged affectively, these are sometimes affectively “blocked” or corresponding theoretical alternatives are factored out. Under certain conditions, our reasoning ability exhibits a distinctive feature recognized by psychoanalysis in which certain one-sided, partially subconscious and misguiding decision preferences develop over the course of life for avoiding or escaping uncomfortable affects (e.g. fear). Apparent unambiguousness in “either x or y” is then frequently preferred to the view of the systemically interconnected variability of aspects of reality (“both x and y”). This can lead to contrasting theory formation. Examples for such opposing world views are rationalism and empiricism, materialism and idealism, left and right ideologies.
- Affect heuristic
- Affect infusion model
- Affect phobia
- Affect theory
- Affective neuroscience
- Positive affect
- Negative affect
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