Affect, Cognition, and Personality
reviewed by David R. Ricks - 1966
The editors have put together the work of twenty psychologists (and one nurse) reporting on nearly one hundred experiments. The unifying threads in this exuberant burst of imagination and work are common interest in the affective life of man and in the seminal theories of the senior editor, Silvan Tompkins. The result is an intellectual smorgasbord, with as much stimulating fare as anything published in psychology since Explorations in Personality. Like that report, it is uneven in quality, marred at times by immersion in the small bore details of minor experiments, but a book significant both for what it attempts to do and for its achievement.
In his introduction, Tompkins describes psychology as a patient slowly regaining consciousness, after having wandered for half a century in the dreamless sleep of behaviorism. Now, in its journals, and in books such as this, it shows signs of recovering its cognition, its dreams, its daydreams, and its affects, feelings, and moods. Alternatively, one might argue that contemporary psychology is just coming out of a prolonged depression, in which a passion for parsimony dictated tight little experiments to study empty organisms in the featureless world of simple mazes and closed boxes. The authors of these studies see man as an emotionally affluent species, believe the human organism is full of life, and show that psychology is at its best in the real world of living people. If we want to study "Facial expressions as indicators of distress," for instance, the way to do it is not by inducing minor distress in the laboratory, but by watching women give birth. And this is just what Leventhal and Sharp have done. If we are concerned with the impact of negative affect on cognition and personality, we can set up a laboratory experiment in which we insult our "subjects," but how much better to see how people thought and felt after the death of President Kennedy, as two independent studies reported here did. And if we want to study significant change in personality, we must have the imagination and courage to set up significant experiments, such as the study reported by Izard in "Personality growth through group experience."
The reasons for the new liveliness in psychology are not hard to find: the growth of a respectable field of psychophysiology with real findings to replace the empty organism, the necessity for taking emotion into account if we are to understand learning as it occurs in everyday life, clinical practice, and the phenomenologically oriented psychology of Arnold, Hillman, and other students of the human condition. Most important for educational practice is the growing awareness that man searches not for homeostasis and quiescence, but for optimal levels of stimulation and activity.
The psychology that informs and energizes this book is more like the fifty-year-old psychology of James and of Dewey than the simpler formulations of Watson, Hull, and Spence. It differs from James and Dewey, however, in being more competent with the tools of research, and in having improved economic and social resources. Several of the studies show the value of long term programmatic research, expensive to finance and maintain, but enormously more productive than the small, scattered studies that still dominate much of the technical literature of the field.
As the psychology of emotion comes out of the laboratory, there are two main directions in which it can turn. In the direction of medicine it can find both the satisfactions of new experimentation with physiological and chemical influences on emotion and the mixed blessings of the healer role in society. In the direction of education it finds itself in studies of emotional development, represented in this book by Lenrow's "Studies of sympathy." The practical educator, wary of the sentimentalism that a concern with emotion might imply may be reassured by the methodological sophistication and concern with objectivity in these studies. It is not impossible to be strictly objective about subjectivity. The studies reported here could lead in time to valuable studies of how teachers enter into the lives of students, activating minds or smothering them in boredom, meeting hopes or failing to meet them, and calling forth potentials or closing them off.
The final chapter is a wise, dispassionate discussion by Gardner Murphy of the book's contents and its value. Placing the work in perspective, it caps the preceding stimulation and variety like a smooth old brandy after a rich meal. Tompkins has emerged in the last few years as one of the major psychological theorists. This work shows that his theories meet the tests of empirical relevance and results.