Monday, September 1, 2014

Emotional hysteresis regulates the behavior of intelligent animals

Hysteresis is a memory-dependent behavior typical of elastic and ferromagnetic materials. Stretched elastic materials will return to their previous state when released. However, greater stretching will deform and warm up the material, which will only return to its initial state after a cooling period. Hysteresis like behavior has been reported in wide-ranging fields, such as neurology, histology, cell biology, genetics, respiratory psychology, economics, game theory, and unemployment. Surprisingly, emotion forming animals can produce the above behavior as well. 

The stimulation threshold of emotional animals depends on their emotional history. Thus, the degree of irritation, or 'emotional temperature' determines the response. In emotion forming animals, irritation enhances brain frequencies, i.e., emotional temperature. For example, at moderate stress, a dog will exhibit a smooth transition of responses, requiring a much larger irritation, cowed to angry. On higher stress levels, irritation causes the dog to reach a ‘fold’ point, when it will suddenly, discontinuously snap through to angry mode. Once in ‘angry’ mode, it will remain angry, even if the direct irritation parameter is considerably reduced (just like the heated up elastic material). Once reaching a sizable emotional temperature, it will take time until the dog calms down. Changes in emotional temperature (the degree of irritation) could result in experienced sudden behavioral changes. 

Similarly, catching attitude from others can lead to social ferromagnetism. Social groups exist as emotional ferromagnets. A common emotional orientation, in most situations, regulates thinking and behavior. This is why social groups tend to shop in the same stores, take similar vacations, vote for the same candidate, and hold the same view on many issues. The field directs an individual attitude in almost every problem. The collective opinion changes constantly and gradually over time by the experiences and emotional pushes of its members. 

For example, individual responses to challenges can be better predicted from peers' behavior than personal intention. Because social groups have such a powerful influence on behavior, behavioral modification spreads like an infectious disease within the social group. This is true even among people who personally do not know each other at all! The finding was revealed by a social study for happiness, quitting smoking, and discontent, but in all likelihood, it could be found for many other behaviors and habits as well (Hill, 2010). A recent study found that social media groups form a social bubble, limiting the available information to like-minded people and leading to a collective social bias. Indeed, recent surprising social changes in many countries (the Brexit, the Arab Spring, Brexit, or the election of Donald Trump) might result from such a collective attitude. 

Picture credit: Dogs By Peter Wadsworth

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