Fringe feelings

There are those fringe feelings in consciousness that are not perceptions or actions but just feelings: parts of various emotions and hints about what is happening. A feeling of familiarity, of distrust, of ‘tip of the tongue’ are fringe feelings so are feelings of anger or happiness. Here is a new pair introduced by Wray Herbert (here). They are similar, he calls them ‘Whew!’ and ‘Finished!’.

Wipe your brow, slightly roll your eyes, relax your shoulders and let out a forceful little puff of air and feel the relief. You have either survived a very close call or you have finished a huge task. This might be the same fringe feeling, relief, but Herbert explains how they are different.

Are there really Whew! moments and Finally! moments—very different circumstances that generate the same basic emotion? Sweeny and Vohs decided to explore this possibility in a couple experiments. They wanted to see if, on closer examination, the two kinds of relief might differ significantly in nature and consequences. … The scientists suspected that the two kinds of relief would produce different results, cognitively and emotionally. And that’s just what they found. Those who were recalling a Whew! experience were much more likely to fixate on the most dire outcome they might have experienced. Those recalling a Finally! experience also engaged in what-if thinking, but they tended to focus on how things might have turned out better. Sweeny and Vohs believe this is because “what if” thinking arises to guide future behavior: When we narrowly dodge a bullet, it’s adaptive to think about how we might do that again (or even better) next time around. Such strategizing is not so beneficial when one has completed a task that’s either unavoidable or, in the end, gratifying—even if it is a relief to do so. …That is, those who were thinking Whew! were more apt to imagine the worst, and this catastrophic thinking led to feelings of being alone and disconnected. Their minds may have been strategizing for the future, but in the meantime they were suffering through painful what-if scenarios. … The other form of relief—Finally!—may also have some adaptive value for the future, though quite different. By engendering positive thinking and solidifying a sense of belonging, it might help reinforce the motivation to push on when faced with life’s challenges.

This fits with what we have been thinking about fringe feelings in consciousness. Just like it is advantageous to remember our perceptions and actions, it is also advantageous to remember the ‘colour’ of events: their emotional settings (made me angry), the train of mental work that they set in motion (must recall who that is), and the lessons that should be learned (never go that close to the edge again). The immediate memories with marks of significance like this are unlikely to disappear quickly by being carelessly lost in consolidation.

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