Understanding Affects (1): Interest – Excitement
In a previous post, I have discussed affects in general. In this, the first in a series, I look at the individual affects starting with ‘Interest – excitement’.
Brain activity and affects
Affects are linked to brain activity, and brain activity can be in one of three patterns; increasing, remaining steady or decreasing. The affect ‘Interest – excitement’ is one where “the rate of increasing activity is fast enough to be noticed but not so fast to be unpleasant” (Kelly, 2009). In other words, our attention is drawn to the stimulus; brain activity is being increased, but the rate of increase is comfortable for us.
Whatever is happening in the brain that causes brain activity to increase at a rate that is comfortable for us will trigger the ‘Interest – excitement’ affect. This affect, especially at the low end – interest – is being triggered all the time, as our interest slips from one thing to another. Each affect is triggered for only a moment, and then brain activity slips back to its steady state. Interest can turn into excitement if it is maintained.
You can see when this affect is triggered in babies. Babies lower their eyebrows, furrow their brows and lock their eyes lock on to items of interest. They give the source of their stimulus intense attention.
It's interesting that this positive affect is linked to brain activity. It seems to suggest that a good way to experience positive affects – and therefore positive feelings – is to encourage brain activity to the extent that its increase remains tolerable. Even more curious is the idea that things can become interesting regardless of content – that things that we don’t think we will find interesting can be interesting can be if brain activity is stimulated in the right way. If that’s an interesting idea, then you’re experiencing this affect!
I’ll talk further about this in the next article where I discuss the affect ‘Enjoyment – joy’
A link to disorders?
Nathan (1992) feels that this affect is linked to disorders; bipolar disorder and ADHD. With bipolar disorder, “when these patients are depressed they complain that nothing interests them, that they are incapable of being excited about anything. And in the manic phase of their illness they experience an opposite reaction – everything is interesting, everything that occurs to them can be exciting” (p.75). With ADHD, “children with ADHD seem distracted by stimuli most of us would fail to notice and, and are unable to maintain interest-excitement in situations the rest of us would find compelling” (p.77). In both cases, Nathan seems to feel that it is a disorder of affect stability – an interesting idea that would bear further research.
Next: ‘Enjoyment – joy’.
References: Kelly V. C. (2009) “A Primer of Affect Psychology” www.tomkins.org/uploads/Primer_of_Affect_Psychology.pdf
Nathanson D. L. (1992) “Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex and the Birth of the Self”, Norton, New York