Hot and Cold States

[From Fred Nickols (2007.08.10.0706 ET)]

The following was posted to another list where I spend some time and, upon reading it, I sensed a PCT explanation, having something to do with higher levels setting reference signals for lower levels - but with a twist - with conflict vertically situated in the hierarchy. Anyway I thought I'd pass it along. I believe it's from the Washington Post.


> Hot and Cold Emotions Make Us Poor Judges
> By Shankar Vedantam
> Monday, August 6, 2007; A03
> Why would David Vitter, a U.S. senator with four young children, have
> gotten involved with a seedy escort service? Why would Michael Vick, a
> gifted NFL quarterback, get mixed up with the sordid world of dog
> fighting? Why would Bill Clinton, a Rhodes scholar, six-time governor
> and president of the United States at 46, have an affair with an intern
> in the Oval Office?
> It isn't just men behaving badly. Remember Lisa Nowak, the married NASA
> astronaut who drove from Houston to Orlando (wearing diapers so she
> wouldn't have to make bathroom stops, police said) allegedly in order
> to kidnap her rival in a love triangle?
> Whenever these scandals break, the rest of us shake our heads and ask,
> "What were they thinking?"
> That feeling of incredulity is now the subject of a growing body of
> research. It isn't just that people find it difficult to understand or
> empathize with others who do crazy things. People find it very
> difficult to imagine how they themselves would behave when strong
> emotions are involved.
> Studies have found that, for some reason, an enormous mental gulf
> separates "cold" emotional states from "hot" emotional states. When we
> are not hungry or thirsty or sexually aroused, we find it difficult to
> understand what effects those factors can have on our behavior.
> Similarly, when we are excited or angry, it is difficult to think about
> the consequences of our behavior -- outcomes that are glaringly obvious
> when we are in a cold emotional state.
> Vitter (R-La.), for example, demanded in late June that the Title V
> Abstinence Education program be reauthorized: "These programs have been
> shown to effectively reduce the risks of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and
> sexually transmitted diseases by teaching teenagers that saving sex
> until marriage and remaining faithful afterwards is the best choice for
> health and happiness," he declared.
> A little more than two weeks later, Vitter was apologizing for a
> "serious sin" in his past, after his telephone number was found among
> the telephone lists of the alleged D.C. Madam. Hypocrisy? Possibly. But
> if the research is accurate, what it suggests is that
> Vitter-the-policymaker probably finds Vitter-the-escort-service-
> client as incomprehensible as everyone else does.
> "We tend to exaggerate the importance of willpower," said George
> Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon
> University who has studied the phenomenon of hot and cold emotional
> states and the surprisingly diverse implications of the gulf that
> separates them.
> Many health resolutions, for example, are made when people are in a
> cold state. But while they may intellectually grasp the temptation of a
> potato chip or a cigarette, they do not appreciate in advance how
> visceral the desire can be -- which is why many resolutions fail when
> put to the test.
> Psychologist Louis Giordano once asked heroin addicts on a maintenance
> course of the heroin substitute buprenorphine whether they would prefer
> an extra dose five days later or a sum of money. He found that when
> addicts were asked the question right before they got a dose -- when
> their craving was highest -- they valued the extra dose more than twice
> as much as addicts who had just taken their buprenorphine. The addicts
> who were in a craving state viscerally understood how much they would
> want the extra dose later; the satiated addicts, on the other hand,
> overestimated how easily they could do without the fix.
> Similarly, when cancer researcher Maurice Slevin quizzed medical
> professionals about whether they would endure grueling chemotherapy to
> extend their lives by only a few months, fewer than one in 10 said it
> was worth it -- they were evaluating the question in a cold state. When
> he asked patients who actually had cancer the same question -- these
> were dying people who were in a very hot state -- nearly half said a
> few more weeks of life was worth the pain of chemo.
> The empathy gulf between hot and cold states, Loewenstein said, might
> also explain why many patients are undertreated for pain. Patients
> viscerally experience their agony; doctors who are coolly evaluating
> the situation have to make a leap of imagination across the gulf that
> separates hot and cold states.
> Other experiments have found that shoppers at grocery stores spend more
> when they are hungry than they do when they are full.
> The empathy gap between hot and cold states not only keeps people from
> realizing how prone they can be to temptation but from enjoying things
> as much as they could: Marriage therapists, for instance, find that
> couples who report being uninterested in sex are usually surprised to
> find how much they enjoy intimacy once an encounter takes place.
> Couples in a cold state don't realize how they will feel once they are
> in a hot state.
> Loewenstein said his research made it difficult for him to serve on a
> university disciplinary committee, because he now empathizes with
> students who make mistakes in the heat of the moment. And when big
> public scandals break, he automatically thinks about the empathy gap
> that prompts so many people to be judgmental of others.
> "Most people have their own vices," he said. "When we are dealing with
> our vices, we are shortsighted, impulsive and make ridiculous
> sacrifices to satisfy our vices. But when we see other people
> succumbing to their vices, we think, 'How pathetic.' "


Fred Nickols
Managing Principal
Distance Consulting

"Assistance at A Distance"

The following was posted to
another list where I spend some time and, upon reading it, I sensed a PCT
explanation, having something to do with higher levels setting reference
signals for lower levels - but with a twist - with conflict vertically
situated in the hierarchy. Anyway I thought I’d pass it
along. I believe it’s from the Washington Post.

Hot and Cold Emotions Make Us Poor Judges

By Shankar Vedantam
[From Bill Powers (2007.08.10.0740 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (2007.08.10.0706 ET) –

It’s nice to be able to attach a face to the name!

I think this whole emotion business has been stood in its
head or turned inside out by the idea that emotions are a sort of special
automatic reaction to the world, independent of what the rest of the
brain does.When you see emotion simply as a preparation for the same
action that the behavioral systems are trying to carry out, everything
gets a lot simpler. The title above turns into “Conflict among
control systems results in poor judgements and hot

It’s always amusing to see how cultural biases turn into natural laws.
Why should a man not have sex with any willing and able woman any time
they both feel like it? WHOA! There goes civilization, at least this
particular one and a lot of others. The answers to the question are many,
but none of them has anything to do with inherent human organization. We
all want to have sex for one set of reasons, and have learned to want not
to have sex for a different set of reasons that often seem just as good
as the first set, but not always. So opportunities for sex are commonly
the occasion for a lot of conflict. Conflict leads to large errors; large
errors pump up the emotions, while conflict paralyzes our normal
abilities to control at many levels, including that of logic. That’s a
recipe for stupid behavior and strong feelings – strong because the
actions that would normally use up the physiological preparations do not
take place.

Doesn’t that story hang together a lot better than the idea that there is
a man riding a horse riding an alligator in the brain? Or the idea
that the limbic system somehow knows that the boss has just demeaned us
and we should therefore feel despair? Or that the words “Tough luck,
sucker” call for leaping at someone and trying to strangle him? The
standard concept of emotions puts way too much intelligence into rather
low-level systems in the brain, and forces us to invent far-fetched
stories about how it all works. I think the PCT version works much
better, with a lot less effort needed to make it seem plausible.


Bill P.