4. Cognition and Emotions

Unconscious vs. Conscious

Consciousness and unconsciousness to some extent work in opposition. Consciousness is an awakening force that creates the position of subject. Unconscious is a force that keeps us asleep to scenes behind our conscious life; tends to make us remain a part of a group and passive.

These two forces often manifest as a polarity between two opposing ideas; individualism and collectivism.

Individualism vs. collectivism

I vs. We = Focus on individual differences vs. group harmony. If individualism gets too extreme, it can bring anti-social forces. When group values are emphasized too much, it can create over-conformity.

Yin and Yang of Taoism

Yin and Yang are two halves that together bring wholeness. When you split something into halves, it breaks balance and this leads to both halves chasing after each other as they seek a new balance with each other.

These opposing functions can be explained as the difference between the left brain and the right brain. Jung named the path of balancing of these two forces. What is it called? – individuation process

Is individuation same as individualism? How is it different? Where does this individuation process lead us? – Self as a midpoint between conscious and unconscious.

Individuation is different than individualism. It opens a path that allows one to integrate both principles (collectivism and individualism with Western notion of the isolated or separate self) and reconcile contradiction. One can become an individual deeply rooted in the collective.


Jung brought one crucial element of the ego, which he described as persona. What is persona?

Persona is a place where cultural expectations and traditional gender roles for example are located. It is mostly formed through interactions with others, family, friends and society at large. Society often makes us conform to its narrative and roles assigned within its story.

• How much is your personality or persona consciously chosen?
• Did you choose your gender, nationality and what you like to do? How much do you think you are conscious in shaping your persona? How was your name created? Who created it?
• Persona is being shaped largely by unconscious forces; influences from outside and your interaction with them.

Although persona is something that exists within your consciousness, can we say its guiding force is mostly unconscious? Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, (1973/1996) described how: “Men are defeated and dominated, though they do not know it; they fear freedom, though they believe themselves to be free. They follow general formulas and prescriptions as if by their own choice. They are directed; they do not direct themselves.” (p. 20)

Play casting role –Are all social roles available equally to everyone in our society. Depending on your gender, nationality and race, available personas (roles) in society are limited. For instance, until Barrack Obama became president, it was virtually unthinkable for a black person to become a president. There are considerably fewer female in positions of leadership or authority such as lawyers, professors, CEOs or politicians etc.

Neo- Awakening

Individuation calls for awakening. It makes us examine unconscious conditioning and strive for a conscious choice. What did Carl Rogers, humanistic psychologist, call this choice? – “Subjective choice” and this ability is what Skinner denied.

Neo made the choice. Who is Agent Smith? Why is he chasing after Neo? What does he want? What is his agenda?

What does the Matrix represent? –System of control, dream like simulation

Agent Smith wants Neo to conform to an expected role, which means to stay in The Matrix and not disrupt it.

The Matrix is a system of control. It tries to define us and make us stay in a dream-like state. It wants all to stay in the unconscious. The Matrix deprives individuals of the ability to make a subjective choice, by keeping all blind to the existence and possibility of that choice. Agent Smith is an icon as an agent for this system.

The Matrix – brings the question of what is real.

What is real? – How do you define real? Wakening of consciousness brings questions about our taken for granted world; how we see this world and how we interpret events that affect us.

Morpheus – “What is real? How do you define real? If you are thinking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain …”

We all tend to be unconscious in our perception. We don’t have to consciously try to perceive the world. Our mind does that work for us. The conscious mind is a reality filter. It takes information from the unconscious and interprets it.

Gestalt Psychology

(German: Gestalt [ɡəˈʃtalt] “shape, form”)
Gestalt is a psychology term which means “unified whole”. It refers to theories of visual perception developed by German psychologists in the 1920s. These theories attempted to describe how people tend to organize visual elements into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are applied.

This is an exploration into the brain’s ability to organize sensory information into patterns and interpret them to make meaning. First introduced by Max Wertheimer, a German psychologist (1889-1943). He developed a visual aid to show the mind’s ability to organize data.

Gestalt psychology has become a formative force behind cognitive psychology, which started in modern American psychology in the late 1950s and early 60s.

Gestalt principles

The question arises as to how our mind perceives the stimulus that comes our way and how we take stimuli from senses and interpret them. One’s mind chooses what to focus on and what meaning to connect with.

We are programmed to see patterns (for instance, humans are wired to see human faces).

Different laws of Gestalt principle

  • Similarity – items similar to one another are grouped together

  • Figure and Ground – distinguishing figures from the ground or the environment.

Lightness is a figure and darkness is the ground etc. Depending on what one focuses on, each person sees different images.

  • Proximity – objects that are close to one another are grouped together

  • Continuity – Lines are seen as following the smoothest path; continuous flow, rather than flow into a different direction. The brain unconsciously draws this line.

  • Closure – objects grouped together are seen as a whole. Ex: The mind naturally fills in the gap to perceive a triangle. Even though there isn’t any triangle, the mind is filling the missing information to create a familiar shape. Even though the image is not complete, we tend to see it as complete.

M.C ESHER- similarity/ground and figure

Do people across cultures see things similarly?
Professor of social psychology, Richard Nisbett examined how Asians and Westerns think differently and why. Gestalt principle is biological, yet here we see the cultural impact of changing this universal law.

Cultural Theory of Cognition

In his research, East Asian means Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. Westerners typically mean America, but can be extended to the rest of the Anglosphere, including Europe. One of his research findings was the contrast between Westerners and Asians about the way they look at themselves.

WEST: Believes that each person is uniquely different. With a sense of agency, the idea is that people are in control of their own behavior and generally prefer equality in relationship rather than hierarchy, with the value of the individual over the group. Emphasis includes independence, orientation toward personal goals, success and personal achievement


EAST: Supposed to be less concerned about personal goals and success than Westerners. Maintaining social harmony is a key to achieving success. Individual difference is not preferred. Each person is identified and exists within the larger context and situation.

This is manifested in language.

For instance, in Japanese, I means ‘as for me’, implying oneself as always in relationship with others, which is quite different than the English I. Also, Japanese has many different ways of referring to one’s self and is more often situational.

Underwater experiment

In the research of showing underwater scenes with Americans and Japanese, Japanese made more than 60% more references to background elements, while Americans focused more on the fish. Japanese participants also made almost twice as many references to relationships involving inert, background objects.

The first sentence from Japanese participants upon looking at the scenes were “It looked like a pond.” On the other hand, American participants noted, “there was a big fish” (Nisbett, 2003, p. 90). “Westerners are the protagonists of their auto-graphical novels”, whereas “Asians are merely cast members in movies touching in on their existences” (p. 87).

Research on four to six year old American and Chinese children has shown that they would report their daily events very differently. The proportion of self-references was more than three times higher for American children than for Chinese children (Nisbett, 2003, p. 88).

“People who live in a world in which external forces are the most important can be expected to pay close attention to the environment.” (Nisbett, 2003, p. 79) “People who live in a world in which personal agency produces results might focus primarily on objects that they can manipulate to serve their own goals.” (p. 79).

East Asians have a more holistic view of events and are better able to see relationships among events than Westerners. On the other hand, they are more challenged to see an object separate from its surroundings.

Attention Experiment

  • What we focus on helps shape how we see the world.
  • Depending on culture, we are directed to pay attention to something specific and in this, we often miss the bigger picture.
  • The mind is capable of blocking out information that is not part of one’s primary concern.

Universal Language

Similar to Gestalt principles, there is a universal language that, regardless of culture, we humans commonly share. What is this language?

Emotions are a universal language. There are 6 basic emotions that are displayed with all people around the world.

Emotions as universal language– some basic emotions are innate, universal and are not learned. Can you identify each expression of these emotions? Basic emotions are like a universal language common among human species – researchers tend to disagree on exactly how many these basic emotions there are, but some of the examples are joy, distress, anger, fear, surprise and disgust.

The facial expression for basic emotions are the same all over the world. Then, there are higher cognitive emotions that are also universal. They are love, guilt, shame, embarrassment, pride, envy and jealously, to name a few. They take longer to build up and longer to die away.

Cultural Theory of Emotions

While we have these innate basic emotions, every culture sets rules to define how they could be expressed and regulates them according to socially acceptable forms. Ex: In Europe and North America expressions of vivid emotions are encouraged and hiding them can be considered to be deceptive. In Japan, on the other hand, excessive expression of emotions is considered to be rude and Japanese people make efforts to moderate the display of their emotions.

Also, there are social expectations based on gender. Display of certain emotions are accepted while others are discouraged. For instance, society put more pressure toward men to not express certain emotions such as sadness, while women are often taught to suppress anger. Some emotions are unique to certain cultures. These are constructed and experienced within a particular social and cultural context that many people are unconscious in.

Ex: Amae- Japanese emotional term

• “The desire to be passively loved, the unwillingness to be separated from the warm mother-child circle and cast into a world of objective ‘reality’”

• An emotion that takes the other person’s love for granted.

• Interdependence and indulgence

Torshlusspanik – German emotional term “The deadline’s approaching. The train’s a-comin’. Literally translated from German, torschlusspanik means “gate-closing panic,” a word to summarize that fretful sensation of time running out”.

Key questions:

Do you know any other culturally specific emotions?

Do you agree with this theory of culturally specific emotions? (unique to that culture)

How are emotions expressed differently in different cultures?

What drives are suppressed or thought to be inferior and need to be restrained?


Dahi, M. (2016, June 15). 10 extremely precise words for emotions you didn’t even know you had. scienceofus.com. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/06/10-extremely-precise-words-for-emotions-you-didnt-even-know-you-had.html
Doi, T. (1973). The anatomy of dependence. (J. Bester, Trans.). Tokyo: Kodansha International. (Original work published 1971)
Evans, D. (2001). Emotion: A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Freire, P. (1996). Education for critical consciousness. New York, NY: The Continuum. (Original work published 1973)
Hunt, M. (1993). The story of psychology. New York, NY: DOUBLEDAY.
Nisbett, R. E. (2003). The geography of thought: How Asians and Westerners think differently … and why. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Simons and Chabris. (2010). The invisible guerrilla. Retrieved from

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