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Is emotional behavior goal directed? A test of an alternative dual-process model

Dual-process models propose that behavior can be explained by a stimulus-driven or a goal-directed process. Traditional dual-process models assume that stimulus-driven processes are responsible for initial action tendencies and that goal-directed processes can only refine or correct these initial action tendencies at a later stage. In contrast to this, an alternative dual-process model has been put forward centering on the key assumptions that goal-directed processes operate in parallel with stimulus-driven processes, that they compete with stimulus-driven processes to determine behavior, that they win this competition in most cases and that therefore behavior is most often goal-directed. Explanations of emotional behaviors often endorse the assumptions of traditional dual-process models. The aim of this dissertation was to apply the alternative dual-process model to emotional behavior and to test the key assumptions of the alternative model. We report the empirical tests of these assumptions in four chapters (Chapters 2−5).

In Part 1 (Chapter 2), we address the key assumption of the alternative model that emotional behavior is most often goal directed. We discuss the results of a study in which we tested a goal-directed explanation for a showcase emotional behavior for which only stimulus-driven or incomplete goal-directed explanations have been proposed so far (i.e., the behavioral reactions to social exclusion). The results of this study provide preliminary evidence that these behaviors are indeed goal directed.

In Part 2 (Chapters 3−5), we investigate the key assumptions of the alternative dual-process model that to determine emotional behaviors goal-directed processes operate in parallel with stimulus-driven processes, that the goal-directed processes enter in competition with stimulus-driven processes, and that they win this competition in most cases. To test these assumptions, we established the operation of a stimulus-driven process (Chapter 3−5), we installed a goal-directed process that elicited action tendencies opposite to the action tendencies elicited by the stimulus-driven process, and we examined whether the goal-directed process was able to defeat the stimulus-driven process (Chapter 3 and 5). We measured action tendencies via reaction times and errors when executing instructed responses (Chapter 3) or via motor evoked potentials elicited by single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (Chapters 4 and 5).

The results reported in Chapter 3 support the notion that a stimulus-driven process operates in which negative valence elicits a tendency to fight. The results from Chapter 4 (but not from Chapter 5) provide support for a stimulus-driven process in which positive valence elicits a tendency to approach and negative valence elicits a tendency to avoid. The results from Chapters 3 and 5 furthermore show that goal-directed processes can indeed operate at an early stage. The results regarding the ability of goal-directed processes to defeat stimulus-driven processes are mixed. In Chapter 3, the goal-directed process seemed to operate but this process was not able to overrule the stimulus-driven process. In Chapter 5, we found evidence that the goal-directed process was able to determine the action tendencies, but we could not verify that the goal-directed process had indeed competed with the stimulus-driven process.

In the concluding chapter, we summarize and discuss the most important findings, we address possible limitations, we outline avenues for future research, and we discuss methodological contributions and theoretical implications of the current work.

Date:14 Oct 2014 →  12 Feb 2021
Keywords:emotional behavior, goal-directed behavior, stimulus-driven behavior, goal-directed, stimulus-driven
Disciplines:Applied psychology
Project type:PhD project