Objectivist Emotional IQ

Kevin Haggerty

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(Edit: Roger and Michael, so sorry for dragging my feet on resubmitting this. When I saw your original discussion of the problem of authorship in the other thread, I took one look at the top of the page and my by-line and assumed that Michael had fixed it on his own. Michael was finally able to set me straight on what the problem was. So here's the new thread. Hope this clears up the issue of authorship. #-o)

Objectivist Emotional IQ

Now, most people here know that I am no expert on Objectivism, but as an interested student of Objectivism I have to say that the party line on emotional reality leaves much to be desired. Here's some typical analysis of emotional reality from SOLOHQ:

Emotions are caused by one's thoughts. They are both triggered by one's thoughts and programmed by one's thoughts. The triggering is straightforward to show. Hearing the words "rape", "murder", "death", or "genocide", etc., one experiences an emotion.
I read a statement like this that is so patently wrong and I'm tempted to simply walk away and never come back. I wanna get ahold of this guy and ask him if he really believes this guff, I mean really! Is this how he lives? Having emotional reactions to mere words? But this kind of thing is typical of what I've read.

How 'bout, no? I just read those words and I had no emotional response to them. Oh my goodness, I just typed them into my computer and...still nothing. They're just words, utterly without context. As you may have noticed, I'm having a much stronger reaction to this Oist's beliefs about emotions than those four words. Is this how Objectivists think? Clearly the Oist who wrote that thinks like that (or at least thinks he thinks like that, or wants us to believe he thinks like that--seriously, it's hard for me to believe that someone who values critical thinking would come to such conclusions). And he goes on:

Hearing the same words in an unknown language, the words would be meaningless. One wouldn't be able to make the mental connection between the sounds and the meaning of the words. The emotions that one normally feels with respect to these words would not be present. Only understanding can trigger an emotion.
Words cannot express my astonishment at these assertions. ;) I mean, a lot of Oists are notorious lovers of opera, and this one's telling me that unless I know italian, Puccinni will be totally lost on me? I don't know a lick of italian, but when I hear Povarotti sing Nessun Dorma I'm moved to tears every single time. What am I thinking that brings these tears? His version of that aria is amazing because the emotion always takes me by surprise. I'm listening to this beautiful melody and his amazing instrument and then suddenly his voice goes up an octave and I'm crying. The more I think about it, the more absurd my emotion seems; the more I think about it, reason would suggest, the less I should feel, but I know that if I put it in the CD player I'll cry.

Okay, so that example didn't work for me, so I read the next one:

A further example is that of a gunman. If someone burst into a room with a gun, the people present would probably feel fear. However, if one didn't know what a gun was, you wouldn't make the connection, and wouldn't experience the fear. The emotion is only triggered when understanding of the situation is present.
This one just sounds mental. :-k I'm sorry, but he's talking about PTSD. I hear the word "rape" and I'm supposed to have an emotional reaction just 'cuz? Well, maybe if I'd just been raped. The mere sight of a man with a gun fills me with fear? Unless I've recently been the victim of a hold-up, I am not going to be reacting to the mere sight of a gunman. I am going to react to the way the guy entered the room, the look on his face, the sound of his voice. I may not even see the gun before I sense what the guy intends. What good is fear if I have to think some thought before I duck for cover?

Look, I'm not a big expert on philosophy, a lot of the finer points leave me cold (the free will/determinism debate for instance, bores me senseless), but emotional reality is something I've put a lot of thought and research into. I like to think I know something about how emotions function and I can only imagine arguments like this working on people who've never given emotional causation a second thought.

Frankly, I don't get the impression that the typical Objectivist is really all that interested in exploring his emotions. Rand places them in a distinctly deemphasized position in her thoughts. I find that what gets deemphasized in Oism, often ends up ignored, or taken totally for granted and unexamined. That's okay, I got no problem with people focusing their energies on what they're most interested in, but I don't appreciate what amounts to a mere lack of affinity for a thing (exploring one's emotions) being globalized into a final objective judgement on the thing (naval gazing and subjectivism).

One of the things that accounts for this lack of affinity may be cultural. Culturally, we tend to attach emotion to a "source" in the outside world. We say so-and-so "made me mad," or that movie "made me cry." This is psychologically dangerous territory and can lead to many very harmful distortions. This kind of thinking often reduces us to victims of our emotions and enslaves us to the actions and intentions of others.

I've learned that an important tool of healing is to refrain from attaching my emotions to other people. No one "out there" is to blame for my feelings. It's really changed my sense of life, and freed me from a lot self-destructive ideation.

I have found that simply saying "I'm angry" in an argument, without leaping to obvious conclusions about "why" frees me to interact with the emotion directly as information rather than a moral imperative. I often find that the other person is able to interact with the feeling more objectively as well, volunteering their own insights like, "Well, I can understand why you might be angry right now, because..."

Importantly, the anger, once named, will often spontaneously shift into another more "difficult" emotion like grief. Therapy has taught me that we often leap to blaming others for our feelings to avoid the much healthier, but more painful, process of grieving. So, as a culture, we tend not to explore feelings when an obvious scapegoat presents itself. In this way moral judgment of others can make an authentic encounter with one's self more and more difficult and ultimately impossible.


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  • 3 weeks later...


I've tried my damnedest to get this thing right and it just ain't gonna happen. Your rant is now posted twice, once here and once as if it almost were Roger, and that's the way it has to be - but that's perfectly OK.

Your message is so important that it needs to be read twice, anyway.

That's right. Twice.


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  • 3 weeks later...


First, who's article are you quoting? Sorry if I didn't follow that, I just became a member.

Second, before I start arguing, I wanted to let you know that I think there's much to be improved about the objectivist way of understanding emotions. I've taken a shot at this a few years ago in an article for JARS called "If Emotions Are Not Tools of Cognition...What Are They?". Also, I do think that the way people understand what Rand et. al said about emotions can lead them astray in terms of understanding their own and the role they play in life.

Unfortunately, in Rand's striving to emphasize the role of reason in life, her own, complexly nuanced attitude towards emotion is overlooked. Her attitude is most clearly apparent in what she's says about the process of writing, as in her Journals and in the tapes on fiction writing (the book was so severely edited that it doesn't even represent the views she expressed in the talks she gave on which the book is based!). In her discussions of writing, she talks about the necessity of relying on your emotions to produce so many aspects of the writing. She says it would be impossible to write without doing that. However, you can also *see*her comment on emotion in some of her interviews with Snyder, etc.

Lastly, anyone who hears her lecture or sees her on film or reflects on her essays or novels should be able to easily realize that she is highly passionate and acutely tuned into her own emotions and the emotions of others. Her characters are, too - that's one of the ways they notice all kinds of things about the villains versus the other heroes.

What I'm talking about here is looking at what Rand did in her life as a context for what she said about reason and emotion. It gives a different picture than the highly controlled, rationalistic approach to emotion which many people take from her work.

You quoted someone as saying:

Hearing the same words in an unknown language, the words would be meaningless. One wouldn't be able to make the mental connection between the sounds and the meaning of the words. The emotions that one normally feels with respect to these words would not be present. Only understanding can trigger an emotion"

Re: Opera - to be fair, if you just saw the words of an Italian opera's dialogue, written down, with no music or voice tone or facial expressions or gestures, would you feel any emotion from them? Not likely, unless you knew Italian. The music does a lot to convey the feeling, as well as gesture and tone of voice - same as what happens when you assess whether someone with a gun is a threat, just like you mentioned. In a language you don't know, you can't relate the symbol to its meaning. I think that was the point.

On the other hand, someone who carefully crafts what they say in an essay or piece of fiction *can* trigger a torrent of emotion in a reader - just from words. So in these respects I agree with you in some part regarding your criticisms, but I don't think you're seeing the whole picture.

By the way, research has found that certain words in themselves have a higher amount of emotional reaction than others - rape and murder, along with the swear words, are some of them. These are from experiments where people are given lists of words with no other context and their heart rates, etc. are monitored. Also, you know that people with Tourrette's Syndrome have a tendency to involuntarily swear a lot because a certain part of the emotion-handling brain isn't working right?

I would even argue that in every day life, many, many, many words have definite feelings associated with them (having to do with their meaning and one's experience with them), which is one of the primary ways that the subconscious provides words to consciousness when we are looking to express some thought.

For example, when trying to write about a particular sunset, we might think about it, which includes thinking about how it made us feel. We implicitly 'ask' our memories to come up with an adjective(s) that perfectly describes the sunset - and we accept or reject the words that arrive in consciousness from memory based on whether we think they suit the experience exactly. Or we might have *some* idea of a word to use, like 'shimmering' but feel it's not exactly right - so we go look at the Thesaurus and consider its synonyms to see if the connotations of another more perfectly suit the experience.

Regarding the gunman, once again, to be fair: if you had *no* idea what a gun was, that object in and of itself would have no negative emotional connotations associated with it. Yes, if the gunman were emotionally jacked up and threatening, you might still realize something bad could happen but, on the other hand, if a very cool, slick, even friendly person came in with a gun, and you knew what it was, you would have no reason to worrry. On the other hand, if you knew what a gun was, you'd still be wondering what they were doing with it in their hand, wouldn't you? Couldn't you reasonably be worried about what they were planning to do with it, even though they weren't threatening?

I looks to me like the person you were quoting didn't make complex enough statements about what they meant for you. And you may be right that they are approaching things much too simplistically - I can't judge because I didn't read the whole thing.

"I find that what gets deemphasized in Oism, often ends up ignored, or taken totally for granted and unexamined. "

Couldn't agree with you more!

"One of the things that accounts for this lack of affinity may be cultural. Culturally, we tend to attach emotion to a "source" in the outside world. This kind of thinking often reduces us to victims of our emotions and enslaves us to the actions and intentions of others. "

Interesting point, although I'm not sure it's necessarily cultural. Primitive peoples attached emotions to all kinds of objects, projecting their hopes, dreams and fears into the inanimate universe.

"I have found that simply saying "I'm angry" in an argument, without leaping to obvious conclusions about "why" frees me to interact with the emotion directly as information rather than a moral imperative. "

Yes, this is a very productive practice - accepting what one is feeling without passing moral judgment on it, and as you mention, the same works well when interacting with others, i.e. grasping and accepting what they're feeling in order to better communicate.


Marsha Enright

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Hey Marsha, thanks for your thoughtful comments. You've given me a lot to think about.

I'm sorry I wasn't clearer about the source whom I was quoting. Micheal has the right page. Who exactly wrote it is a mystery to me, as it was presented as "general info" for folks coming to the site and wanting to know what it was about. I assume the thing was at least sanctioned by Joe Rowlands and Lindsey Perigo, if not written by one or the other of those gentlemen, and that in itself was pretty disturbing to me. That was in large part what bugged me about the essay, actually, it being presented without any specific ascription as if it were the plain truth.

First, thanks for pointing me in the general direction of those writings and comments of Ayn Rand that deal with the emotions. I've seen a lot of talk about emotions in Objectivist discussions, but my search for primary texts on the subject has been roundly unsuccessful.

Is that essay of yours easily accessible? The title alone recommends it to me.

I think this issue of Rand's context is very important. It makes partial understanding of her philosophy practically unavoidable--it's taken a life time for me to gain a rational foothold on my own context, and now I'm supposed to understand the full context of a person as complex and paradoxical as Ayn Rand??? Without knowing her full context for any of her very stark and emphatic remarks, on virtually any subject, we are--objectively it would seem to me--doomed to only partial appreciation of what she meant.

Logically, the primacy of context in objectivism would seem to make "objective" statements about Rand next to impossible for anyone but Rand herself, if you see what I mean. I can find meaning in what she says, but it is definitively my meaning. I ain't a big fan of or an authority on Peikoff, for instance, but what I've read of him clashes resoundingly with what I understand of Rand. To my mind, he "doesn't get it." But then, he knew her and he's certainly read every dang thing she's ever written; while I've read maybe three of her books--so what am I gonna do? Even if I were to read her entire opus and watch every video recording twice, would I necessarily have her full context? "Close enough for government work," I guess, but objectively? At least rhetorically, there's a kind of Xeno's paradox here. The kind of paradox readily and often exploited by Internet Gladiators for their coups de grâce.

Anyway, I see your point about Rand and I agree that she presents a much more complicated understanding of emotion (particularly in the novels, of course) than she or her intellectual heirs sometimes explicitly state.

You said, "In a language you don't know, you can't relate the symbol to its meaning. I think that was the point." I'm not sure that words aren't simply a convenient and approximate marker for emotional response. What to casual observation looks like an emotional response to words, seems to me to have more to do with the images and visions they provoke in us. We respond to these visions, not as we respond to symbols, but as we respond to the actual events they portray.

I'd be curious to take a look at the studies you mention. That a lot of people have emotional responses concurrently with reading certain words is not surprising, but that these emotions are somehow intrinsic to the words themselves and not the associations the subjects of the study have attached to the words over the years, is not at all clear to me. It seems plausible to me that people who have had more therapy or meditation experience for instance--those people who are adept at simply experiencing their reality without judgement or compulsive thought--would experience less "reaction." To simply state that "people" have emotional reactions to words like "rape" and so on, is at least misleading if not intellectually complacent.

The idea that "only understanding triggers emotion" is inadequate in my view. As my understanding of emotion develops, I see more and more at least two distinct levels of emotional response. That level which is subject to cognitive manipulation and another level that simply isn't.

For much of my life I have been what I'll call "a cringer:" when faced with a sudden intrusion, my body quite involuntarily used to retract in the direction of fetal closure. Someone tossed a ball at me that I didn't expect, my fists would fly up toward my face as my neck contracted and I would shy away from it with my eyes closed. As a kid, this mechanism in me was often abused for the general amusement of my peers. I was always deeply embarrassed by this little fact about me.

More gravely, I was once almost hit by a train as a result of the three step--cringe, realize that cringing would in no way protect me from the locomotive, leap to safety--process, I was doomed in such circumstances to perform.

I did everything I could to teach my mind courage and rationality, learned everything I could about PTSD to achieve peace of mind and rational functionality, but always, in the clinch, I would cringe in the face of danger.

Then I studied martial arts. I learned to punch and kick and move my body efficiently. I subjected myself to meditations. I did a million things in martial arts the purposes of which I have yet to understand, even partially.

So, one night after practice, I was walking across the street on my way home and a van came speeding toward me. Absolutely without thinking, I turned toward the thing and shouted, "Hey!" The van screeched to a halt. The windows were tinted ominously, and the driver's door opened. For a moment I imagined all sorts of Hollywood gangster style reprisals from the driver, when he peaked his head from around the door and blurted, "Oh my god, are you okay? I'm so sorry!" "I'm fine" I said to him distinctly and calmly, and turned back toward home.

That's when I realized what all had happened, that my instincts in the face of danger had finally been changed. I have no doubt that if the thing hadn't stopped I would have leapt precisely and ably out of its way.

All of this totally circumvented my cognitive awareness; deep, life-affirming change conducted entirely under my rational radar.

Animals, of course, experience emotions without anything like the level of cognition human's enjoy. We human beings seem to partake of this level of emotional experience to some degree, but our minds complicate the situation. Human beings are unique in the animal world in that we experience emotions in reaction not simply to reality itself as other animals do, but to thoughts about reality--even thoughts about emotions.

This is why cognitive therapy works. So many of our emotions are reactions not to reality but thoughts about reality. The emotions we experience around mere thoughts are, in the face of reality, second hand, malleable, of much lesser importance than our rational encounter with reality. But those other emotions, the animal emotions that we can't argue ourselves out of, these are the emotions I'm primarily interested in understanding. I think Michael's discussion of the starving child is concerned with these more essential emotions as well. Do you know of Ayn Rand ever touching on anything of the kind?

Well, that's enough for now. Thanks again for your thoughtful post. And thanks for giving me this opportunity to expand upon these ideas that, to my mind, would go to the heart of understanding our life as human beings.


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Thanks for your kind welcome and for posting the link.


I can send you an electronic copy of the article if you give me your address. How does that work here? I mean, is there a problem/danger to posting our email addresses in these messages? (like MORE SPAM?)

Thanks for your interesting accounting of your own experience changing your automatic reactions. You'll note that, although you couldn't directly control your reactions, your conscious choices to do something about them eventually led to different reactions and an improved situation for you. Effectively, you gave yourself a new habit.

I think there may be a problem with misunderstanding certain terms being used, like "understanding," in the objectivist writing on emotion. More later - gotta go, sorry.


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To be fair, this particular article was discussed somewhat on another thread where I made a goof in transposing it. If anybody is interested in the other posts, they can read them here.

Marsha, please do post links to your article (or the article itself, if you like). And any of your other work. I am sure you will get some good feedback on it here.

Now onto the emotions.

There is a myth that Ayn Rand inadvertently spread through imprecise use of the language. She claimed several times that she could program all of her emotions (and basically the subconscious) through conscious thought. From the way she said it, you get the idea that all you have to do is input the correct code and you will never experience a "bad" emotion again. Then at other times, especially in her fiction, she talked about alcoholics and other people whose emotions so overpowered them that they were unable to cope. She even allowed an emotion to psychologically break James Taggart at the end of Atlas Shrugged.

For alcoholics (or at least heavy escape drinkers), Henry Cameron comes to mind, and also a guy who lived in a house Roark built. If I remember correctly, he lived in the house where Roark had to tear down part of it at his own cost.

So I ask myself, what broke these people? Lack of thinking? A simple decision? I think it goes a whole lot deeper. There is an emotional charge even in the choice to think. When you look at Rand's examples (and other places in her writing) you see that she acknowledged that some emotions were so powerful they overcame the drive to think.

One point that popped out at me years ago is that in Rand's fiction, the good guys and the bad guys are that way from childhood. Yet, she claims that there is no such thing as original sin. And yet again, there is no way on earth to charge a pre-language infant with the moral responsibility of the choice to think or not. At that stage, it is an automatic drive.

This ambiguity has created great confusion over the years.

Kevin's retraining of his fight-flight response (and that goes down to messing with the amygdala) is a wonderful example of how to "learn a new habit" (to use Marsha's words). But calling this a "choice to think" is really stretching the concept. I see it more as recognizing a malfunction - something like a health diagnosis - and taking external measures to correct it. If there had not been all the long hours of meditation (effectively suspending rational thinking) and highly focused physical exercises together with the emotionally charged wish to stop the fetal position response, I seriously doubt if this could have been corrected. Rational thinking by itself would not have corrected it.

On emotional responses to words, I am particularly attuned here as I am a poet, songwriter and translator. I learned early in translating that there is a concept called "spirit of a language." A word that makes perfect cognitive sense almost loses its meaning without the living behind it and becomes funny.

Here is an example. There is a very rich Brazilian Portuguese expression: a vaca foi pro brejo. This has a spectrum of associations: country wisdom, the humor of some very popular songs and TV programs where it has been used, and, of course, the general connotation of meaning that "the situation became hopeless." I have never heard this phrase used in a nasty manner in Brazil. It is usually used benevolently or with wistful resignation. When you literally translate the phrase into English, you get the following:

The cow went to the swamp.

The emotional "load" or "charge" in this expression is vastly different for English speakers. (There is a very funny book called The Cow Went to the Swamp by Millôr Fernandes, that gives a huge list of popular Brazilian expressions translated literally into English.) If you really want to get funny, try explaining to a Brazilian what the expression "mf" means. Having sex with ones mother is not much of a joking matter in that predominantly Catholic country.

This "emotional load" observation goes even for technical words. So I learned that words actually have two types of definitions: cognitive definitions and emotional ones. And just as there can be several cognitive definitions for the same word, so there can be several emotional ones.

The article that Kevin read on emotions was probably written by Rowlands. I have tried to engage him several times in discussions, but he tends to see any focus on psychology as being "dishonest," "evasive" and the other litany of expression Objectivists use for disapproval. When I have frankly disagreed with him on several occasions, he has stated that I am insulting him and the discussion ends up shutting down. (I am not trying to bash him here, merely discuss this, since he set this site and literature up as examples of Objectivism - and he encourages newcomers to read this stuff as being consistent with Objectivism.)

His attitude is not restricted to him, though. I have seen it throughout many discussions with many other Objectivists over the last year. It always comes from the "fully integrated philosophy" and "morally perfect" school. This cuts right to the core of understanding human nature.

This school of Objectivism sees man in two parts, but with a built-in appraisal: the essential part is the rational faculty and the superfluous part is the biological part. They have no doubts about this appraisal, either. Since you can "program" all the stuff underneath conscious awareness by conscious thinking (according to them), then all that stuff is not very important.

The accompanying appraisal is that Objectivism is a closed system that is complete in all the essentials. Thus it is but a short step to thinking that man's nature can be changed by fitting it to the philosophy, since it is only the superfluous part that will undergo a change.

I hold a very different appraisal. I hold that the philosophy is a set of principles to be used in addition to all the other parts of my nature.

I cannot know if Rand would have held this in specific words had it been brought to her attention, but I see evidence of acknowledgment shot throughout her writings (and even her history at times). I hold that different individuals have different emotional leanings prewired by chemical balances and physical brain development, and even cultural learning and environment (including harshness and nurturing). Also, there is an emotional spectrum that all humans share, going from rage/hatred to exaltation/love, with intensity ranging from apathy to total emotional hijack of the mind. Thinking did not create these emotions and the fact that they kick in automatically from birth.

Many emotions actually can be programmed by thinking , but many cannot. Some are so deep-rooted that only chemicals and other external things, or long-term multifaceted training like Kevin did, will alter them.

I believe that when Rand used the phrase "all emotions," she was usually discussing matters within a context where certain emotions (like irritation at being hungry, for instance) would not be considered as the kind of emotion she was talking about.

The result of her "all emotions" statement has led to the rise of an emotionally poor Objectivist school where they talk about emotions, but in reality, constant pettiness and bickering are the main outcome.

I have a lot more to say on this, but this post has gone on long enough for now.


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Michael, Kevin,

Sorry, I'm trying to find my electronic copy of my article that's identical to the one in JARS, to post it.

By the way, I highly recommend looking at the chapter "Writing the Draft: the primacy of the subconscious" in Rand's book on non-fiction writing, if you want to get a glimpse at her subtle thinking about the relationship between the conscious and subconscious mind and emotions. That's the chapter where she talks about 'the squirms.'


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  • 3 weeks later...

Okay, in response to ImportanceofPhilosophy's obvious error on the relationship between thought and emotion:

I found a lot of articles on volition, morality, and emotion with regards to neuroscience. There is a lot out there.

I found this article entitled "The Neural Correlates of Moral Sensitivity: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation of Basic and Moral Emotions" in the Journal of Neurscience.

"Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a passive visual task, we show that both basic and moral emotions activate the amygdala, thalamus, and upper midbrain. The orbital and medial prefrontal cortex and the superior temporal sulcus are also recruited by viewing scenes evocative of moral emotions. Our results indicate that the orbital and medial sectors of the prefrontal cortex and the superior temporal sulcus region, which are critical regions for social behavior and perception, play a central role in moral appraisals. We suggest that the automatic tagging of ordinary social events with moral values may be an important mechanism for implicit social behaviors in humans."

This paper grounds morality within the human brain, which is the norm if one is dealing with fMRI and biological evidence. But the thing about studying the brain is that it’s so complicated. The bifurcation of emotional life from intellectual life is at best inaccurate, as emotions are subtle. Thought does not necessarily control all emotion. What’s cool about papers like these is that specific regions of the brain are involved; and that regions may overlap in involvement during different scenarios:

"Moral emotions differ from basic emotions in that they are intrinsically interpersonal. Therefore, it was expected that moral emotions would share common neural substrates with tasks that invoke social schemas and behaviors, as well as inferences about the mental states of others. Imaging studies have implicated the ventral and medial prefrontal cortex in theory-of-mind tasks (Fletcher et al., 1995) and in the generation of emotional plans (Partiot et al., 1995). Brain-lesion studies have linked these regions to the development and maturation of moral, social, and emotional behavior (Eslinger et al., 1992; Anderson et al., 1999). The lateral superior temporal cortex, activated here when viewing moral pictures, plays an important role in the perception of social signs (Adolphs, 1999; Haxby et al., 2000). The present findings of preferential STS activation associated with moral stimuli and fusiform activation in response to face stimuli suggest that the STS may be involved in more complex social cognition mechanisms, whereas the fusiform gyrus might be more specifically linked to the processing of facial features per se (Kanwisher et al., 1997; Adolphs, 1999; Haxby et al., 2000). "

Neural networks are not divorced completely from other networks; for each experience, however subtle, there is a play of networks within the brain that engage. Therefore while volition can influence emotion to a certain level, emotion can influence thoughts as well, as neurophysiologically, neuron systems do not exist cut off from their neighboring systems. If you expand this view, one can possibly grasp the complexity of the brain’s structure in human behavior, and why human behavior can be so complicated.

Neural Correlates of Conscious Self-Regulation of Emotion where:

Behavioral procedures. Blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal changes were measured during two experimental conditions, i.e., a sexual arousal condition and an attempted inhibition condition. In the sexual arousal condition, subjects viewed a series of erotic film excerpts and emotionally neutral film excerpts. They were instructed to react normally to both types of stimuli. In the case of the erotic film excerpts, this meant that the subjects had to allow themselves to become sexually aroused in response to the erotic film excerpts. In the attempted inhibition condition, subjects were instructed to inhibit any emotional reaction to both categories of stimuli. These instructions meant that the subjects had to voluntarily decrease the intensity of the sexual arousal felt in reaction to the erotic film excerpts. To accomplish that goal, subjects were encouraged to distance themselves from these stimuli, that is, to become a detached observer. They were also instructed to look at the stimuli directly during both experimental conditions. -- Journal of Neuroscience

Coupled with the last article of morality being grounded in the brain, volitional (or intentional) control of some emotions (in a very interrelated manner) occurs brainwise as well. The best way to figure this out? Drink a caffeinated beverage and see how you think, what you think, and how you feel. There is an effect and it is spread across the realms of both thought and emotion; then try to help yourself calm down and see how much you can do so. However, there is a limit: if one dares to think about substances such as MDMA:

This activation of frontotemporal areas indicates that the observed enhancement of mood and possibly the increased extroversion rely on modulation of limbic orbitofrontal and anterotemporal structures known to be involved in emotional processes. Comparison of the MDMA-specific EEG pattern with that of various 5-HT, DA, and NA agonists indicates that serotonin, noradrenaline, and, to a lesser degree, dopamine, contribute to the effects of MDMA on EEG, and possibly also on mood and behavior. "Localization of MDMA-induced brain activity in healthy volunteers" in Human Brian Mapping (journal)

In which at a certain level, one’s thoughts and emotions are intertwined with neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine) which leads to activity in differing brain cortexes. Integration of all these neuroscience articles leads me to believe that humans can, if they are within the normative range, direct emotions to the extent that neurophysiology permits. While we may not be able to eradicate all levels of neurotransmitter activity or enhance them extremely, we may affect their activities within a certain range consciously… but also, at the same time, we are affected by subtleties of environmental interaction that generate certain neurotransmitter activity and cortex activations, which (emotion being a part of our experience) influence our thoughts.

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