Unjustified, Irrational Love

You can love someone for the right reason. But love for the wrong reason is still a kind of love. Love for the wrong reason is a form of irrational love.

Unjustified or irrational love involves a perceived response that does not fit the person as perceived or a misperception of the person. If you love a person for her chartreuse hair when her hair is flaming red, you love is unjustified. If you love a person for her wit and charm when she is in fact dull and boring, your love is unjustified. Love of a person for her disrespect and disdain is irrational on almost any account. Projecting god-like idealizations onto our partners and loving them for that reason need not be unreasonable from our own point of view but it is unjustified, as love based on a misperception of the other is unjustified.

Over-idealization of cities is found in people with the Paris syndrome. The Paris syndrome is a condition which causes Japanese tourists to have a nervous breakdown while in Paris. A dozen tourists suffer from this syndrome every year. The Japanese embassy has a 24 hour hotline for people who suffer from this syndrome. It is believed that the syndrome is a kind of severe culture shock that arises when people who have over-idealized the city discover its true nature. They suffer from a kind of heart-break, as reality crushes their love. Their love, of course, was unjustified.

Love can sometimes be magic but magic can sometimes be an illusion. Treating love as assessable for rationality flies in the face of theories of love that take love to be a singling out of a person for her intrinsic value. These latter approaches must render all love rational or inassessible for rationality, thus setting to one side our ordinary intuitions of wrong or unfounded love.

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Emotional Blindsight

Despite the opposition to the idea that emotions can be unconscious, there seem to be lots of cases to be candidates for unconscious emotions or affect. Scientists have discovered that people with lesions to parts of their visual cortext, which leaves them partially and fully blind, sometimes have a kind of residual vision called ‘blindsight’ (Weiskrantz).

People with blindsight have no conscious vision in their blind field, but when they are prompted by an experimenter to make a guess about things in front of them, they can use visual processes to predict the thing’s location, direction and color. They cannot consciously see the things they make predictions about. They are unaware of it, blind to its presence. But they can nonetheless “sense” the things in front of them through alternative unimpaired visual pathways. Patients with blindsight have a kind of sixth sense that informs their grey matter about where the thing in front of them is located and what its color is, but the sixth sense does not allow them to consciously see anything.

Some people with blindsight respond to emotional stimuli without being consciously aware of them. This form of blindsight is called “affective blindsight”. Individuals with affective blindsight have no visual awareness but they can correctly guess the emotional expression of a face presented to them in their blind field (de Gelder). Scientists have also discovered that when threatening faces are presented to them too quickly to be consciously perceived, they can nonetheless give rise to bodily changes that indicate fear.

Blindsight patient G.Y., who has damage to his primary visual cortex, was shown short video clips of a female face pronouncing the same sentence with either a happy, angry, sad or a fearful facial expression (de Gelder). G. Y. was able to make above-chance predictions about the different emotional expressions presented to him in his blind field. He could not consciously see the emotional expressions but he could make good guesses about them when prompted by the experimenter. G.Y.’s emotional brain (the amygdala) also turned out to be activated during the presentation of the fearful facial expressions (Morris). These findings suggest that fear responses do not require conscious representation in the visual brain but can be computed in alternative unconscious (subcortical) pathways.

Blindsight patient K.-H. J., who has no active visual cortex, was also found to have unconscious emotional reactions to facial expressions (Hamm). K.-H. J. had a complete loss of vision owing to damage to an artery in the brain. K.-H. J. was unable to grab objects in front of him. He did not turn toward new visual stimuli and could not even recognize bright light. He did not report any feeling or awareness when lights were turned on in a dark room. However, when presented with fearful and angry faces K.-H. J. showed reliable fear responses, for example, startle responses. There was also increased activity in his emotional brain (the amygdala) in response to emotional stimuli. K.-H. J. furthermore showed an acquired protective response in response to a cue that predicted the occurrence of an aversive event. K.-H. J. couldn’t consciously see anything whatsoever. But his emotional brain would respond with fear and activate defense mechanisms nonetheless.

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Capgras Syndrome

Unconscious affect is required to explain a neurological condition called ‘Capgras syndrome’. People who suffer from this condition see family members and friends as impostors. They can perceive faces, but they don’t connect that face with a feeling of familiarity.

One patient Madame M. thought that her family and neighbors had all been replaced by lookalikes. She thought that she had had 80 husbands. One imposter would leave and a new would enter. Another subject admitted that the person in front of him looked exactly like his dear mother down to the smallest detail but he could not understand why his mother would hire an impostor.

People with Capgras syndrome sometimes believe their own mirror image is the image of an imposter. They cannot have mirrors in the house because it feels mortifying to be met by a stranger when glancing into one. Occasionally trees, tables and tools are seen as perfect duplicate of what the sufferers once had in their possession.

Many movies and novels have been inspired by Capgrass’ syndrome, for example, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Total Recall, The Stepford Wives and Richard Powers’ novel The Echo Maker. In The Echo Maker a young man develops Capgras’ syndrome after a car accident. He believes his sister and his dog are impostors. But here is one of the story’s clever twists: The cranes in the city are aliens. They have consciousness even though we fail to recognize it. One of the book’s characters speculates that we all have Capgrass syndrome to some extent, and therefore do not recognize that the cranes are conscious beings just like us.

Capgras syndrome is due to a deficit in the link between the face recognition mechanism and the emotional brain (the amygdala) (Ramachandran and Blakeslee). Face perception normally triggers unconscious emotional “like” or “dislike” responses in the emotional brain. These emotional responses help us recognize people we know. When our emotional brain whispers “like” or “dislike” in our cognitive ear, an instant feeling of familiarity is produced. This feeling of familiarity is the moment of recognition, our brains responding with “I know you”.

The unconscious emotional “like” or “dislike” responses are lacking in patients with Capgras’ syndrome. They recognize their moms, sisters, mistresses and babies through vision, they realize that the person in front of them looks like someone they know, but because of their syndrome, they do not react with compassionate love (or hatred) toward the loved one. While they are able to recognize that the face resembles the face of someone they know, the face does not trigger the standard emotional “like” response and hence recognition of the face elicits the feeling that the face belongs to a stranger rather than a loved one.

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The Monster Study

A reader recently asked, what is the most horrible psychology experiment ever conducted? This is not an easy question to answer, because so many psychology experiments of the past were horrendous. These outrageous experiments motivated us to require approvals of all experiments involving human subjects by the institutional review boards (IRBs) at the research institutions proposing to conduct the experiments. One of the most unethical psychology experiments ever conducted was the Monster Study. It involved 22 orphan children in Davenport, Iowa. The study was conducted in 1939 by Mary Tudor, a graduate student of Wendell Johnson, at the University of Iowa. The 22 subjects were divided into two groups. The first group received supportive speech therapy, which involved complimenting the children’s progress and their fluency. The other group received emotionally abusive speech therapy. The researchers belittled the participants and made them believe that they were stutterers. The majority of the orphan children did not originally have any speech problems. But many of those who received abusive therapy ended up having emotional problems and speech problems for the rest of their life. The study, which was referred to as the Monster Study, was kept a secret for many years. University of Iowa finally provided a public apology for the study in 2001.

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Breakup Interview 2

Occasionally we will be featuring someone who recently suffered or is still suffering from a past breakup or related heartaches. This is the second interview in this series. To read the first interview in the series, click here.

1) Age, sex, relationship status

I am 37-years old. Female. I just met someone.

2) How long ago did the breakup happen? And how long had you been in the relationship when it happened?

The breakup happened almost two years ago. We had been together for 13 years.

3) How did you meet?

We met at a party, hooked up, went to his place and had sex, nothing special. Honestly I didn’t expect to hear from him again. I was going on a vacation with a girlfriend a couple of day after the party, to a Greek island. It was a crazy two weeks. I think we were making out with a new person every night. Then when I got back, there were like 14 messages or something on my answering machine. I thought “what a freak” and didn’t call him back. Then a month later we met at a party again, I was really drunk and we hooked up again, except this time I stayed the rest of the weekend. He was really persistent, and I eventually fell for it.

4) What was your relationship like?

It was quite stormy in the beginning. One time I was breaking up with him for a really young guy. I thought I was madly in love. But the first time we were going to spend he night, he came before he got inside me. That’s when I realized just how young he was. Meanwhile my other guy had kept trying to convince me to get back together. So when things didn’t work out with the younger guy, we got back together. A couple of years later he proposed. We got married and had a kid, a boy, and then a girl three years later. It took me several years to fall in love with him. Our marriage was good, though. I don’t think we ever had a real fight, we talked a lot and had sex a lot more often than most married couples, almost every day, I think.

5) Who initiated the breakup? And what were the details of the breakup?

He found someone else. He didn’t have an affair or anything. One day he just got home and told me he had had sex with this other woman, someone from work. He had made me a nice dinner, maybe he felt guilty, one of his chicken dishes I really liked. Then he told me, in the middle of dinner that he had cheated on me. The dinner, of course, was ruined. I got really upset. I told him it was over, although deep down I knew I would probably take him back. He slept on the couch that night and many days after that. We didn’t talk. He tried to talk to me, but I kept telling him it was over. Then one day he didn’t come home. I cried myself to sleep. Turned out he was still seeing that woman from work and had stayed over at her place. I slowly realized that he was going to leave me. I tried to make him stay. I remember performing oral on him whenever he would let me, even swallowing, something I wasn’t willing to do before. It was insane. Of course, the more I tried, the more he felt like leaving. For a couple of months he spent more than half the nights at her place. Then he finally came home one day and said that he was moving in with her permanently. I begged him to stay. But he left.

6) What were the effects of the breakup physically and psychologically?

I have been seriously struggling every way since he left. He left the kids with me. They were really hurt by the whole thing, and the divorce wasn’t pretty, we were fighting over everything, spending thousands of dollars on lawyers. In the end I got to keep the house, and he agreed to pay child support. But it was awful. Every time we had to show up in court I had to look at this woman who stole my husband. I really hated her. I still do. I still don’t get what made him choose her over me. I am the mother of his children. I don’t think I will ever forgive him.

7) How did you cope?

The kids and the divorce took up all my time. My parents and my sister helped out a lot. I was crying every day for several months. I was angry and sad and freaked out at the same time. I was isolating myself, didn’t want to go out or see people. My sister finally forced me to go out a couple of months ago. I hooked up with someone. But he was a jerk, he was just using me. But then I went to a bar with my sister like a week later and I met someone.

8) Did you try to get your ex back?

Yeah, all the time. I hated him for leaving me but I still wanted him back. I called him almost every day. I used the kids as an excuse to call. He didn’t see them during the week because of the two-hour drive. So sometimes I did have a real reason to call. Sometimes his new girl friend picked up the phone. That was really awkward. I would just hang up. I didn’t want to talk to her. One time I convinced him to come over after the kids were a sleep. I told him we needed to divide the wedding gifts. I had opened a bottle of wine. At first he didn’t want any. But I convinced him to have some. While we were in the middle of dividing wedding gifts I threw myself at him. He told me to stop but didn’t really do anything to make me. I went down on him. Afterward he was furious, said I had tricked him. I tried to do the same thing one other time, but I wasn’t able to convince him to come over again.

9) Do you miss your ex? If so, what do you miss most?

I still miss him. I am not sure what I miss about him. I think I am mostly just really hurt. But I have a new guy now and the kids really like him. So hopefully things will work out.

10) What sort of impact has the relationship with your ex had on you as a person?

I am not sure. I wish I had thrown him out the first time he cheated on me. I never cheated on him. I have mixed feelings about him, and I think I have some trust issues. I don’t think I’ll want to get married again any time soon.

Are you interested in being interviewed anonymously? Indicate your interest here.

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More on Unconscious Emotions

There are lots of reasons to take the concept of an unconscious emotion seriously. In the seventies homosexual men were habitually “cured” through cognitive-behavioral therapy. However, studies later showed that homosexuals who had suppressed their affective responses toward men through behavioral therapy remained physiologically aroused by pictures of naked men (McConaghy).

The studies measured the degree of erection of their penises when shown pictures of naked men compared to pictures of naked women. All of the “cured” men had a larger erection when shown pictures of naked men compared to pictures of naked women. The opposite is seen in heterosexuals. These “cured” men can hardly be said to have no sexual emotions for men. They had emotions, they just weren’t consciously aware of them.

People in coma sometimes are able to process thought and emotional stimuli unconsciously. Yvonne Sullivan suffered severe blood poisoning during childbirth July 5 2007. Her baby Clinton died from a blood infection after a 14 hour long labor. Yvonne’s vital organs started to shut down soon after the labor, and she fell into a coma.

When doctors told her husband Dom who had stayed by Yvonne’s bedside for two weeks that they might have to turn off her life-support system, Dom snapped and gave his wife “a firm telling-off”. After two hours Yvonne started breathing on her own. Within five days, the hospital was able to shut off the life-support system, as Yvonne regained consciousness. Yvonne said she remembered her husband telling her off. “I can’t remember exactly what he said but I never liked getting told off by Dom”, she said.

Though Yvonne reports that she remembers her husband telling her off, there is no evidence that she was fully conscious of her thoughts and emotional reactions at the time. A coma is a state of unconsciousness in which the eyes are closed and the patient cannot be roused. But while she wasn’t conscious of her husband’s telling her off at the time, her brain was nonetheless able to process the off-putting stimulus unconsciously, and the stimulus was able to trigger negative emotional reactions in her, unconscious affects that made her brain “decide” to wake up.

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The Repetition Technique

In the 1960s Ian Oswald of the University of Edinburgh conducted a study intended to test whether people could fall asleep under extremely disturbing conditions. Three volunteers had their eyelids taped, so their eyes would stay open. Flashing lights were placed in front of their open eyes. He also had attached electrodes to their legs that administered electric shocks. Finally, music was played at a high volume. All of the volunteers eventually fell asleep. Oswald concluded that their brains adapted to the repetitive and monotonous nature of the stimulants.

Despite the unethical nature of the study, Oswald did indeed uncover an important feature of the brain. Repetitive stimulation, even of an extreme kind, eventually makes the brain tune out. The brain simply stops paying attention to the stimulus and this enables it to engage in other activities.

Repetition is important in wiring your brain when you learn new things. Repetition helps your brain form new connections between synapses. As the old saying has it, “practice makes perfect”. A famous study of London taxicab and bus drivers found that the regions of the brain used for memory and spatial navigation were significantly larger in the cab drivers. The obvious conclusion was that cab drivers have to remember the routes of the city, whereas the bus drivers are following a set route every day.

Despite the importance of repetitive practice in learning, when a stimulus is just triggering activity in networks that are already laid down, the brain prefers to spend its energy elsewhere. When exposed to a stimulus repeated over and over again, the brain reacts the way the brains of the bus drivers reacted. It does not make new neural connections or build new gray matter, it simply tunes out. We are very familiar with this phenomenon when taking the same route to work every day. Though our brains keep track of the road, most of its conscious focus is elsewhere.

This insight can be used in resolving emotional conflicts and eliminating emotional pain. Instead of letting intruding thoughts penetrate your awareness without being in control of them, take control and force yourself to think these thoughts or expose yourself to physical reminders at regular intervals. Over time the brain will start paying less attention to the thoughts or physical reminders and soon enough it will be less inclined to bring the constantly repeated stimulus to your attention when you least expect it.

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Reliving Two Different Pasts

This is me in January 2007 on my way back from a Broadway performance of Mammy Mia. Almost five years ago. My hair was longer, still had its natural color rather than the bleached look. My eyes dreamy.

I came across the picture as I was categorizing some more recent pictures. I started pondering what I was thinking about back then. That moment on the New York subway. Was I thinking about the show? The recent conference I went to? A new paper I was going to write? The future?

I wish photos came with thoughts attached to them. Instead we are here now trying to reconstruct what was going on back then. Photos are memory shots of sorts, except they are brighter and more detailed. What’s missing from the photos and retained in the memories are the emotions. I look like I have some positive emotions going on in the photo. But I don’t know which ones. My snapshot memory-based visual images are not nearly as bright and detailed but they retain many of the original thoughts and emotions, which leads me to the topic of this post.

My research assistants Hannah Bondurant, John Camacho and Daniel Ryan Weed and I recently conducted a series of studies on visual images. In one study, we asked subjects to identify the brightness of a previously viewed photo on the basis of a presented collage featuring the same photo but varying in brightness. Participants consistently chose photos that were brighter than, or identical, in brightness to the originally viewed photo.

In another study we asked subjects to describe their visual image of the same original photo. When they described their visual images in this way, they consistently described them as less bright than the original.

These and other similar studies led us to conclude that subjects adjust their visual images before completing a task that involves comparing their visual images to reality. In fact, not only do subjects adjust for faded features, they overcompensate.

One thing that’s really interesting about these results is that it indicates that we relive two different pasts, one is an inner private past which we know does not match reality very well. The other is the past that we take to match reality, the adjusted past world based on our inner experiences. As it turns out, this past world is just an estimation of how things once were. This is the past world on the basis of which we make our decisions and arguments, this is the past world that guides our actions. The problem is that, whereas we probably make few mistakes about our inner past world, we are not very good at estimating how the past really was.

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Breakup Interview 1

Occasionally we will be featuring someone who recently suffered or is still suffering from a past breakup or related heartaches. This is the first interview in this series.

1) Age, sex, relationship status

32, Female, Single

2) How long ago did the breakup happen? And how long had you been in the relationship when it happened?

Eleven months. Almost four years

3) How did you meet?

We met at a restaurant where I was working. He was out with a few of his male friends. They were pretty drunk. A couple of his friends made some really inappropriate comments about my butt. I told the owner I wasn’t going to finish the table and she threw them out. At the time they left I was going over the specials at a table near the entrance. I saw him standing there waiting. When I was done he said he was really sorry and asked when I was off, if he could buy me a drink to make up for it. I met him at the bar next door at 11. He bought me a couple of drinks. We talked. He was eight years older than me. Married. Three kids. Nothing happened that night. But we exchanged phone numbers.

4) What was your relationship like?

He sent me a text later that night saying how embarrassed he was about his friends. We started texting each other. It was pretty innocent. He told me about his kids and his job. Nothing happened for a couple of weeks. Then one night he texted me when I was at work. He said he was next door alone, whether I wanted to join him after work. So I did. We made out that night in the bar. After that we started seeing each other pretty regularly, mostly at my place, like every other week or so. We were clearly falling in love with each other. But he was married. I didn’t put any pressure on him but I was secretly hoping he would leave his wife, though I knew it was never going to happen. The kids were pretty young.

5) Who initiated the breakup? And what were the details of the breakup?

I did. After seeing each other pretty regularly for three years, he started becoming more distant. I think he felt guilty and was afraid of getting caught. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks. I never made a big deal out of it, and he never really said why he was being so distant. Then suddenly I didn’t hear from him for three months. I sent him one or two text messages but he never responded. After three months he texted me, asking what I was doing, if I was in the mood. He didn’t comment on his disappearance act all. At that point I had pretty much given up on him. I was pretty heartbroken after the first few weeks when I didn’t hear from him. But I managed to move on. When he suddenly texted me, I didn’t know what to do. I said he could come over. So he did. We had pretty amazing sex. Afterward we were talking a bit. Then he said he had to go home. I felt really angry, I felt like he just used me. He usually stayed much longer. So I told him. He said he couldn’t see me that often when he was married, he didn’t seem to understand how I was feeling at all. So I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. He was both chocked and sad. He tried to make me change my mind. But I didn’t.

6) What were the effects of the breakup physically and psychologically?

When I saw him leave, I felt terrible. I considered running after him. But I didn’t. I felt horrible for months. I felt worse than when he didn’t contact me because I was the one who made the decision.

7) How did you cope?

I started going out a lot. I hooked up with a lot of guys. But it never did anything for me. As time went by I started feeling better. But I am still not fully over him. I don’t know if I ever will be.

8 ) Did you try to get your ex back?

No I never contacted him, and he never contacted me. I know I will never see him again, unless I accidentally run into him.

9) Do you miss your ex? If so, what do you miss most?

I miss him a lot. I don’t always think about it. But sometimes it really hurts. I really miss his texts and our conversations. The sex was great, amazing really. But I mostly miss talking to him.

10) What sort of impact has the relationship with your ex had on you as a person?

I realize not everything is forever. That makes me kind of sad and also scared of starting something with someone new. But I don’t regret being with him. He made me feel like I was special. He took me seriously, like my opinions mattered. I think it has made me less afraid of expressing my opinions when I am with other people.

Are you interested in being interviewed anonymously? Indicate your interest here.

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Unconscious Love

Just as fear, joy, disgust, sadness, anger, pride and shape can occur below the level of our conscious awareness, so love can be buried deep inside our unconscious minds and jump out and surprise us when we least expect it.

Ryan and you have been best friends for as long as you remember. You are like brother and sister, except closer and more open about everything on your mind. You share intimate details about each other’s relationships and heartbreaks. Then one day you wake up and realize that you are in love. To your great relief you find out that it is mutual.

What exactly happened? Did your brain send a surge of love chemicals into your bloodstream overnight? Not likely. Chances are that you have been in love for a long time. You might have started out as friends but gradually the friendship turned into romantic love without you even realizing it. You have heard friends say that you would be great together. You miss each other when you are apart. You call each other cute little names. You talk each other up in front up other people. But you never realized that these subtle behaviors were manifestations of love. Your love did not only go unnoticed, you simply were not aware of it.

This may also have been the case for Josephine in her tragic relationship with Napoleon. In the 19th century one of the directors, Paul Barras, in Paris wanted to marry off his mistress Rose to Napoleon. Napoleon was immediately smitten when he saw the beautiful Rose. He renamed her “Josephine.”

Initially Josephine would not marry Napoleon but when Barras threatened to stop providing for her if she didn’t marry Napoleon, she agreed.

Napoleon loved her deeply, but she despised him and immediately took on lovers. When Napoleon heard about her infidelity on a trip away from Paris, he was destroyed. His love for her was gone but for the rest of his life he would never really love another woman the way he had loved Josephine.

When Napoleon returned to Paris after his trip, Josephine had all of sudden fallen in love with him. But it was too late. Napoleon no longer trusted her and went onto to have a series of affairs.

Napoleon later divorced Josephine and married another woman whom he didn’t love. Josephine continued to love Napoleon and when she was dying from diphtheria, Napoleon’s name was one of the last words she uttered.

Josephine’s love for Napoleon no doubt didn’t arise momentarily when Napoleon returned from his trip to Paris. More likely she was resisting her growing feelings for him. But when they finally became manifested consciously, it was too late.

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