Lyons’ Causal-Evaluative Theory: What It Is And How It Explains Emotions

Lyons' Causal-Evaluative Theory

The author William Lyons proposed a new theory, different from those that had been established until then, around emotion.

With this article we will get to know better the proposal that Lyons put on the table to be able to give a coherent explanation to one of the most important psychological phenomena, such as human emotions and their differences with other theories in this field.

Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory and the conflict of emotions

Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory It is part of psychological cognitivist theories that try to offer an explanatory and predictive framework for human emotions Emotions have always been a very controversial topic, which has generated very diverse opinions in different schools of psychology to try to establish the bases of this phenomenon.

This controversy could be generated by several factors. To begin with, it is a particularly complex topic. Furthermore, emotions represent a contrast to our most logical and analytical part, that of reason. That is why Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory represents an attempt to give it a plausible explanation.

The great diversity of emotions that any human being can experience at any given moment in their life represents a series of enigmas for researchers to solve. For example, what is their function in a being with reasoning as developed as the human being. We could also ask ourselves what causes them.

Later we will see how Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory tries to accommodate this phenomenon. We must keep in mind that everything that surrounds human affective phenomena is wrapped in an aura of complexity. Even if we stop to think simply about describing a specific feeling, we realize how complex it is to express what an emotion entails in words.

There is therefore a dichotomy in this regard: Anyone knows what a certain emotion consists of and has experienced it countless times in life, but at the same time it is a very difficult concept to define and even more difficult to explain which has led to the creation of many very different psychological models, including Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory.

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Not only is there this variety of models, but each one of them uses a different system to study and explain emotions, based on methodologies as diverse as the individual’s own introspection, the analysis of behavior in a specific population sample or even neuroscientific studies that try to shed light on the brain mechanisms behind our feelings.

What does Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory consist of?

The causal-evaluative theory was proposed by the author William Lyons in his publication Emotionin the form of an essay, in 1980. Lyons decided to create his own model due to his disagreements with all the theories published to date, which seemed incomplete or unsatisfactory for an issue as important as explaining the why of the emotions.

In his new approach, Lyons develops a system based on 6 points, which we will look at in detail below.

1. Emotion as a state

The first point established by Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory is that The study must be done taking into account emotion as a state, or what is the same, the emotional state of the individual This concept allows us to place ourselves on the concrete fact and not take as a reference the abstract conception of the emotion itself.

Therefore, the emotional state will allow us to analyze the specific situation in which it has originated, what are the physiological manifestations that the individual has experienced as a result of this state, the causes that have occurred previously and that have been able to facilitate the deployment. of this emotion in the person and any other variable that we want to analyze.

On the other side there would be dispositional emotion, which would refer to a characteristic trait of the person or a predisposition to experience emotions or feelings of a certain type These types of emotions, according to Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory, do not help us to make predictions about the possible reactions in the subject, since they could be generated by the dispositional emotion or not.

2. Associated physiological changes

When we focus on emotion as a specific state at a specific moment, We can begin to assess the changes at a physiological level that the individual is experiencing due to it since it is apparently easy to discern between its base state and the changes that have occurred as a result of the experimentation of the specific emotion that we are analyzing.

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Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory states that it is those changes that the individual observes in the organism that allow us to speak of an emotion as such. But not only that, but The changes are preceded by an assessment that the subject makes about the situation they are experiencing This assessment is equally essential so that we can establish the concept of emotion in the reaction that the individual has experienced.

Logically, emotions affect people very differently and can also be experienced gradually. In fact, we may not feel the physiological changes, but that does not diminish the validity of the emotion felt by the subject. For Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory, It is not essential that this succession always occur between the individual’s assessment of the situation and the changes perceived in the body.

The important thing in this sense is that this phenomenon occurs frequently, that is, that most of the time we do find the physiological signals associated with the emotion, after the assessment made by the person.

3. Differences between emotions

In order to talk about different emotions according to Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory, The key lies in the assessment that the person has made about the situation experienced It is there and only there where we find the differentiating element, despite the fact that all the other issues adjacent to this entire procedure may be shedding clues, sometimes very valuable, about the meaning of the emotion.

Therefore, for Lyons, the behavior of the subject derived from the lived experience, his gestures, especially facial ones, verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as other signals, will offer the researcher some clues about the type of specific emotion that has experienced the subject in question, but It will only be the assessment itself that is made that will be the key to be able to make a correct classification.

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4. The importance of desire

Another of the keys that Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory puts on the table to be able to identify emotions is the concept of desire. For Lyons, desire is an issue inherent to some emotions and therefore it is an issue that is added to both appraisal and physiological changes when it comes to being able to carry out a study that allows us to identify the emotional state experienced.

A very clear example would be regarding the emotion of fear. When a person is experiencing an emotional state of fear, it is logical that they unconsciously generate a desire, in this case that of flight, to get away from the threatening stimulus. But it could also occur with positive emotions such as love. In this case there is also desire, but in another direction, since what the subject wants is to get closer to the element that awakens that good feeling.

For Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory, therefore, Desire is essential to be able to affirm that you are experiencing this type of emotions If we were unable to find this element, there would only be two possibilities: either the emotion has not occurred in the person or the individual has not been able to identify it correctly.

Likewise, if they say they feel it but in reality they do not, we would be faced with an error in the identification of the emotion, which may come from a mistake on the part of the person themselves when perceiving this desire or even from a lie, if they were stating it. consciously knowing that this is not the case.

5. The behavioral guide

We have already seen how Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory identifies emotions. But just as important are the behaviors that are generated as a result of the emotional state. What Lyons claims is that We cannot establish rigid patterns of behavioral response to a given emotion, but rather behaviors pass through a rational filter guided by the desires generated by emotion and its assessment.

6. Beyond valuation

Finally, Lyons’ causal-evaluative theory makes it clear that, although key importance is given to the concept of the person’s evaluation of the emotion, we should not conclude from this that emotions are concepts that escape objectivity due to complete.