Is Fear Near, Anger Far?

Fear may contribute to the ideal of informed voting by enhancing detailed processing (Tiedens & Linton, 2001), whereas anger may detract from this ideal by promoting less careful processing and reliance on heuristics (Bodenhausen, Sheppard, & Kramer, 1994). Consistent with this possibility, work in political science (e.g., Marcus, Neuman, & MacKuen, 2000; Valentino et al., 2008) suggests that anxiety (fear) motivates citizens to learn, which may lead them to become better informed voters. … We … test[ed] the prediction that fear would lead participants to use specific issue-based information when choosing a candidate, whereas anger would lead participants to rely on general criteria (e.g., party loyalty). (more; HT Barker)

Yet fear of (thinking about) death seems quite effective at preventing critical thinking. Is fear of death different?

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  • These days, those days

    Any kind of thoughts about one’s own death are inherently biased towards Far. That event that occupies everyone’s anticipation, but no one’s past or present experience. The end of a story that lasts for decades. How could these kinds of thoughts be anything but Far?

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    And death, in the abstract, is unavoidable, so there’s no point in thinking in detail about how to avoid it.

    • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

      Death as an abstraction, like many abstractions, doesn’t actually exist. Actually dying is the result of particular causes – eliminate or avoid the causes and you avoid dying.

      • mjgeddes

        Actually so. People are far too vague when talking about emotions, we need to be careful to specify exactly what emotion is being talked about and in exactly which specific context.

        For instance is it likely that people are actually angry at politicians they’ve never personally interacted with? Not really, because anger is fleeting, and triggered by specific context. It’s more likely to be *contempt*, which is a different quite distinct emotion.

        As for death, it’s an abtraction. In so far as you’re thinking about it in the abstract, fear is not the emotion you’re feeling, because fear is generated by specific causes of death, not death itself. Also fear is social emotion, thought of death the abstraction produces a distinct *intellectual* emotion, not a social one. I’d say its existential *angst*.

        You’ll never learn all this at Sing Inst’s Griffidor school. To learn about conscious experiences, readers must join my rival Slytherin school. To learn the dark arts, you must join Slytherin 😉

      • mjgeddes

        Exactly so. People are far too vague when talking about emotions, we need to be careful to specify exactly what emotion is being talked about and in exactly which specific context.

        For instance is it likely that people are actually angry at politicians they’ve never personally interacted with? Not really, because anger is fleeting, and triggered by specific context. It’s more likely to be *contempt*, which is a different quite distinct emotion.

        As for death, it’s an abtraction. In so far as you’re thinking about it in the abstract, fear is not the emotion you’re feeling, because fear is generated by specific causes of death, not death itself. Also fear is social emotion, thought of death the abstraction produces a distinct *intellectual* emotion, not a social one. I’d say its existential *angst*.

        You’ll never learn all this at Sing Inst’s Griffidor school. To learn about conscious experiences, readers must join my rival Slytherin school. To learn the dark arts, you must join Slytherin 😉

  • mjgeddes

    I checked my encrypted ‘top secret’ file sketching most of the answers to key big questions. Had to log-in to my secret VPS residing on a hidden remote server where my seed-AI is incubating.

    This is on the right track, but a little confused. It seems that fear is very near, and anger is near. Contempt is far I think. That is to say,

    Fear=Very Near
    Anger=Near
    Contempt=Far

    This cluster of emotions are closely related (they are all social emotions). Fear consists of domain specific responses, I don’t think it’s a general emotion, so it makes sense that thinking about death would provoke a unique response. Anger is still near I think, but more general than fear. Anger is directed at something specific and still depends on specific details. Contempt is the far mode analogue here.

  • Jesse M.

    This would also dovetail with the idea I brought up in my recent comment on the Is Happy Far? post, that “far” is associated with a left-brain mode and “near” associated with a right-brain mode. In the book The Master and His Emissary which I quoted in that comment, the author writes on p. 62:

    The literature also suggests that there may be differences in the emotional timbre of the hemispheres, and this is a complex area … Some broad agreement exists that the right hemisphere is more in tune with sadness, and less with anger, than the left hemisphere; and that what we call ‘positive’ emotions rely on both. While the right hemisphere is associated with positive affect in many cases, and may even be the principle source of pleasurable experiences, it is in general the left hemisphere that tends to take a more optimistic view of the self and the future. In fact there is evidence, which I shall come to, that it may take an unwarrantedly optimistic view. Once again the right hemisphere’s range is more inclusive (it can deal with either), and the left hemisphere’s more partial. It seems to me a possibility that those emotions which are related to bonding and empathy, whether we call them ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, are preferentially treated by the right hemisphere, as one would expect: such stimuli capture right-hemisphere attention. By the same token, those to do with competition, rivalry and individual self-belief, positive or negative, would be preferentially treated by the left hemisphere.

    That part about the left hemisphere dealing with “self-belief” might also have something to do with why it’s more concerned with death. Both hemispheres are capable of being “selfish”, but the left may deal more with abstract ideas about the self while the right’s tendency towards selfishness might be more in the mode of an animal or a child, seeking out pleasurable experiences in the “near” sensory field (perceived in rich gestalt terms rather than more abstract symbolic terms) like food and sex. Similarly, fears of pain are based on past sensory experience, the types of things children and animals can fear too, whereas fear of our own death is a lot more of an abstract fear, not directly based on emotional memories of past experiences. The book also mentions that the right brain is better at dealing with continuous unfolding processes where each event is seen in the context of the whole process (like music), whereas the left is better at dealing with discontinuities and events which are seen in isolation. For example, on p. 76 the author mentions some studies indicating that “whereas the right hemisphere is required for the sustained ‘monitoring of temporal information,’ the left hemisphere is more efficient for detection of brief temporal flow interruptions that are decontextualised.” Maybe in a subconscious way we think of death as the ultimate discontinuity in the smooth unfolding of a human life?

  • Jesse M.

    Oh, and there is also some evidence that fear of death is different from fear of pain: in one study subjects primed to think about being killed were more likely to prefer the Republican candidate, while subjects primed to think about being in pain were more likely to prefer the Democratic one. See here: Fear of Death and Politics