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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

EXCITEMENT

Owing much to the functional interpretation that Walter B. Cannon provided in his well-known analysis of fight-and-flight reactions, transfer theory projects that sympathetic activation serves immediate energy mobilization by supplying brain and muscles with glucose. The mobilization is mediated by catecholamine release, mostly adrenaline and noradrenaline, into the systemic blood circulation. This being a sluggish humoral process, the instigated activity dissipates only slowly. It is its lingering presence that is considered to influence subsequent emotions.

Specifically, the theory posits that humans are equipped with (a) a comparatively fast-acting cognitive apparatus that allows rapid adjustments to environmental changes, and (b) an excitatory system that is archaic in acting slowly and in rather undifferentiated fashion. The cognition-excitation time discrepancy in this adjustment creates what could be considered inappropriate reactions and emotional confusions.

According to an analysis by Henry (1986), elevated testosterone levels are uniquely linked with elation that derives from successful social competition and the achievement of dominance. It has been shown that victory in both physical and mental competition leads to increased testosterone release, along with reduced release of the stress hormone cortisol. Defeat has the opposite consequence and results in a depression-like response pattern. The control and mastery of social and environmental circumstances, especially after an expenditure of effort, thus appears to be a potent contributor to pleasurable excitement.

Henry’s (1986) analysis includes endocrine processes in the brain. Of particular interest to excitement is the release of endorphins and related opioids. Elation, once achieved. is associated with low endorphin levels. Depressive displeasure is linked with increased endorphin release. These observations help explain why experiences of acute displeasure cannot be sustained for long periods and why, on occasion, they seem to yield euphoric sensations in their wake. In accordance with suggestions by Solomon (1980) it appears that endocrine regulation applies to hedonism in that prolonged experiences of displeasure initiate an opponent process, the release of endorphins, that eventually removes the displeasure and possibly fosters pleasure.

Tags: encyclopedia of psychology
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