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5. Innate Determinants of Affect


  • Understand how gradients (changes in rate of stimulation) and density (level of stimulation) trigger specific affects.
  • Be able to use this knowledge to understand ways in which negative affect can be modified.


AIC I-II, “The Innate Determinants of Affect,” Chapter 8; SuperVolume I, pp. 135-149.

Nathanson S&P, “The Affect System,” Chapter 2, pp. 65-72.

SAT, Donald L. Nathanson, “Stimulus Density,” March 28, 1998.

Nathanson S&P, “What Is Emotion?” Chapter 1, pp. 35-38.

TT, Melvyn A. Hill, “A Panic Disorder Parable,” October 12, 1997.

TT, Robert Most, “Re: A Panic Disorder Parable: Hardware and Software Glitches and Treatment,” October 16, 1997.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is an affect?
  2. What are the innate determinants of affect?
  3. Do drives cause emotional reactions?
  4. What is the relationship between drive and affect?
  5. How do gradients and density help us understand affect?
  6. Describe Tomkins’s density theory of innate activators of affect.
  7. Draw the patterns for the innate activator for Enjoyment-Joy and Interest-Excitement.
  8. Draw the pattern for the innate activator for surprise-startle.
  9. Draw the patterns for the innate activators for Distress-Anguish, Anger-Rage, and Fear-Terror.
  10. Discuss some ways that panic or fear might be handled in psychotherapy using what you have learned about density, shame, and “hardware” vs. “software.”