Cognitive-Emotional Therapy: Emotions Guiding Cognition

1.0 Abstract

Should emotions be regulated by the mind or should the mind be guided by emotions?  Are emotions out of control or are emotions reflecting an out of control mind?  Should psychological therapy focus on controlling emotions or on controlling the thoughts, imagination, perception and other cognitive activities of the brain that evoked this emotional response? How does regulating cognition change pharmaceutical therapy? 

This paper uses the theory of evolution to develop an argument that there are fundamental and necessary correlations between (1) the mental activities of cognition, (2) the body’s physiology and (3) the emotions of feeling good and feeling bad.  Understanding these correlations reveals an emotional neural circuitry designed to regulate cognitive behavior.  The nature of this emotional guidance system is developed and elaborated to encourage its incorporation into psychological and pharmaceutical therapy.

Section 2 of this paper reasons that emotions are an evolved biological system designed to give feedback on cognition. Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 integrate this cognitive/emotional feedback circuit into psychological and pharmaceutical therapies. Section 7 develops the progression of emotional wisdom in guiding cognitive activities towards healthy, successful, and environmentally adaptive deductions, conclusions and decisions. And lastly, examples of cognitive-emotional therapeutic exercises are outlined in Section 8.


The physical pain of a hand on a hot stove brings about a very natural response. Such pain is a signal to get the hand off the stove, which is usually a quick and automatic reflex.   If the pain is ignored and the hand remains on the hot stove, the biochemical signature of the hand changes to the degree that the hand burns.  If the hand is quickly taken off, maybe no medical attention is needed.  If the natural response of the body is usurped in some fashion and the hand burns a little, maybe a little salve would allow the healing.  But the longer the natural signals are covered up or ignored, the worse the damage and the more extensive the healing process, including skin grafts or worse.  The crux of the problem is disregard for the body’s signal to take the hand off the stove.

But aren’t emotions also giving signals?  Certain perceptions, thoughts and actions feel good. Other perceptions, thoughts and actions feel bad.  This feels good; this feels bad.  What is the significance of understanding emotions as an evolved biological system?  What is the neurological liaison between mind, body and emotions that promotes health and well-being?  How can this relationship be exploited to develop more effective psychological and pharmaceutical therapies?

 Cognition, Emotions, Physiology and Neurology

There is a vast array of interconnecting neurological networks which allow communication between the different functional areas of the brain.  These evolved neurological circuits support liaisons between cognitive neural networks, emotional neural networks, and the body’s physiology (ref 1-1). Whereas the five sensory neural networks provide information about the external environment, the emotional neural networks provide information about the state of the brain’s neurological environment itself.

There is an array of neurological networks associated with positive emotions, a second associated with negative emotions and a third that inhibits or stops and freezes action (ref 1-2). Because different combinations of arrays are activated under different circumstances and nuances, there exist a great variety of corollary possibilities between cognition, emotions, brain/body physiology and the activities associated within each function.

Neurological networks develop, grow, and even reorganize throughout life. New relationships among these networks develop as new lessons in life are experienced and learned.  This attribute of neural networks is called neuroplasticity (ref 1-3).  As a result of neuroplasticity, every person has the neurological capacity to change and develop new interpretations of and responses to his or her environmental stimuli.

Cognition deals with the processes of knowing, namely, perception, recognition, conceiving, and reasoning (ref 1-4). The focus of, this paper, however, is how emotions have evolved their own wisdom as to how that knowledge should be processed.  Emotional neural circuits provide feedback as to how cognitive processes need to be further utilized before any internal mental deliberations have been properly concluded.