Emotions and moods in psychopathology. Schizophrenia and depression as affective disturbances
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Phenomena of reality distortion such as delusions or hallucinations are indubitably among the most puzzling features of mental disorders. These are instances in which patients perceive the world in a different way with respect to healthy subjects and believe things that run counter common sense or are utterly unsupported by evidence. In this paper I argue that the phenomena of reality distortion exhibited by schizophrenic and depressed patients should be characterized as different forms of affective disturbance. More specifically, I maintain that these subjects fall prey to strong affective states - i.e. emotions or moods - that prompt them to regard some environmental stimuli as exhibiting a heightened or diminished degree of salience. As a consequence, they develop a peculiar experience of reality characterized by phenomena of hypersalience (too many things are relevant) or hyposalience (hardly anything is relevant). The argument is divided into three parts: first, I review some results from psychology about the influence of moods and emotions on human experience. In particular, I draw on the notions of core affect introduced by Russell (1980; 2003) and developed later by Barrett (2006), as well as on the notions of appraisal and concern (Frijda 1986). Second, I argue that the research on affect can be successfully applied to psychiatry and that it helps to make sense of experiences of reality distortion. Third, I discuss a few case-studies of patients affected by schizophrenia and depression and I argue that both disorders involve affective disturbances where salience is significantly altered.