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Krystal, H. (1981). The Hedonic Element in Affectivity. Ann. Psychoanal., 9:93-113.

(1981). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 9:93-113

III Theoretical Studies

The Hedonic Element in Affectivity

Henry Krystal, M.D.

The hedonic quality of affects is, commonly prevailing impression to the contrary, not an inherent, inseparable part of the emotions. A study of conditions in which there are changes in the subjective quality of emotions, such as anhedonia, or the so-called “libidinization” of affects, indicates that the quality of pleasure and distress is separate, and is only epigenetically linked with the rest of the complex experience which constitutes emotions. A metaphoric view of the anatomic and physiological apparatus illustrates this conception and further suggests that in infancy, before affects are matured enough to be utilizable as signals, the direct experience of pleasure and distress provides the qualitative signal. This response becomes an essential factor in self- and object-representation formation.

The assumption is made commonly that some emotions are intrinsically and invariably pleasurable and others equally constantly unpleasant or painful. In this paper I will question this assumption, particularly because it does not square with certain clinical syndromes in which the hedonic quality of affect changes. I will propose that the adult experience of affects is a blend of self perception of responses from several sources. Among the elements of the emotion are the perceptions of pleasure or distress, which derive from a phylogenetically and ontogenetically ancient somatic and mental apparatus. The experiences of pleasure or distress become quite closely related to certain emotions, but their separate derivation makes possible later shifts in quality of pleasure in affects.

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