Introduction into the Concept of Affect-Logic

The concept of affect-logic was introduced by Luc Ciompi in the 1980s and since then discussed and further developed through many publications. Please see the reference page for a comprehensive compilation. In this section we only can give a short overview about essential aspects.

General description and history

Affect-logic is a general theory on the laws of interaction between feeling and thinking. Its basis is the discovery that emotion and cognition − or feeling and thinking, affectivity and logic − are constantly interacting in all mental activities, even if at first glance they may appear as purely rational.

Based originally on research on schizophrenia and psychotherapeutic experiences, the concept was eventually extended to normal conditions, through the integration of relevant notions from many fields of science (especially evolution theory, neurobiology, psychology, sociology and psychoanalysis) under system-theoretical views. The result is an interdisciplinarily valuable meta-theory on interactions between emotion and cognition which has numerous practical implications for everyday life, advertising, politics, pedagogy, psychology, psychotherapy and sociology.


The term affect-logic points to the presence both of affective elements in all logic (in a broad sense) and of logic elements in all affects.

The term affect is used as an umbrella-notion which covers all kinds of overlapping emotion-like phenomena variably called emotions, feelings, affects, moods etc. An affect in this sense is a global psycho-somatic state corresponding to a specific goal-directed pattern of energy consumption. It can both be short or long-lasting, weak or intense, conscious or unconscious. So called basic affects (especially interest, fear, rage, joy or sadness) are also present in animals.

The term cognition is defined as the mental capacity of distinguishing and further elaborating sensory differences (e.g. between black and white, warm and cold, harmless and dangerous, etc). This term, too, is an umbrella-notion covering different cognitive functions such as attention, perception, memorization, combinatory thought and logic in a broad sense.

Logic means in a broad sense the way how different cognitions are connected in order to form a habitual way of thinking (e.g. a general mentality or ideology). Everyday logic, and even more so the so-called "logic of war", "logic of peace", "logic of love", "logic of hate" etc. are strongly conditioned by underlying emotional states and value systems. Formal (Aristotelian) logic in this view is a particularly economic mode of affect-logic characterized by a pleasant, because "easy going" minimization of emotional tensions related to logical contradictions and paradoxes.

Five basic theses

The basic postulates of affect-logic can be summarized as follows:

1. Affects in the above sense are energetic phenomena deeply rooted in evolution. They originate in situation-specific goal-directed patterns of energy consumption, developed by evolutionary selection in relation to specific perceptions and survival-relevant behaviours such as flight or fight, food-intake, socialisation, sexuality, experience of loss, etc.

2. Affect and cognition are circularly interacting in all mental activities. Specific emotions (e.g. fear, rage, joy) are triggered by situation-specific cognitions (e.g. by the perception of a dangerous or rewarding object), and cognition is, in turn, strongly influenced by the prevailing emotion.

3. Specific affects such as fear, rage, joy etc. have specific so-called operator effects on cognitive functions: They change the focus of attention, the hierarchy of perception, the mode and content of memorization and memory activation and, hence, the global way of thinking and logic in the above defined broad sense. The essential evolutionary function of these operator-effects is a survival-relevant reduction of cognitive complexity.

4. The mentioned affective-cognitive interactions have a so-called fractal structure, that is, they are basically similar (self-similar) on the mental and subjective, micro-social (interpersonal or small-group) and macro-social (international or intercultural) level.

5. Affective-cognitive dynamics can undergo sudden overall changes under special conditions: When emotional tensions in mental or social systems reach a critical level, the dominating ways of feeling, thinking and behaving may undergo sudden global changes (so-called non-linear bifurcations), e.g. from a dominating "logic of peace" to a "logic of war", from a "logic of love" to a "logic of hate", or from an "everyday-logic" to a "psychotic logic". The level of emotional tension (the level of energy dissipation) functions, hence, as the relevant control parameter which determines the moment of bifurcating, whereas formerly peripherical cognitive elements (e.g marginal ideas, intuitions, suspicions etc.) may become the new relevant order-parameters (or nuclei of crystallization) around which the new global feeling-thinking-behaving patterns are organized.

These non-linear mechanism, too, have a fractal structure. The so called butterfly-effects (in an unstable dynamic system, very small causes can have very huge consequences) are a particularly spectacular type of non-linearity which occurs quite frequently in mental or social crises.

Practical and theoretical implications

Given that interactions between feeling and thinking are omnipresent in all human activities, the concept of affect-logic has numerous practical and/or theoretical implications, from everyday life through advertising, politics, pedagogy, psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy to sociology and philosophy.

The main general conclusion is that in all these domains, much greater attention than so far has to be paid to overtly or covertly underlying affective states and  their effects on thought an behaviour. Appropriately acknowledging the postulated thought-organising role of emotions leads to a new understanding of emotion-driven interpersonal, micro-social and macrosocial dynamics (intercultural dynamics and conflicts included), to new techniques of influencing thought and behaviour through emotion-centered (instead of primarily cognition-centered) techniques, and to new therapeutic approaches of mental and social disorders.

A particularly interesting example of the latter is the so called Soteria-Berne experience, consisting of an innovative therapy of patients suffering from acute schizophrenic psychosis. The method is focused on the sustained lowering of the level of emotional tension - the relevant control-parameter, according to affect-logic - mainly by milieutherapeutic and psychotherapeutic methods, instead of the currently dominating risky drug therapies. Evaluative research shows that at least equal results as with traditional methods can thus be achieved, at lower costs and with much less neuroleptic drugs (see Ciompi et al 2001, 2004).

Other practical consequences have been outlined in relation with problems of psychopathology, of psychosis, of violence in psychiatric institutions (Ciompi 1986, 1998, 2003), and of pedagogy (Ciompi 2000). The phenomenona of consciousness (Ciompi 2003) and of creativity (Ciompi 2003), too, have been analysed under an affect-logical perspective. In sociology, the concept has been used for a better understanding of extremist mentalities and behaviours, especially of national-socialism (Endert 2006). A critique of the sociological theories of Niklas Luhmann has, in addition, showed that essential aspects of microsocial and macrosocial dynamics can only be adequately understood by taking into account the described operator-effects of collective emotions on collective thought and behaviour (see Ciompi 2004, in German). The concept has also been applied to central questions of philosophy (Nunold 2004).

Relations to the reported research on this website

The aim of this project was to test the hypothesis that affects correspond to situation-specific, goal-directed patterns of energy consumption, and that these patterns do emerge through an evolutionary process under an energetic selection regime. The results are largely supporting this hypothesis insofar as a set of different typical emotions in the described sense (such as fear, attraction, repulsion, interest or indifference) do, indeed, emerge through an evolutionary process, each one characterized by specific goal-directed patterns of energy consumption, and by specific operator-effects on cognition and behaviour.