A claim my co-authors and I make in an upcoming paper on sleep onset and insomnia is that perturbant emotion causes insomnolence. This is not to say that perturbance is the sole cause of insomnolence. In fact, our theory proposes five postulates about the evolutionary design of the human sleep onset control system. One of the postulates pertains to perturbance.
Most readers will be a bit confused about this because the concept of perturbance has not yet made its way deeply into psychology, let alone popular culture. It is a concept that has a long history in theoretical Artificial Intelligence. Moreover, the concept is an integrative one, meaning it cannot be understood by itself. It requires a model of the architecture of the human mind. If you’re curious, check out Perturbance: Unifying Research on Emotion, Intrusive Mentation and Other Psychological Phenomena with AI | Simon Fraser University Summit.
As a research strategy for understanding perturbance, it helps to focus on “emotions” that prototypically involve perturbance. This is important because there is a lot of disagreement in affective science about what emotions are, and even whether emotion is a significant scientific construct. I dealt with that set of problems in 1992 when I first proposed the term perturbance, and extended Sloman’s theory of same. Emotion may not be a workable construct, but perturbance seems to be. Perturbance is an emergent mental state in which insistent motivators tend to disrupt executive functions even if executive functions were to try to ignore them. No one can deny that the mind-brain frequently gets into these states. And to understand such states we need to understand executive functions and the motivational processes that can distract, control and/or influence them.
Grief and limerence (obsessive love) are prototypical examples of perturbance. Anyone who knows anything about grief and limerence knows, or should know, that they are states of mental reorganization in which insistent motivators about the loved and/or lost one tend to control one’s attention. Now the question arises: Why? Why has evolution produced brains that are subject to such forms of perturbance?
As a first step towards helping my readers answer this question, I wrote What Causes Grief to Endure? Part 1: Your Turn at CogZest, which is a CogSci Apps affiliate.