The concept of adaptive affective cognition is developed to explain the affective impact of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son on the judicial reasoning of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case of 1954. Although research in neuroscience clearly argues that affect contributes decisively to reason, few essays examine the processes, particularity, and significance of this contribution to literary experience. The authors use historical evidence to argue that the affective impact of Native Son reorganized cognitive practices authorized by segregation. Adaptive affective cognition explains the paradox of how Native Son, while triggering racist fears with the image of the violent, angry black man, also paradoxically reduced those fears.

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