Emotion in Social Judgments Research Paper

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In everyday conversation, Spaniards occasionally describe someone as being emocionado(a). To be emocionado means to be emotional, but this translation is misleadingly simple. Whereas English speakers use the phrases to be emotional and to have an emotion largely interchangeably, Spaniards make a clear distinction between estar emocionado and sentir una emoción. Emocionado is perhaps better rendered into American English metaphorically as “to be touched” or “to be moved” (as a psychological state); emocionado can be used in either positive or negative contexts. Spaniards recognize different expressive behaviors for emocionado and emoción, even when both occur in a positive context. For example, a Spanish journalist described two medal winners on an Olympic podium, one smiling and the other crying. The journalist described the smiling woman as alegre (joyful) and the crying woman as emocionada (FernándezDols & Ruiz-Belda, 1995). Emocionado is an emotional state distinct from specific emotions such as anger or joy. In fact, as early as 1921, Gregorio Marañón, a Spanish doctor, pointed to Spaniards’ use of emocionado as a recognition of the nonspecific nature of visceral changes in emotion (Ferrandiz, 1984). If emocionado denotes an emotional state not recognized clearly in English, Spanish may segment emotional experience in a subtler way than does English.

Ethnographers’ and historians’ descriptions of remote or past cultures reveal many more examples of different ways of talking about emotion. For example, Tahitians lack the word sadness entirely (Levy, 1973). Even where a similar word exists, it may cover different experiences—just as the English word sadness has covered different experiences during different historical periods (Barr-Zisowitz, 2000).

Another observation from the ethnographic record is vast differences even when an emotion word appears the same. Consider two societies, both of whom have words easily translatable as anger. In Never in Anger, Briggs (1970) describes an Utku family in the CanadianArctic; the Utku smile and laugh off situations that would make most of us angry. They endure with patience and humor situations that would drive us to fury. The clearest case of an Utku’s anger recorded by Briggs was particularly telling. A group of visiting Kapluna (White) sports fishermen borrowed a canoe and damaged it. It was one of only two canoes the Utku band possessed. The fishermen later asked to borrow the other canoe. Damage to this second canoe would endanger the future livelihood of Briggs’s Utku family. Briggs was the interpreter, and she refused the fisherman’s request, becoming overtly angry with them. The Utku elder for whom she was translating did not react with anger toward the fishermen, who were to be shown indulgence and forgiven, as a child would be. But he did react with ningaq to Briggs. He found her angry outburst so inappropriate that she was ostracized for several months. The Utku never see anger (ningaq) as justified. The Utku believe that angry feelings, by themselves, with no mediation, can harm others or even kill them. For an Utku, to experience ningaq is to experience oneself as unjustifiably harboring murderous feelings—this in a society in which kindness and tolerance are expected of all adults and are even considered to define what it means to be a mature functioning human (Kaplunas—White people—are suspected of being descended from dogs and to have the minds of children).

Our second case comes from the Ilongot, a group indigenous to the Philippines and studied by Michelle Rosaldo (1980). Their word commonly translated as anger is liget. A young man is restless, frustrated, mulling over past insults. He is envious of the privileges of his elders and the successes of his peers. His liget mounts and weighs down on him. There will likely be other such young men, competing, envious of one another, and heavy with frustration and boredom. Led by an elder man, a small group of such youths conducts a raiding party, sometimes against a known enemy, but more often against a random victim (man, woman, or child). During the raid, the young men beat their heads to increase their liget. The liget mounts and weighs on them. It is felt as heavy and oppressive, an unrelieved yearning. Finally, the victim is selected and killed (it does not particularly matter by whom). The young men rush at the victim, slashing and mutilating. The victim’s head is severed, and one youth throws the head in the air. Now the liget is felt as “burning joy.” The young men feel lightened, freed from the heavy burden. Filled with liget, the party is intent on mutilation. They slash, mutilate, and toss heads. They then raid the home of the victim, destroying property. As they return to their homes, to keep their liget hot, they drink hot drinks. They return in triumph as men.

Questions Arise from Cultural Differences

Whatever the validity of these specific observations, these and many more like them have been important in the psychology of emotion. For one, reactions to such observations reveal diverse assumptions. One reaction to claims of this sort has been to conclude that emotions among Spaniards, Tahitians, Ilongot, and Utku are different from emotions in Englishspeaking societies.Another reaction has been to conclude that perhaps each language has a different way of describing emotions (but that does not mean that the emotions themselves are different). Another reaction has been to conclude that emotional experience is culture-specific but that emotions are not. Yet another reaction is to dismiss much of the ethnographic and historical evidence as concerning mere talk—nothing important for those who would study emotion.

When confronted with claims of cultural and historical differences in the concept of sadness or with anecdotes of cultural variability of anger, psychologists must face difficult questions: Is anger of the Utku the same emotion as anger in the Ilongot? How could that sameness be empirically tested? What,ifanything,istheangerbehindthemanifestdifferences? Is anger universal? Or could it be a cultural artifact? Answers to such questions follow predictable theoretical positions on fundamental issues such as what is real and what is not, what are legitimate topics in science, and what is the relationship between mind and body and between language and reality.

The issues raised by reports of cultural differences have not been settled by available evidence. There is no consensus on such matters. Or even on how they could be settled. Instead, different researchers assume different positions, based on deeply held philosophical assumptions. These oftenunvoiced assumptions then guide scientific theorizing, dividing the field into camps that each pursue different goals with different methods. For example, an approach to emotions as universal natural entities independent of language and culture stems from (or resonates with) a basic philosophical position that could be labeled as ontological realism. In contrast, an approach to emotions as cultural products created through language stems from (or resonates with) a philosophical position that could be labeled as nominalism. Psychological theorists may not endorse all the traditional consequences of their philosophical assumptions, and most theorists introduce ways to accommodate data grounded on other assumptions. Nevertheless, exposure of these philosophical assumptions can help us understand some of the sources of strength and weakness in current research on emotion.

In this research paper, we first outline four philosophical positions (in necessarily overly simplified and stark terms) that seem to underlie different research programs on emotion and that center on the issue of the relation between language and reality. (Does language accurately describe reality? Influence reality? Constitute reality? Or does everyday language conceal and obscure reality?) We then explore one way that these research programs might be integrated.

Ontological Realism

The ontological realist assumes that words such as anger and sadness are simply labels for preexisting entities. Emotions are like rivers or lakes or other things in the natural world. They are self-contained and distinct from any other thing. They have a concrete localization inside human beings and otheranimals(“inside”nowadaysoftenmeans“inthebrain”). With scientific effort, emotions will be isolated, localized, measured, and manipulated. From this point of view, it would not be surprising if each specific emotion were discovered to correspond to a single neural center, neural circuit, peptide, or some other specific physical entity.

Emotions existed long before culture or language.At best, language can provide labels for different emotions. Of course, different languages provide different labels, but these point to the same preexisting reality: Just as luna and moon are different labels for the same entity, so are anger, ningaq, and liget just different labels for the same entity. Language is useful only in providing labels, and most talk about emotion is of little interest to the scientist and can often obscure or conceal reality behind the words, as in romantic or metaphoric talk about the moon.


Nominalism is thought by some to have started with the medieval philosopher Ockham, who broke with many of the philosophical assumptions of his contemporaries. Ockham taught that there exist only individual events and things (such as Briggs’s reaction that day to the Kapluna fishermen). Individual events or things (even those called by the same name) do not share with each other some Platonic essence. Names for general classes of events or things (e.g., emotion or anger) are therefore misleading. Sometimes some events look similar enough for an observer to group them together and give them a common name—hence nominalism. Through language, people can name general groups of these individual events and talk about the type in general. Nevertheless, such groupings are always arbitrary, in the sense that the only thing real is the individual. A nominalist position is thus skeptical about any claims about reality outside individual events and words themselves.

In a modern version of nominalism, the emphasis is on the role of words. Words differ from one society to the next or one historical era to the next, and that is the reality to be analyzed. As words, anger, liget, and ningaq are important in their own right, rather than as labels for a common entity (Harre, 1986). An extreme version of this approach asserts that these words lack any denotation. Instead, they are simply cultural practices (e.g., Lutz, 1988). Another version would be the belief that there do exist individual events, but these individual events take on the meaning of anger, liget, or ningaq only by being labeled. For example, one approach to emotion words is to study them only as part of discourse and focus on pragmatics of their use. (What is the consequence, in Utku society, of accusing someone of being ningaq?) Emotion words, as part of discourse, create an object (the emotion) that exists only in the context of the speaker’s construed social reality: Words create a cultural, idiosyncratic illusion that is the emotion itself. Anger, liget, and ningaq are therefore not comparable and cannot be understood outside the culture in which they fulfill an important role in the regulation of everyday interaction. From this point of view, much of the psychology of emotion is the imposition of a Western construction on other cultures, which ignores the implicit symbolic structure that gives shape and meaning to each potential candidate for the label emotion in that culture (Shweder & Haidt, 2000).


A conceptualist position shares with ontological realism its assumption that emotion words refer to a nonlinguistic reality, its interest in that reality rather than in words, and its skepticism about the ability of language to reveal that reality. The conceptualist, however, takes such words as anger and liget as concepts rather than as labels for entities. There are many ways to construe reality. Thus, any inference to emotions as independent, real entities, while possible, is suspect. The nature of the reality so conceptualized is the focal question. For example, one might hold that when people use an emotion word, they are pointing to a physiological, behavioral, or situational event—something observable—and not to any emotional entity. The scientist’s job is to search for an objective account of the actual processes commonly conceptualized as anger, liget, or ningaq. Behaviorist, functionalist, and situationist approaches to emotion arise from this philosophical background.


The formal approach treats emotion words as formal objects, much like numbers or logical operators. As in the nominalist approach, the focus is again on language, although in this case it is on the semantics rather than pragmatics of language. Emotion and emoción are first and foremost words. What are the necessary and sufficient features for emotion and emoción? Or for anger, liget, or ningaq? These terms may have both common and distinguishing features, which would reveal universal and language-specific aspects of these words, respectively. Rather than simply assume that anger  liget  ningaq, the researcher seeks to provide a formal analysis of each word. Words are linguistic phenomena, parts of a particular language. Each specific language is a cultural product, but language in general has universal aspects.

Different Research Programs on Emotion

The study of emotion is guided by deep assumptions that resonate with old philosophical debates. The result is that different and apparently incompatible research programs have arisen that provide different frameworks for research and applications in the field. From one program to the next, there is no agreement about the meaning and scientific usefulness of words such as anger, sadness, and the like or even of emotion itself. In this section we describe several of these programs. Although we emphasize the philosophical assumptions guiding each program, we do not imply that individual theorists endorse these philosophies explicitly, consistently, or exclusively.

Emotions as Entities

The Facial Expression Program

Ontological realism comes close to the philosophical assumptions of the person in the street and remains the dominant position in the psychology of emotion. (See Lillard, 1998, for a discussion of the ontological realist assumptions of the concept of mind.) Emotions are natural entities. By “natural,” we mean that emotions are now viewed as biological products of evolution. By “entity,” we mean (a) that an emotion could, at least in principle, be isolated from its surrounding context (i.e., from its eliciting stimulus and behavioral and physiological consequences) and still be the emotion that it is and (b) that an emotion has causal powers (fear causes flight and love makes one care for the loved one). Thus, in the days of faculty psychology, emotion was a faculty.

The ontological position can be seen in much of the research conducted on emotion, but its major theoretical representatives today were inspired by Silvan Tomkins (1962, 1963). Tomkins was a psychiatrist with a vast range of interests and a formidable intellectual curiosity. Tomkins’s influence on two creative, enthusiastic scientists, Carroll Izard and Paul Ekman, was a powerful tool in spreading his ideas. Together, they created the Facial Expression Program (FEP; Russell & Fernández-Dols, 1997), arguably the most influential network of assumptions, theories, and methods in the psychology of emotion. The FEP combined ontological assumptions about emotion with modern scientific concerns about the evolutionary origins, neural mechanisms, and precise physiological correlates of emotion.

In this framework, the kinds of cultural differences with which we began are acknowledged. Ekman (1972) named his own theory neurocultural. Culture influences the observable elements surrounding emotion, but not the unobservable emotion itself. Members of different societies learn to have different emotions in given situations: A food that produces pleasure in one society can produce disgust in another. And society regulates (through display rules) the observable manifestations of each emotion: Asociety might believe that boys should show a brave face even when sad or frightened. These cultural differences are not taken to challenge the reality or universality of the emotions themselves.

Izard and Ekman traced their intellectual roots to Charles Darwin. Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals was an extended argument for human evolution and against the then-popular belief that most muscles of the human face were God’s creations designed exquisitely for the expression of emotion (Montgomery, 1985). Darwin’s strategy was to show that expressions are not simply expressions at all but vestiges of formerly instrumental actions. (A facial expression of anger with bared teeth does not simply express anger but is a genetically transmitted habit of baring the teeth when preparing to bite.) Emotions and movements (expressions) were described according to the everyday categorization of nineteenth-century English society. Darwin was a great empirical scientist, but his views on emotion were commonsense assumptions in the tradition of academic treatises of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His three principles of expression do not mention emotion, and his book is focused mostly on the physiology of expression.

In the hands of Izard and Ekman the emphasis shifted back to facial movements as genuine expressions and even more to the emotions expressed. Darwin’s research became the search for universal entities (now called basic emotions) behind human faces. His findings of similar movements across cultures, ages, and species became a finding of similar emotions across cultures, ages, and species. Ekman and Izard transformed Darwin’s vague and open-ended list of emotions (e.g., meditation, hunger, determination, love, low spirits, despair) into a closed list of basic emotions. Ekman (1972) included happiness, fear, sadness, anger, surprise, and disgust and more recently added contempt (Ekman & Friesen, 1986) and shame (Keltner, 1995). Basic emotions are prepackaged neural programs that can be detected in all human beings as well as in other species. Other emotions, such as love, jealousy, shame, emocionado, liget, or ningaq are blends, mixtures, subcategories, or synonyms of the basic emotions.

Although different theorists have proposed somewhat different theories, a list of the prototypical principles of the FEP would include the following:

  1. There is a closed (although revisable) list of basic emotions.
  2. Basic emotions are discrete entities.
  3. Basic emotions are genetically determined and universal.
  4. Each basic emotion produces a coherent and unique pattern of facial and vocal signals, conscious experience, instrumental action, and physiological changes.
  5. All emotions other than the basic ones are subcategories or mixtures of the basic emotions.
  6. Signals for basic emotions are recognized by any normal human being.
  7. Voluntary facial expressions are deceptive and culturally determined.

The FEP stimulated the gathering of a vast quantity of data, much of it aimed at establishing one fact: Across a range of ages and cultures, human beings can attribute the same emotions to select facial configurations. But this fact (assuming it is a fact; cf. Russell, 1994) would establish only one of the basic principles of the FEP. For example, research has not yet shown that an allegedly universally recognized facial expression is a manifestation in all human societies of the very emotion recognized. Indeed, available data make this assumption doubtful (see Camras; 2000; Fernández-Dols & Ruiz-Belda, 1997; Fridlund, 1994).

The FEP has generated much valuable data on how people associate emotion names with facial expressions and on physiological or vocal patterns of those said to have those emotions. Curiously, no data have been gathered to establish the existence of anger, fear, and other basic emotions beyond the facial configurations, vocal and physiological patterns, and so on from which the emotion is inferred—that is, beyond the emotion’s observable manifestations. Instead, the emphasis has been on the importance (in Darwinian terms, the adaptiveness) of emotion. This approach is reminiscent of another argument in the ontological tradition: Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God, by which the meaning of the word God implies the necessity of his existence. By definition, God is perfect, but nonexistence would be an imperfection and therefore a contradiction. Emotions are important (adaptive), but a nonexistent entity could not be important.

Appraisal Theories

The clearest candidate for the research program that is replacing FEP as dominant in the psychology of emotion today is known as appraisal theory. Appraisal theory (see Frijda, 1986; Lazarus, 1991; Scherer, Schorr, & Johnstone, 2001) shares with FEP the assumption that emotions are adaptive entities that have evolved to respond quickly to recurring important circumstances. Appraisal theories can be thought of as a development of FEP in which emphasis is put on a cognitive step between those circumstances and the emotion (event → appraisal → emotion). (Some versions of appraisal theory assume that appraisals are a part of the emotion). An appraisal provides an explanation for (a) which situations elicit which emotions and (b) individual differences in the stimulus-response link. (For example, if you appraise dogs as threats, then, for you, dog → threat → fear; but if you like dogs, then dog → good → happy.) The main question then becomes the nature of appraisal. In the earliest versions, appraisal was a simple evaluation (Arnold, 1960). In later versions, appraisals became increasingly complex and took into account a person’s plans, beliefs, desires, values, and so on (Lazarus, 1991).

One appraisal theorist, Smith (Smith & Kirby, 2001), noted the ontological assumptions of appraisal theories. These theories generally share with FEP assumptions about emotions as entities, but they also began by assuming that appraisals are also entities (which are capable of producing emotions). This ontological predisposition can be seen in the primary method used: If a subject could label an appraisal with a word such as threat or good, then these specific appraisals were assumed to exist and to trigger the emotion. Smith and Kirby called for more circumspect inferences from such methods and for the use of methods that focus on the actual processes that constitute appraisals.

Concluding Comment

The ontological approach has been an enormous success— indeed, sometimes a victim of its own successes. For example, data generated by the FEP unveiled extraordinary complexity within “basic” emotions. Facial, vocal, and instrumental behavior, as well as cognitive appraisal, subjective experience, and physiological changes all show much more variability within each emotion than anticipated (Ortony & Turner, 1990; Smith & Scott, 1997). Further, these separate components do not correlate with each other as highly as anticipated (Lang, 1994). As a second example, the ontological approach has relied heavily on human judgment studies (e.g., in the studies on recognition of emotion from faces or in questionnaire studies on appraisal). This method did not yield the simple patterns anticipated, but it did pave the way for the study of a completely different topic: the cognitive representation of emotion.

Emotion as Discourse

A very different reaction to observations about cultural differences comes from a loosely related group known as social constructionists (e.g., Averill, 1982; Harré, 1986; Kemper, 1978; Lutz, 1988; Parkinson, 1995). Social constructionist ideas show the influence of nominalism and focus on discourse about emotion. They also emphasize cultural differences in the observable antecedents and consequences of emotions—but then these differences were acknowledged by such ontological realists as Ekman (1972). In contrast, the social constructionist takes the role of culture to be deeper, extending to emotion itself.

Return to the Ilongot’s liget and Utku’s ningaq. A nominalist would argue that instances of liget and ningaq are merely similar enough for an observer to give them a common name (anger). The word anger admits the head-hunting Ilongot youth and the Utku elder who ostracized Briggs. But this judgment is in the eye of the beholder—in this case, an outsider’s third-person point of view. There is no entity shared by the Ilongot youth and the Utku elder. Further, there is no entity shared by different examples of liget within Ilongot society, or shared by different examples of ningaq within Utku society, or shared by different examples of anger within an English-speaking society. Nothing, that is, except the label.

It is clear that the causes and consequences of liget differ from those of ningaq. For the social constructionist, there is a difference as well in the conscious subjective experiences of the Ilongot youth’s liget and of the Utku elder’s ningaq. The two experiences are similar in some ways, but they differ in other ways and do not share any essence. Although the Utku elder might share with the Ilongot youth some of the same raw ingredients (and this remains to be demonstrated), he experiences ningaq rather than liget or anger. To experience ningaq is to experience something that human beings should not experience. In contrast, to experience liget is to experience the most important force in life, something vital to life. For an Ilongot, to feel liget and to head-hunt as a result are the most natural thing.

An analogy may make the nominalist position clearer. Consider a baby nursing, a Jew celebrating a seder at Passover, and a gourmand savoring a meal at Maxim’s in Paris. The word eating admits all three experiences, yet their experiences are quite different. They might have some of the same lip movements,physiologicalprocesses,andrawsensations.However, the meaning given to the behaviors, physiological changes, and sensations would be different. Experience is a complex web of associations that draws on expectations, history, norms of what is proper, and so on. Suppose that we give the Utku elder and the Ilongot youth a meal at Maxim’s. The experiences would be different again. Imagine the Utku elder being engaged in Ilongot head-hunting. He would likely experience this state as abnormal and unnatural. In contrast, the Ilongot youth experiences himself in line with his ancestors as doing something completely natural, almost inevitable.

Some social constructionists view terms such as liget, ningaq, and anger are names for interpretative schemas or scripts (Shweder, 1994). Emotional experience is based on a narrative constructed with the help of this cultural script, which gives meaning to the experience. By sharing a script, members of a society create similar narratives. Sometimes narratives in different societies are similar enough to an outside observer that they can all be called by the same name. People form widely applicable concepts and talk about them in general. From this view, emotional experiences are cultural products. To be sure, physiological changes, facial movements, and actions are also real and might even be universal, but these tend to be viewed as raw ingredients, devoid of inherent meaning.

The nominalist perspective is easy to apply to the experiences of those most foreign to us, but it applies equally to our own emotions. In his study of road rage in Los Angeles, Katz (1999) emphasized that road rage fits a highly regular narrative that shapes the driver’s experience in a characteristic way (although to an external observer road rage can be as mysterious and frightening as the Ilongots’ liget). When cut off by another driver, the driver becomes morally outraged, insults the other driver (even though the other driver cannot hear the insult), makes obscene gestures, and feels the need to retaliate in order to teach the offender a lesson (sometimes thereby increasing the danger).

Emotion as Process

A line of thinking about emotion that resembles a conceptualist philosophical stance began with William James. James wrote disparagingly of thinking of emotions as entities or of giving credence to distinctions embedded in everyday language (such as anger vs. irritation vs. annoyance, etc.). His view opened the door to asking about the actual process that occurs when an emotion is said to occur. He suggested that the actual process is quite different from what is suggested by common sense. James famously argued that bodily changes (e.g., crying, running) produce rather than follow the experience of emotion.

Marañon (1924, 1950) tested James’s hypothesis about the role of bodily changes in the experience of emotion. Marañon injected epinephrine (adrenalin) into 210 hospital patients. He observed two different results. Some (29%) of the patients reported a strong “genuine” emotion, but most (71%) reported an “as-if” emotion. That is, they felt as if they were having an emotion but denied having any real emotion. Marañon concluded that James’s hypothesis was not confirmed. Instead, Marañon suggested that different reactions to the same epinephrine-induced bodily changes were related to a patient’s specific medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism.

Cantril and Hunt (1932) challenged Marañon’s interpretation by replicating his study with 22 students and professors without medical problems.They found a similar split between reports of genuine and as-if emotions. Cantril and Hunt pointed not to medical conditions, but to the unique situational circumstances of each subject. In cases of genuine emotion, the subject’s current situation bore a “logical relationship” to the emotion reported; in cases of as-if-emotion, no such situation was present. Landis and Hunt (1934) also replicated Marañon’s experiment, this time with psychiatric patients, and obtained similar results. Landis and Hunt therefore concluded that emotion was influenced by “environmental” factors and “higher intellectual and perceptual functions.”

Cantril (1934) placed subjects in four successive negative situations (e.g., watching photographs of mutilated war victims or hearing sudden loud noises as the lights were unexpectedly turned off). Subjects went through the four situations in different orders. Each was injected four times, getting a placebo for the first three trials and epinephrine for the fourth. In comparison with the placebo, epinephrine increased the subjects’ratings of their emotional reactions in fear situations but decreased their rated emotional reaction in disgust situations. Cantril suggested that “the awareness of some object or situation around which the emotion is intellectually organized is the immediate cause for the emotional experiences” (p. 578), and that “the quality of an emotion is primarily dependent upon the attitude aroused in the [subject] by the stimulus” (p. 579). In this way, Cantril, Hunt, and Landis moved away from a view in which emotion is an entity triggered by a stimulus and defined by bodily changes, as assumed in early ontological theories. They moved toward a view in which emotion depends not just causally but logically on a complex situation intellectually organized in the context of bodily arousal.

An interesting development of this view was Nina Bull’s (1951) attitude theory of emotion. Bull begins with a simple framework: Situations elicit actions. Action consists of two successive stages: (a) a preparatory phase and (b) a consummatory movement (e.g., fight or flight). The first stage is a motor attitude or action readiness and includes involuntary changes in posture and in various organs. This phase has both a direct and an indirect consequence: The direct consequence is the particular action (the second stage) for which the first phase prepares. The indirect consequence is a feeling. It is this feeling that is usually known as emotion. The feeling of an emotion is thus an epiphenomenon of the sequence in which a motor attitude becomes action. Although Bull shares with ontological thinkers the attempt to identify the one event that is the emotion, she also moved in the direction of thinking of emotion as something that can be understood only in terms of a process that necessarily includes both situation and action. Indeed, unless the feeling of the emotion is equated with the emotion itself, there is no emotion per se within Bull’s theory of emotion.

Schachter (1964) further articulated and developed this perspective in his two-factor theory of emotion. Schachter’s specific ideas were an application of Lewinian principles (Ross & Nisbett, 1991): Emotion is the result of a tension between environmental constraints and cognitive construals. The environmental constraints were both situational (mainly others’ behaviors) and internal (nonspecific arousal). The cognitive construals were originally cognitive labels but shortly afterward became attributions (Nisbett & Schachter, 1966). Schachter’s theory of emotion dominated the study of emotion in social psychology for several decades. The combination of nonspecific arousal and (mis)attribution inspired important theoretical models of aggression (e.g., Zillmann & Bryant, 1974), helping (e.g., Piliavin, Piliavin, & Rodin, 1975), interpersonal attraction (e.g., Dutton & Aron, 1974), environmental behavior (e.g., Anderson & Anderson, 1984), and attitude change (e.g., Zanna & Cooper, 1974). Mandler (1984) developed a related theory of emotion that dominated the study of emotion in cognitive psychology around the same time.

Ginsburg and Harrington (1996) recently proposed an account of emotion along more purely conceptualist lines. The concept of emotion refers to an action in a context. The context has two structural features. The first is hierarchical: a broad system of events and social relationships that are necessary to give meaning to the action.The second feature of the context is linear; that is, it includes a sequence of actions unfolding over time. Prior actions lead to (or, in Lewinian terms, create a channel for) subsequent actions. Actions also alter bodily state and felt experience. The entire sequence of actions in context with its accompanying bodily and mental state is construed (conceptualized) as emotion. In this way, there is no emotion in addition to the action in context. No single event within the sequence can be equated with emotion.

Ginsburg and Harrington described the proper study of emotion as descriptive. They suggested creating natural histories of specific emotional episodes. In turn, these emotional episodes are to be understood as a subsystem of larger and more complex systems. The search for universal entities is abandoned in favor of an exhaustive description of such systems relevant for a particular culture.

Formal Definitions for Emotion Terms

Much philosophical work on emotion has been aimed at a formal analysis of emotion terms. Solomon’s (1976) inspired analysis was a precursor to appraisal theories. Wierzbicka’s (1992, 1999) linguistic analysis provides a formal framework for any word in any language. She developed a contemporary version of an ancient philosophical dream: the creation of a universal language based on fundamental concepts indispensable for thought. Wierzbicka developed a list of universal semantic primitives (I, you, someone, something, know, good, bad, maybe, feel, etc.). These, together with a minigrammar specifying the rules of their combination, constitute a universal language. This universal language can then be used to analyze any emotion word in any language. The interesting result of her analyses so far is that emotion words (anger, liget, ningaq) and emotion itself have all been found to be culture-specific but, nevertheless, definable in terms of her universal semantic primitives, especially feel, good, and bad. Even words with a similar etymology, such as emotion, the Italian emozione, and the Spanish emoción, have not been found to be equivalent.

Psychologists have also offered formal analyses of the emotion lexicon, although they are limited to the English language. Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1990) defined emotion as a disjunctive set of five semantic primitives: happy, sad, fear, anger, and disgust. Any emotion term is then defined by reference to one or more of these five. This approach clearly also has ties to the position of ontological realism. Ortony, Clore, and Collins (1988), in contrast, define all English emotion terms as referring to a valenced reaction to an event. Differences between terms are defined by cognitive differences in interpreting that event (along the lines of appraisal theories). Their approach has ties to a conceptualist perspective.

An alternative formal analysis began with Wittgenstein and entered psychology largely through the work of Rosch (e.g., Rosch, 1978, 1987). This analysis is skeptical of the classical search for necessary and sufficient features to define such everyday words as emotion or anger. Various nonclassical alternatives have been proposed (e.g., Fehr & Russell, 1984), but all share the idea that membership in the category labeled by a word is a matter of degree and that the border between members and nonmembers is fuzzy.

Toward Integration

No one research program has been able to achieve consensus. The persistence of competing and possibly incommensurate programs is frustrating, but at the same time fascinating and potentially useful. Differences force us to question assumptions and to notice ignored questions. Competing approaches thus create the grounds for a qualitative shift in our understanding of emotion. This shift might take the form of an integration of two or more of the various paradigms or even of a revolutionary change in our understanding of emotion. In this research paper we offer neither a revolutionary theory nor even a complete integration of available paradigms, but we do offer the beginnings of one possible integration. We describe a new descriptive framework deliberately built on all of these paradigms.

So far, we have perhaps overemphasized the limitations of these various paradigms. Their longevity indicates that each addresses some aspect of the topic. All of them have made substantial contributions to the understanding of emotion. Indeed, all of them are necessary for raising—if not answering— essential questions about those very important events that are labeled emotion.

We also believe that all can be integrated within a common framework. What has prevented integration in the past is the assumption that each of these research programs is dealing with the same thing, namely, emotion. If the word emotion denoted a homogeneous, well-defined set of events, then different theories of emotion would, indeed, be in direct conflict with each other over the same territory. Scientific analysis would long ago have settled major disputes. If, instead, emotion is a heterogeneous, poorly defined mix of qualitatively different events (originally grouped together by our hunter-gatherer ancestors and modified with each era to suit cultural concerns), then different theories could be about different topics within that loose domain. Selected evidence could easily find support for each such theory.

We therefore begin by abandoning emotion as a scientific term. It remains here only as an everyday term and as a figurehead, a convenient symbol for the general domain of study, but it is not allowed to set the boundary for the set of events that any theory in this domain must explain. In fact, our proposed integrative framework extends beyond the traditional boundaries of emotion by including such states as fatigue, drowsiness, and calm. It is especially important to underscore that abandoning emotion as a scientific term does not mean abandoning the study of those very real and very important events now called emotion.

Abandoning emotion as a scientific term allows us to borrow from each of the established research programs on emotion (as diagrammed in Figure 12.1). Programs based on an ontological realist position embody the traditional scientific search for basic entities that underlie all the varied manifest differences in a domain. They rightly emphasize empirical examination of physiological and behavioral details. Programs based on a nominalist position emphasize the uniqueness and complexity of each emotion event and of emotional experience. They also emphasize the role of meaning systems shared by members of a culture. Unique events are understood (both by a scientist and a nonscientist) through the mediation of concepts (which are mental processes that group or order unique events). Programs based on a conceptualist stance hold that nonscientists and scientists alike hold conceptualizations of reality. The history of science teaches that common-sense conceptualizations can be improved and ultimately replaced with scientifically honed ones. And programs based on a formalist position suggest possible alternative universal primitives (such as feel, good, and bad) and bolster our claim that emotion is a heterogeneous cluster of events.

Emotion in Social Judgments Research Paper

Core Affect as a Point of Departure

Next, we search for primitive entities. One reason that basic emotions are ill suited to serve as emotion primitives has been established by research from the basic emotions perspective: They are too complex. For example, they typically consist of separable components (Izard, 1977) and are directed at an object (i.e., one fears, loves, hates, or is angry with something). Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987) pointed out that an emotional primitive should be free of this something (the object) because of the cognitive involvement that the object implies. Curiously, then, our search for emotional primitives begins with moods and other simple feelings that lack an object. In this way, Oatley and Johnson-Laird created an important new theory based on a categorical perspective.

Here we explore that same approach but from a dimensional perspective. The goal in dimensional studies is to find what is common to various emotions, moods, and related states. Methods have included multivariate analyses of selfreported feelings, introspection, the semantic differential, and various biological techniques. This research has regularly found such broad dimensions as pleasure-displeasure and activation-deactivation. We refer to any state that can be defined simply as some combination of these two dimensions as core affect.

Core affect is similar to Thayer’s (1986) activation,Watson and Tellegen’s (1985) affect, and Morris’s (1989) mood; it is also translatable into the everyday term feeling. In its most primitive form, core affect is free-floating. That is, it lacks an object. For example, one can feel anxious (unpleasant activation) about nothing in particular and without knowing why one feels that way. Core affect thus fits the ontological requirements for a primitive, elemental, and simple emotional ingredient. Biological research has often found that the most basic levels of emotional behavior are better conceptualized as dimensions than as discrete emotions (Cabanac 1990; Caccioppo, Gardner, & Berntson, 1999; Davidson, 1992a, 1992b; Gray, 1994; Lang, 1979; Rozin, 1999; Shizgal & Conover, 1996;Thayer, 1996). For example,in their review of studies on the peripheral physio-logical changes in emotion, Cacioppo, Berntson, Larsen, Poehlmann, & Ito, (2000) emphasized the existence of a primitive and fast response categorizing stimuli as hospitable or hostile (see also Carver, 2001).

More formally, core affect is that neurophysiological state consciously accessible as the simplest raw feelings evident in (but not limited to) moods and emotions, such as feeling good or bad, energized or enervated. In line with nominalist ideas, core affect does not correspond with any word in a natural language (just as the physicist’s concept of force cannot be easily translated into lay terms). Core affect consists of all possible combinations of pleasure-displeasure and activation-deactivation and therefore includes states that would not be called emotions, such as calm, fatigue, or drowsiness. Indeed, a person is always in some state of core affect, which can be extreme, mild, or even neutral. Core affect is part of most psychological processes.

Specifically, core affect is one part of those events people call emotion (and which we call emotional episodes). Selfreports of emotion persistently yield two large general factors interpretable as pleasure and arousal (e.g., Russell & Mehrabian, 1977; Watson & Clark, 1992). Furthermore, the manipulation of arousal by drugs influences self-reported discrete emotions (Cooper, Zanna, & Taves, 1978; Gerdes, 1979; Schachter & Latané, 1964; Schachter & Wheeler, 1962). Feldman Barrett and Russell (2000) explored this hypothesis further in a study of self-reported emotions. In one condition participants were asked to describe how they currently felt. In a second condition they were asked to search their memory for the very last time they had an emotion. In the third condition they were asked to search their memories for a strong, clear emotion. In all three conditions the pleasure and arousal dimensions accounted for substantial variance in the intensity of self-reported emotions. However, as the event to be described became more restricted to clearer and stronger cases of emotion, the amount of variance accounted for declined, though not to zero. For example, the variance accounted for by pleasure and arousal in a scale of anger was .80, .63, and .68 in the three conditions, respectively. Thus, pleasure and arousal remained a part of strong, clear emotions, but other components played a larger role.

Core affect also guides behavior. Core affect leads us to expose ourselves to affect-congruent situations (Bower & Forgas, 2000), thereby playing a role in action preparation and behavioral choice. Pleasure-displeasure influences our way of assessing resources when planning or deciding on action. Pleasure and displeasure are thus not restricted to emotional behavior and are currently found in the explanation of different kinds of action, including aggression (Berkowitz, 1993), eating (Pinel, Assanand, & Lehman, 2000), sex (Abramson, & Pinkerton, 1995), and drug abuse (Solomon, 1977). The dimension of arousal is one’s state of readiness for action. For example, feeling enthused (high pleasure and arousal) gives a person a sense of optimism in choosing goals and plans. Arousal has been the basic component of the most popular situationist theory of emotion in social psychology (Schachter, 1964). The existence of core affect complements rather than contradicts the characterization of emotions as action patterns, provided that action patterns too are thought to be parts of rather than the whole of or essential to emotion.

Core affect provides a way of comparing qualitatively different scenarios by representing them on a single dimension, thereby solving a common human problem: The events encountered and the choices available are often qualitatively different. Occasionally, one chooses between the larger and smaller dessert, but more often the choice is between two qualitatively different options: dessert or a film. The dimension of pleasure-displeasure is a psychological currency that provides a yardstick for such comparisons (e.g., Mellers, 2000).

A final advantage of thinking in terms of core affect is that the psychology of emotion is more easily integrated with the rest of psychology. The concept of emotion has led writers to think of emotions as stemming from a separate faculty. In contrast, the concept of core affect is compatible with a growing body of evidence that links it to other psychological processes. For example, core affect has been found to guide cognitive processes such as attention, perception, thinking, judgment, mental simulation, and retrieval from memory (e.g., Baron, 1987; Blaney, 1986; Bower, 1992; Eich, 1995; Forgas, 1995; Forgas, Bower, & Krantz, 1984; Izard, Wehmer, Livsey, & Jennings, 1965; Mayer, Gaschke, Braverman, & Evans, 1992; Schiffenbauer, 1974). Pleasure and displeasure facilitate the accessibility of positive and negative material respectively; the more pleasant core affect is, the more positive are evaluative judgments (Schwarz & Clore, 1988) and the more optimistic is one’s simulation of the future (Sanna, 1998). Arousal could also have a similar effect; high or low arousal facilitates the accessibility of high and low arousal material respectively (Clark, Milberg, & Ross, 1983; for a dissenting opinion see Bower & Forgas, 2000). Core affect also influences the quality and type of cognitive processing. Arousal affects the quality of cognitive performance (Humphreys & Revelle, 1984) and attention selectivity (Easterbrook, 1959; Eysenck, 1982). Pleasure affects heuristic processing and problem solving (see Aspinwall, 1998; Isen, 1993; Lerner & Keltner, 2000; Niedenthal, Halberstadt, & Setterlund, 1997; Park & Banaji, 2000; Schwarz & Bless, 1991).

A Vocabulary for a Scientific Framework for Emotion

Core affect is not simply another term for emotion, and a variety of additional concepts are needed to deal with those events called emotion. Some of these new concepts are generated by thinking in terms of core affect, and others are simply borrowed from other branches of psychology. Core affect is thus a departure point for a new vocabulary in the study of emotion. It can be used to define some common terms and to generate a set of secondary concepts that covers various emotion-related events.

Mood is defined as prolonged core affect without an object, and affect regulation is any attempt to alter core affect directly. Individuals typically (though not always) seek pleasure and avoid displeasure. Individuals also seek a level of arousal appropriate to the task at hand (e.g., looking for pleasant relaxation when stressed, but for excitement when bored). Exercise, coffee, cigarettes, looking for particular companions, and listening to music are at least in part ways of regulating core affect.

Affective Quality

Just as the objects and events in our perceptual world emerge into consciousness already interpreted, they emerge affectively interpreted. Core affect should be distinguished from the affective qualities of the stimuli we perceive on at least two grounds. First, unlike core affect, which is objectless, affective quality is linked to a particular stimulus. Second, phenomenologically, core affect resides in the person who feels it, whereas affective quality resides in the stimulus; it is the odor that is pleasant (a fragrance) or unpleasant (a stench). Although core affect and affective quality are usually linked, each can change without the other: Core affect can be altered chemically, and a depressed patient can acknowledge that something is pleasant but report no changes in actual core affect. Various terms from the literature (e.g., evaluation, affective judgment, affective appraisal, affective reaction, or primitive emotion) are similar to the perception of affective quality (see Cacioppo et al., 1999; Zajonc, 1980, 2000). Several experiments suggest that an initial perception of affective quality of a stimulus takes place automatically within 25 ms of encountering the stimulus (Bargh, 1997; Bargh, Chaiken, Govender, & Pratto, 1992; Bargh, Chaiken, Raymond, & Hymes, 1996; Fazio, Sanbonmatsu, Powell, & Kardes, 1986).


People seek the cause of any change in core affect that they experience. They attribute core affect to someone or something or some condition. In this way, core affect takes on an object: One moves from simply feeling bad to grieving over the loss of a friendship. Attributions are complex perceptualcognitive processes and entail the possibility of misattribution. Although the object typically is an obvious thing or event, it can be invented (fear of ghosts), hallucinated, remembered, or anticipated. The object is a psychological construction that includes past and future.


Attributing core affect to an object becomes a motive for action—for example, attributing negative core affect (displeasure) to a deprivation (e.g., attributing discomfort to the lack of a cigarette constitutes a motive to smoke). Motives may or may not result in action.

Liking and Disliking

These everyday concepts include both occurrent (actual, brief) events and dispositions to those events.An occurrent instance of liking (e.g., tasting a novel soup and liking it) is the experience of pleasure attributed to the liked object (the soup). A person’s disposition to like something (e.g., Joe likes soup) is that person’s tendency to derive pleasure from that thing.

Categories of Emotion

Core affect, perception of affective quality, and the corresponding attributions to an object describe a huge variety of phenomena usually called emotion. Nevertheless, a dimensional affect system should also explain all these cases in which psychologists and laypeople prefer to speak in terms of specific categories such as fear, sadness, and so on.

Categorization is a basic cognitive process. Rather than consider each event encountered as unique (as we are encouraged to do by the nominalists), people group them together on the basis of perceived similarity. Thus, one notes a resemblance between some actual event and a stored representation of a group of events. On one theory, an emotion category is mentally represented by a script of the components of that emotion, unfolding in a causally linked sequence (Fehr & Russell, 1984; Fischer, 1991; Lakoff, 1987; Russell, 1991; Russell & Fehr, 1994). Categories are also linked to one another in a complex net of associations, and categorization is implicated in the perception of emotion both in others and in self.

Emotional Episode

Our term that comes closest to emotion is emotional episode. It is any actual event that resembles the mental representation of an emotion category sufficiently to count as a member of that category. Resemblance is a matter of degree, and no sharp boundary separates members from nonmembers. We define a prototypical emotional episode as an emotional episode for which the resemblance is especially close. Our notion of emotional episode as a pattern among simpler ingredients (including those already described, such as core affect and attribution) is congruent with much current conceptual and empirical analysis of emotion as the integration of simpler components through a process of attribution (Bem, 1972; Blascovich, 1990; Higgins, 1987; Keltner, Locke, & Audrain, 1998; Öhman, 1999; Olson, 1990; Schachter, 1964; Weiner, 1985).

An emotional episode typically begins with a real or imaginary event, which has a perceived affective quality. (This initial estimate of affective quality is included in appraisal theories, usually as a first evaluative step; Arnold, 1960; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985.) Core affect changes and prompts an attributional process. In most cases, the eliciting event is readily identified, but ambiguous cases can give rise to misattributions (Nisbett & Schachter, 1966). Whatever event is identified as the cause is thereby seen as the source of current core affect—and therefore as a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be seized. Behavior follows accordingly.

Emotional Meta-experience

It is one thing to undergo an emotional episode, another to notice that this is happening. Emotional meta-experience is the perceptionofoneselfashavingaspecificemotion.Itissimilar to what is commonly called subjective emotional experience. The prefix “meta-” draws attention to the notion that the raw data (affect core, affective quality, action, somatic sensations, attribution, etc.) on which emotional meta-experience is based are themselves consciously accessible experiences. On this account, to perceive oneself as “angry” is a complex process of self-categorization based on the everyday category of anger. The hypothesis of emotional meta-experience fits well with recent findings that conscious emotional feelings follow and monitor rather that precede other emotional ingredients (e.g., Gray, 1999; LeDoux, 1996; Öhman, 1999).

The Universaland the Cultural

In the debate between universalists and cultural relativists, the psychology of emotion inherited a version of the perennial nature-nurture controversy. As long as this question is posed about the heterogeneous cluster called emotion, more debate than resolution can be expected. When emotion is replaced with the variety of concepts proposed here, we hope that a resolution is nearer. In this research paper, we have come down squarely both on the side of nature and on the side of nurture. In principle, every psychological event is a joint product of genetic and epigenetic influences. In searching for elementary processes, we sought those whose existence appears to be as much a part of a universal human nature as possible. We offered core affect (and the specific dimensions of pleasure and arousal), perception of affective quality, attribution, categorization, and so on as candidates. Specific outcomes of some of these universal processes, however, might show variability caused by epigenetic factors. For instance, the event to which core affect is attributed and the affective quality perceived in a specific stimulus might show measurable epigenetic variability.

Emotional episodes are patterns among these ingredients and might show more variability caused by epigenetic influences. Behavior, for example, draws on prepackaged modules that are coupled or decoupled to suit the specific antecedent event and one’s goals, plans, social role, norms, values, and so forth. An emotional episode in response to frustration will bear a family resemblance to all human responses to frustration. Still, it might more typically resemble the script for liget among the Ilongot, but more the script for ningaq among the Utku. As a consequence, concepts formed in one society can be expected to differ from those formed in another (Russell, 1991).

On our account, emotional meta-experience (although hypothesized to be a universal process) allows the greatest cultural diversity in content. For example, the concept of emocionado is available and readily accessible for Spaniards. They are easily able to conceptualize, label, and report states that resemble emocionado. Perhaps all persons experience a core affect combined with thoughts and behaviors that do not fit well into a specific emotion category, but Spaniards experience this state in terms of emocionado. Doing so places that state within a culture-specific network of meaning. In contrast, a person who lacks this concept might also have the same raw ingredients but would, nevertheless, not experience the resulting Gestalt in the same way.

A Comparison of Core Affect with Emotion

Emotion is an old and rich term that refers to a variety of fascinating phenomena that are not as closely related to each other as one might think. The gap between emotion and nonemotion is fuzzier and smaller than was once thought. As a consequence, the psychology of emotion is fragmented into many largely independent areas. Research even on a supposedly single emotion is fragmented. For example, research on fear includes clinical research on anxiety, social psychological research on the effect of fear on attitude change, and experimental research on fear as a basic emotion; each of these areas has its own traditions. Articles in one tradition rarely reference an article in another. These considerations suggest any number of strategies for the future. One suggestion is to take stock of the ecology of emotion events. Another is to move to a much lower level of analysis. Fear, sadness, and the like consist of components that can be studied in their own right. A search for patterns among the components would replace assumption with empirically established patterns.

Our proposal of a new framework and vocabulary for research on emotion should not be understood as a new theory about emotion but as an outline for the integration of old theories. The concept of emotional episode has several advantages over the old concept of emotion. It encourages the study of individual components and thus allows researchers to explain and include in their theories the huge variability of emotional behavior, expression, experience, and physiology that has been uncovered in research on basic emotions. Behavior probably does not divide naturally into two qualitatively different classes, the emotional and the nonemotional. Core affect, affective quality, and attribution all occur outside emotional episodes as well.

Unlike “basic emotions,” which are self-contained entities, emotional episodes consist of ingredients that can be shaped in a variety of ways. Forexample, Bugental (2000) proposed that socialization is not simply a general process of social influence but an acquisition of effective procedures (algorithms) for solving problems in five specific domains (attachment, power in hierarchies, mating, coalitions in groups, and reciprocity).

Effective procedures in one domain may be unrelated to those in another. Considered to be emotional episodes, love and jealousy involve not just such processes as core affect and attribution but also these specific algorithms for social life—roles, strategies, tactics, stances, norms—that shape behavior and social interaction in a dynamic way.

Although an amalgam of prior theories, our framework results in a picture of emotional life different from what is currently available. The events highlighted in previous paradigms—prototypical emotion episodes, discourse about emotion, concepts—all occur and are important. Nevertheless, rather than incompatible approaches to one thing, they are interacting parts of a larger system. This system also includes many other related parts, such as moods, evaluations, and unattributed core.Whatever the fate of our specific framework, a new study of emotion that goes beyond current assumptions promises to yield an even richer field than we see today.


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