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The goal of the theory is characterized as presenting, in computationally tractable terms, a comprehensive account of the cognitive underpinnings of the human emotion system and of the cognitions in terms of which different emotion types can be distinguished. The theory proposes three broad groups of emotions, determined by the three major perspectives people can take on what’s going on around them. These three foci are seen as giving rise to reactions to events (things that happen), reactions to the actions of agents (things that agents do), and reactions to objects (things in general). A minimal definition of emotion is proposed, and the different kinds of evidence adduced to support claims about emotions are discussed. Emphasis is placed on the fact that emotion words are not isomorphic with distinct emotion types, so that although theorizing about emotions often depends on using linguistic labels, a general theory of human emotions should attempt to be culturally neutral and should minimize its dependence on emotion words.
Four “Attribution” emotions relating to the attribution of responsibility for actions are presented as the emotion types that emerge from praising or blaming oneself or some other agent for some action. The intensity of these “Pride” and “Self-reproach” emotions, and “Admiration” and “Reproach” emotions is influenced by the perceived praiseworthiness (including its converse, blameworthiness) of the agent’s action and the degree to which it is seen as being incongruous, that is, as deviating from what might be expected of such an agent in such a situation. The notion of a cognitive unit is used to explain such facts as that people can be proud of the actions of other people. Also covered are four Compound emotions that result from focusing on both an agent’s action and its outcome at the same time. These emotion types include what are referred to as “Gratitude,” “Anger,” “Self-satisfaction,” and “Self-anger” emotions, with the first of these, for example, being characterized as a positive feeling about someone else’s praiseworthy action and the associated desirable event.
The three broad classes of emotions are characterized as Event-based emotions, Agent-based emotions, and Object-based emotions. Event-based emotions consist of a Well-being group, a Prospect-based group, and a Fortunes-of-others group. Emotion types in the first two of these groups focus on the self-relevance of focal events, while those in the Fortunes-of-others group focus on the self-relevance of events that primarily affect others. In addition to Event-based emotions are the Attribution emotions, which arise from focusing on the actions of agents, and the Attraction emotions, which result from focusing on objects. Also introduced is a group of Compound emotions. These emerge when focusing at the same time on both an event and an agent held to be responsible for that event. The three broad classes of emotions are evaluated (appraised) in terms of goals, standards, and tastes, respectively, and individual emotion types are distinguished by their location within this overall global structure of emotions. A skeptical view of the notion of basic emotions is presented.
The Attraction emotions are reactions of liking or disliking objects (or aspects of objects) resulting from an object’s appeal (or lack thereof). Appeal, in turn, depends on tastes, which in contrast to goals and standards, tend to be unanalyzable, Hence, the Attraction emotions are the least cognitively complex of all emotions. Tastes are treated broadly and include attitudes and preferences, and the notion of an object is also broad, including anything that is evaluated qua object, meaning that even events or agents’ actions can be viewed as objects. Although issues pertaining to aesthetic judgment are raised, they are not the focus of Attraction emotions. The Attraction emotion identified depends on whether an object is evaluated as being appealing or unappealing and whether it is viewed as itself being capable of emotion. Crossing these dimensions leads to four emotion types: “Affection” and “Enmity” emotions, which pertain to emotion-capable (generally animate) objects, and “Appreciation” and “Distaste” emotions, which pertain to emotion-incapable (generally inanimate) objects.
The theory proposes that each of the three broad classes of emotions – Event-based emotions, Agent-based emotions, and Object-based emotions – is evaluated in terms of different criteria, that is, different kinds of knowledge representations: events are evaluated in terms of their desirability relative to goals, agents’ actions are evaluated in terms of their praiseworthiness relative to standards and norms, and objects in terms of their appeal relative to tastes. Desirability, praiseworthiness, and appeal are proposed as the primary source of intensity for the corresponding classes of emotions, while representations of goals, standards, and tastes together comprise the underlying value system. Considered in its entirety, the value system is cast as a relatively complex virtual organization of goals and their interdependencies together with a less complex arrangement of standards and tastes. It is considered to be a dynamic and virtual structure, with much of it being computed as needed. A detailed worked example is used to illustrate how, in general terms, the evaluations of events and the actions of agents might be computed.
Two different classes of variables capable of affecting the intensity of emotions are introduced: global variables, which can influence the intensity of many different emotion types across different emotion groups, and local variables, which have relatively local effects, influencing only the intensity of particular emotions or emotion groups. Examples of global variables are presented, including sense of reality, psychological proximity, unexpectedness, and arousal, along with examples of local variables such as deservingness, relevant for Fortunes-of-others emotions such as Schadenfreude, and likelihood, relevant for emotions involving envisaged events. A detailed discussion of examples of emotion types involving both kinds of intensity variables is provided. Also discussed is the relation between global and local variables on the one hand and the central variables discussed in Chapter 3 on the other, with particular attention paid to the issue of how such interactions contribute to the overall intensity of particular emotion types. The difficulty of calibrating intensity across different emotion types is discussed.
Prospect-based emotions are introduced as a subset of Event-based emotions, with the key ones being emotion types that arise from envisaging positive events, referred to as “Hope” emotions, or negative events, referred to as “Fear” emotions. The envisagement of such events is discussed as sometimes being confirmed, resulting in “Gratification” and “Fears-confirmed” emotions, and sometimes being disconfirmed, resulting in “Relief” and “Disappointment” emotions. A characterization of each of these emotion types is presented in terms of the valence of the feeling and the associated emergence condition, of which the disconfirmation of an envisaged undesirable event is a typical example. The local variables that influence the intensity of the Prospect-based emotions are discussed in detail. The chapter also discusses how the model can accommodate the fact that, although Prospect-based emotions are usually future oriented, they can also concern past events, with the phenomenon of a person experiencing relief upon learning that a plane they missed subsequently crashed serving as one illustrative example.
The way in which distinct emotions are characterized in terms of their cognitive underpinnings is established using the example of the two Well-being emotions, “Joy” and “Distress” emotions, which are the cognitively least complex Event-based emotions. The notion of type specification is introduced and described as incorporating both the valence of the feeling and the necessary conditions – the emergence conditions – for emotions of the type in question to arise, yielding, as an example, the specification of “Joy” emotions as a positive feeling about a desirable event. The type identifier, “Joy” emotion, is explained as being merely a convenient label for the associated emotion specification, rather than a definition of the emotion commonly referred to as “joy,” thus emphasizing the general point that emotion types can be characterized without depending on common emotion words. Other parts of emotion characterizations are discussed, including the applicable central and local intensity variables. After a discussion of the Well-being emotions, the emotion types comprising a group called Fortunes-of-others emotions are formulated and discussed in detail.
Some ancillary cognitive issues are raised, including the fact that characterizing emotions in terms of emergence conditions frees the theory from the bonds of everyday emotion terms, leaving room for projects that explore the relation between emotions cast in terms independent of language-culture and the emotion words of particular languages. Additionally, some functions of emotions relating to attention, coping, and memory are discussed, as is the fact that emotions, construed as necessarily conscious experiences, can have unconscious bases. Finally, the possibility that the emergence conditions of an emotion might not be sufficient to generate an actual emotional experience leads to the introduction of the concepts of emotion potentials and emotion thresholds, wherein the magnitude of an emotion potential must exceed a context-sensitive threshold to allow for an emotion to emerge and its intensity to be computed. With the help of these key constructs, the computational tractability of the theory is illustrated using detailed examples of how characterizations of emotions presented in earlier chapters might be formalized.