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The quest to define emotion

Emotion is widely considered an elusive concept to define, complicated by cultural and linguistic differences among societies. A new set of findings and tools has helped overcome these challenges in defining emotion.


What exactly is an emotion, what triggers it, and how do we perceive it? Psychologists, poets, philosophers and scientists have all been studying emotion and striving to understand it for millennia. The EU-funded PROPEREMO (Production and perception of emotion: An affective sciences approach) has developed a novel interdisciplinary approach for studying emotion empirically. The project team developed a Component Process Model of emotion. It proposed that that the subjective appraisal of key events causes emotion brought about by changes such as motivational shifts, physiological responses, motor expression and subjective feeling. Based on this premise, the project investigated the production and unfolding of emotions in the individual, and the perception and inference of such emotions by observers in a social context. Backed by an interdisciplinary team, it defined emotion in clear terms, proposing as well a definition that differentiates between normal and pathological emotional responses. The definition also considered utilitarian (adaptive) vs. aesthetic and epistemic emotions, as well as emotional competence and emotion dispositions. The team made significant headway in pinpointing the nature of the appraisal process that triggers and shapes an emotion episode, homing in as well on the precise mechanisms underlying emotion expression production and perception. Tools used to understand these questions include behavioural micro-coding of facial expressions, gestures and body movements, digital acoustic analysis of vocal expressions, and past research in the field. Another important aspect examined covered individual differences in emotion recognition ability, a field that is very useful for human-computer interaction technology. How emotions are expressed in words and what the role is of language and culture in emotion were other key topics that the team researched. This has helped, for example, to pinpoint linguistic or cultural relativity in the naming of emotions, including subtle ones evoked by painting, poetry or music. It is worth noting that the team developed and validated a new scale for the measurement of aesthetic emotions. The new tools that were elaborated during the project, combined with the project’s findings, have brought us an important step closer to defining emotion more accurately than ever.


Emotion, PROPEREMO, motivational, physiological, expressions

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