The conceptual framework for the investigation of emotions

Int Rev Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;16(3):199-208. doi: 10.1080/09540260400003883.


The experimental study of the emotions as pursued by LeDoux and Damasio is argued to be flawed as a consequence of the inadequate conceptual framework inherited from the work of William James. This paper clarifies the conceptual structures necessary for any discussion of the emotions. Emotions are distinguished from appetites and other non-emotional feelings, as well as from agitations and moods. Emotional perturbations are distinguished from emotional attitudes and motives. The causes of an emotion are differentiated from the objects of an emotion, and the objects of an emotion are distinguished into formal and material ones. The links between emotions and reasons for the emotion, for associated beliefs and for action are explored, as well as the connection between emotion and care or concern, and between emotion and fantasy. The behavioural criteria for the ascription of an emotion are clarified. In the light of this conceptual network, Damasio's theory of the emotions is subjected to critical scrutiny and found wanting.

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Attitude
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychomotor Agitation / psychology