Solving the emotion paradox: categorization and the experience of emotion

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2006;10(1):20-46. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr1001_2.


In this article, I introduce an emotion paradox: People believe that they know an emotion when they see it, and as a consequence assume that emotions are discrete events that can be recognized with some degree of accuracy, but scientists have yet to produce a set of clear and consistent criteria for indicating when an emotion is present and when it is not. I propose one solution to this paradox: People experience an emotion when they conceptualize an instance of affective feeling. In this view, the experience of emotion is an act of categorization, guided by embodied knowledge about emotion. The result is a model of emotion experience that has much in common with the social psychological literature on person perception and with literature on embodied conceptual knowledge as it has recently been applied to social psychology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Concept Formation*
  • Decision Making
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Models, Psychological
  • Psychology, Social
  • Social Perception*