Emotion knowledge: further exploration of a prototype approach

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 Jun;52(6):1061-86. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.52.6.1061.


Recent work on natural categories suggests a framework for conceptualizing people's knowledge about emotions. Categories of natural objects or events, including emotions, are formed as a result of repeated experiences and become organized around prototypes (Rosch, 1978); the interrelated set of emotion categories becomes organized within an abstract-to-concrete hierarchy. At the basic level of the emotion hierarchy one finds the handful of concepts (love, joy, anger, sadness, fear, and perhaps, surprise) most useful for making everyday distinctions among emotions, and these overlap substantially with the examples mentioned most readily when people are asked to name emotions (Fehr & Russell, 1984), with the emotions children learn to name first (Bretherton & Beeghly, 1982), and with what theorists have called basic or primary emotions. This article reports two studies, one exploring the hierarchical organization of emotion concepts and one specifying the prototypes, or scripts, of five basic emotions, and it shows how the prototype approach might be used in the future to investigate the processing of information about emotional events, cross-cultural differences in emotion concepts, and the development of emotion knowledge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Concept Formation*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Semantics*
  • Set, Psychology