Constructing Emotion


  • Lisa Feldman Barrett Department of Psychology, Northeastern University Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School


Conceptual Act Model, emotions, constructionist approach


Constructionist approaches to emotion have existed since the time of William James, and are united in the assumption that the psychological events called "anger", "sadness", and "fear" are not the elemental building blocks of emotion, but instead are mental events that result from the interplay of more basic psychological systems. This paper summarizes the three fundamental hypotheses that ground the Conceptual Act Model, a recently introduced constructionist approach to emotion. First, the mental events that people refer to as "emotion" are constructed, in the blink of an eye; from more basic psychological primitives that are always in play. Second, psychological primitives are not themselves specific to emotion, and are hypothesized to participate to some degree in constructing every psychological moment. Third, factors that have traditionally been treated as non-emotional such as concepts and language play a central role in making an instance of emotion what it is. Implications of the Conceptual Act Model for the science of emotion are then discussed.