- Do people essentialize emotions? Individual differences in emotion essentialism and emotional experience
- Volume | Issue number
- 13 | 4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Many scientific models of emotion assume that emotion categories are natural kinds that carve nature at its joints. These beliefs remain strong, despite the fact that the empirical record on the issue has remained equivocal for over a century. In this research, the authors examined one reason for this situation: People essentialize emotion categories by assuming that members of the same category (e.g., fear) have a shared metaphysical essence (i.e., a common causal mechanism). In Study 1, the authors found that lay people essentialize emotions by assuming that instances of the same emotion category have a shared essence that defines them, even when their surface features differ. Study 2 extended these findings, demonstrating that lay people tend to essentialize categories the more a category is of the body (vs. the mind). In Study 3, we examined the links between emotion essentialism and the complexity of actual emotional experiences. In particular, we predicted and found that individuals who hold essentialist beliefs about emotions describe themselves as experiencing highly differentiated emotional experiences but do not show evidence of stronger emotional differentiation in their momentary ratings of experience in everyday life. Implications for the science of emotion are discussed.
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