Emotions and the body. Testing the subtraction argument

Philosophical Psychology 35 (1):47-65 (2022)
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Can we experience emotion without the feeling of accelerated heartbeats, perspiration, or other changes in the body? In his paper “What is an emotion”, William James famously claimed that “if we fancy some strong emotion and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind” (1884, p. 193). Thus, bodily changes are essential to emotion. This is known as the Subtraction Argument. The Subtraction Argument is still used to support Embodied theories of emotion. Proponents of Disembodied theories, however, have different intuitions regarding the role of bodily changes in the experience of emotion. In order to advance this debate, I conducted a series of studies testing people’s intuitions regarding the Subtraction Argument. Results show that, against James’ claims, most people consider that their hypothetical (Study 1) and actual (Study 2) emotions persist in the absence of bodily feelings. Furthermore, Study 1 found that participants’ responses were not related to individual differences in reflection or interoceptive awareness. These results pose a problem for Embodied theories of emotion and challenge extant explanations for the persistence of emotional experience in cases of impaired interoception.

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Rodrigo Díaz
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)


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