Why do evaluative judgments affect emotion attributions? The roles of judgments about fittingness and the true self

Cognition 239 (C):105579 (2023)
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Past research has found that the value of a person's activities can affect observers' judgments about whether that person is experiencing certain emotions (e.g., people consider morally good agents happier than morally bad agents). One proposed explanation for this effect is that emotion attributions are influenced by judgments about fittingness (whether the emotion is merited). Another hypothesis is that emotion attributions are influenced by judgments about the agent's true self (whether the emotion reflects how the agent feels “deep down”). We tested these hypotheses in six studies. After finding that people think a wide range of emotions can be fitting and reflect a person's true self (Study 1), we tested the predictions of these two hypotheses for attributions of happiness, love, sadness, and hatred. We manipulated the emotions' fittingness (Studies 2a-b and 4) and whether the emotions reflected an agent's true self (Studies 3 and 5), measuring emotion attributions as well as fittingness judgments and true self judgments. The fittingness manipulation only impacted emotion attributions in the cases where it also impacted true self judgments, whereas the true self manipulation impacted emotion attribution in all cases, including those where it did not impact fittingness judgments. These results cast serious doubt on the fittingness hypothesis and offer some support for the true self hypothesis, which could be developed further in future work.

Author Profiles

Michael Prinzing
Baylor University
Joshua Knobe
Yale University
Brian D. Earp
University of Oxford


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