Emotions in conceptual spaces

Philosophical Psychology (forthcoming)
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The overreliance on verbal models and theories in psychology has been criticized for hindering the development of reliable research programs (Harris, 1976; Yarkoni, 2020). We demonstrate how the conceptual space framework can be used to formalize verbal theories and improve their precision and testability. In the framework, scientific concepts are represented by means of geometric objects. As a case study, we present a formalization of an existing three-dimensional theory of emotion which was developed with a spatial metaphor in mind. Wundt posits that the range of human emotion can be represented along three axes of basic emotions (pleasure/displeasure, excitement/inhibition, tension/relaxation), just as color vision can be represented using three basic colors. We use dimensions to represent basic emotions, points to represent emotional states, and regions to represent broader emotional concepts. We then compare our formalization to an existing structuralist formalization of Wundt’s theory. Further, we discuss the empirical predictions that our formalization generates, such as comparisons of similarity and intensity. We conclude by demonstrating how the tools developed in the conceptual space framework can be used to formulate a theory of emotion based on empirical observation.

Author's Profile

Michał Sikorski
Marche Polytechnic University


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