The role of language in emotion: predictions from psychological constructionism
We humans are highly sensitive to emotional information. This is to such an extent that the impact of emotions has been reported for almost all of the investigated. The basic relationship between language and emotion is more and more present in research over the last decades. This chapter presents the field of research in. e relevance of emotion for language and linguistics is considered from nected to both language and emotion, how should we see, then, the relation between.
In addition, when we asked these children to give us an answer anyway, most often, the accounts given were word-for-word repetitions. Furthermore, it appeared as if these "confusions" only occurred in response to the first-person questions: Can you tell me what happened that day? These observations, although based on very preliminary evidence, nevertheless seemed to us intriguing enough to follow up with the investigation into the question of whether or not there is actually any support for the assumption that American English-speaking children might at an early age confuse the two emotions anger and sadness.
And if this turns out to be the case, it should be determined, whether this confusion is more typical for any of the different genres under consideration. However, Stein and her associates also point to the similarities between anger and sadness in that both emotions are typically evoked by the same goal outcome patterns, i.
With regard to other sources that report a potential fusion or confusion of anger and sadness, I could only locate some spattered hints in linguistic and anthropological reports about a number of African languages which, at least at the lexical level, do not seem to draw a distinctive line between what in English is divided into anger and sadness.
Drawing on reports by Davitz and Leff as their sources, Heelas and Matsumoto maintain a similar opinion, namely that "some African languages have one word that covers what the English language suggests are two emotions - anger and sadness Leff, Likewise, Lutz suggests that the Ifaluk word song can be described sometimes as anger and sometimes as sadness" Matsumuto In addition, Heelas argues that "English- speaking Ugandans do not distinguish between 'sadness' and 'anger', as we do crying being an important feature of our distinction but not for Ugandans " It remains unclear from the reports, what aspects actually are expressed in Swahili, and what supposedly might lead bilingual Swahili speakers to use only one English lexical expression for covering both meanings of English sad and anger.
Actually, the literature reported does not even say which English expression is used, angry or sad. Another interesting observation that points in the same direction stems from Fischer's investigation of how Dutch speakers make sense of the Dutch equivalent to 'anger'. In evaluations of the emotion 'anger', Dutch adult subjects displayed two different attitudes according to where the incident that led to the emotion took place: However, they want to show commitment to others by expressing their anger.
In public situations, on the other hand, one is far more concerned with how others will evaluate one's anger and so the anger seems primarily to be used as device to maintain or improve one's position" Fischer This observation leads to an interesting speculation with regard to a differential in functionality of these two different evaluative stances: The expression of anger in public settings is more likely to be valued as negative, while its expression in private settings is argued to be geared toward some more positive ends.
Considering further, that children in their language acquisition process have to learn to sort out these components, it may be very possible that they might go through phases of confusing certain components in certain situations. Thus, a closer look at the different kinds of situations where emotion talk is used for potentially different purposes might be exactly the route to travel to find out. Subjects, Data Elicitation, and Coding Since we will report in this section the data for all four age groups, let me briefly summarize the subject population, the elicitation technique used, as well as the ways the data were transcribed and coded.
Subjects The participants of the study reported in this section were 80 children from four grades with 20 children each: Although all subjects were from the same regional area in Massachusetts, USA, the school populations varied. The preschool and kindergarten children attended primarily middle-class schools, whereas the first and third graders attended a racially and economically diverse school.
The mean ages for each group were: In order to be a participant in the study, the children had to meet four criteria: First, the child's parent had to give permission as well as the child at the time of the interview. Second, the child could not have any diagnosed language or learning impairments.
Third, the children needed to be fluent speakers of English. Finally, the children had to finish the interview by giving answers to most of the questions. Data Elicitation The interviewers for this study were trained so that the children were tested using a consistent format. All interviews occurred at the schools but in separate areas away from the regular classrooms.
Each session was tape-recorded for the purpose of later transcription. The interview consisted of 12 questions encompassing three genres on four topics: The topics consisted of emotion situations: Thus, the questions asked in the interview took the following forms: All 12 questions were administered to each child in random order, with the only two restrictions to start each interview with genre iand to avoid asking two questions about the same topic in a row.
Transcription and Coding Following the transcription format laid out by Berman, Slobin, Bamberg, Dromi, Marchman, Neeman, Renner and Sebastianall verbal responses were transcribed in clauses, giving each individual clause a new line. Since it had been mentioned in previous studies that anger and sadness differ particularly in terms of actor involvement transitive versus intransitive acts and type of action intentional versus accidental, and justified versus unjustwe determined to develop categories that would tap those dimensions.
Accordingly, the transcripts were coded along the following dimensions: Although these clauses by their very nature rank lower in transitivity, particularly since they seem to place emphasis on states or results of actions eg. However, the rating for transitivity turned out to be much more difficult. In actuality, the medium category was the hardest to determine, while deciding whether clauses fell into the high versus the low transitivity category seemed to be more of a clear cut case.
On the basis of this, we made the coding decision to use the medium category as little as possible. In other words, the raters were asked to enforce wherever possible a 'high' versus a 'low' ranking, and only in cases where there was absolutely no easy choice, the mid-level category was to be used.
It should be noted that contrary to most introductory methods books, the codes applied in this as in most other studies are not strictly speaking hypotheses.
Here, it is simply aimed to reveal whether the 'sense of agency' that was conveyed in a particular unit was "high" or "low". In this sense then, the coding dimensions chosen are preliminary attempts to check whether there might be hidden more along the dimensions. What the mentioning of "behavioral symptoms" in the form of tears for instance or what the choice of low transitivity constructs actually mean, that is what they index in the communicative act, will become part of a more refined analysis in a subsequent analytic step to be reported in section 2.
Chi-square analyses were performed on all variables to determine significant developmental changes. The percentage figures reported in Tables 2 through 4 coding for dimensions A-C are based on an n of 20 per age group. The figures in Tables 1 and 5 dimension D are based on occurrences of forms per overall clauses per age group. Actor Transitivity Ratings in the First Person Genre As presented in Table 1, angry scenarios, in which an animate actor is mentioned, are clearly marked i.
Low transitive actions are very rare. With regard to sad situations, the picture is not quite as clear: While sad situations rank lower in high transitivity than angry situations, and while they also rank higher in low transitivity than angry situations, they cannot be characterized in terms of a clear preference for low transitivity.
However, there seem to be some developmental changes in the role of transitivity in sad scenarios: While younger children are more likely to construct them in terms of high transitivity, older children are more likely to construct them in terms of low transitivity. Note that within this coding category only those clauses are coded that do mention an actor in subject position.
If tears or a particular facial expression was mentioned, it happened to characterize sad situations see Table 2 for the exact figures. Note that the percentage figures given are based on an n of This observation holds more strongly and more clearly for the generalized person genre than for the first person genre.
In addition, there seems to be a developmental change holding for the characterization of sad scenarios in the first person scenario in terms of unintentional actions, which does not hold for the generalized person scenario. However, as can be seen from Table 4, to mention explicitly that an action was not justified, seems to be of high relevance for the construction of anger scenarios; though interestingly much more so for those scenarios in which anger was self-experienced, i.
Note that in contrast to the analysis presented in Table 1, all clauses were coded for high versus low transitivity, resulting in a more clear-cut system than in the "actor transitivity" analysis. While younger children clearly characterize sad situations in terms of high transitivity, this tendency seems to fade with increasing age.
Along the same lines, with increasing age, children turn to a marking of sad situations in terms of low transitivity. In addition, although the same trend holds in general, there are nevertheless interesting differences in the way it surfaces in the two different genres: While high transitivity is a major salient characteristic for younger children in the first person genre, low transitivity becomes by far the more salient characteristic for the older children.
Summary and Preliminary Conclusions Having used the four coding dimensions as preliminary grids according to which we will be able to assess similarities and differences between the two topics of being angry and being sad and the two genres under consideration, we can more clearly outline the following areas that need to be followed up on in a second more refined type of analysis. First, around the age of 9 years, as documented in the responses of the third graders, American English-speaking children seem to construct "being angry" and "being sad" by use of different linguistic means, employing constructions that revolve around the issue of transitivity.
Being angry is constructed by use of high transitivity constructs, and being sad by use of low transitivity constructs see Table 1. In addition, when it comes to letting the listener know aspects of why the action that evoked the emotion occurred, and what behavioral consequences those actions had in the affected person, older children clearly differentiate between anger and sadness: Actions leading to sadness are more likely to be unintentional actions Table 3and they often result in crying and tears Table 2 ; while actions leading to anger are more likely to be unjust actions Table 4.
With regard to these latter more explicit markings of the intentionality and justification aspects of the actions and their behavioral, bodily consequences, it looks as if younger children as well 'know' how to differentiate between the two emotions, and use those markers accordingly.
However, with regard to their use of transitivity constructions, a different developmental picture emerges. While the construction of angry situations does not undergo any developmental changes regarding transitivity constructions, sad situations are more likely to be marked by use of high transitive constructions by the younger children Tables 1 and 5.
Only the oldest age group of third graders clearly constructs being sad situations by use of low transitivity constructions. Although there are some fluctuations in the figures between the different age groups, it can be maintained that the general distinction that is achieved by these constructions is already in place at an early age in the preschoolers.The science of emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier
Again, when we turn to how high transitivity versus low transitivity constructions are employed to demarcate between anger and sadness, we find a quite different picture. Apart from the developmental shift in the construction of sadness, as reported in the previous paragraph, high transitivity markings clearly prevail in the first person genre, while low transitivity constructions clearly prevail in the explanatory genre see Table 5.
We could stop here and conclude that American English-speaking children at a relatively early age, i. Only when it comes to the more fine grained level of the English language use, young children have to do some "sorting out", in the direction suggested by this study; though this further, linguistic, level of differentiation and sophistication is not really relevant to the conceptual distinction between the two emotions, what they are, what they mean, and how they function in the interpersonal regulation of relationships.
This distinction, it could further be maintained, is already established in its most basic form. And the remaining bits of confusion are due to children's linguistic organization, not to any categorial or conceptual issue. However, this conclusion not only would fall short in accounting for what we set out to explain, namely the original confusions in having to give sad accounts versus angry accounts, where young American English-speaking children seemed to take both situations to mean the same, but it also would fall back into the peculiar segregation of language from cognition that we were trying to overcome cf.
In addition, the differences in children's use of construction types in the two different genres seem to reveal interesting clues with regard to what is involved in the process of constructing sad situations early on in the same way as angry situations, and how this early confusion is resolved gradually in the course toward a fuller and better integrated understanding of anger and sadness.
To accomplish those aims, a second analysis was performed on the same data, one that focused more strongly on the actual constructions that were employed in the responses of the children.
The term GRAMMAR in this context is not used metaphorically, to imply that emotions have or are a set of rules to be followed just like the grammars of languages. In contrast to this mechanistic view of language or emotionsI want to make use of the term grammar as the strategic employment of linguistic constructions. Linguistic constructions which are not just 'rhetoric', not just employed to be better understood or to enhance intersubjectivity or the like.
Rather, grammar in this context consists of a set of constructions which are instructions, i. Thus, grammar as a set of linguistic constructions is directly tied to the discursive purpose to which the particular constructions are put to use. As such, the terms 'grammar of being angry' and 'grammar of being sad' are attempts to capture the discursive organization of such topics as 'anger' or 'sadness'.
The way the analysis will proceed in this section resembles in many ways that of Capps and Ochs a, bwhose research focused on the discursive organization of 'helplessness' and 'abnormality. As already touched upon above section 2. Examples 4 and 5repeated below, document this type of construction: These aspects of the grammar of anger overlap with how linguistically two discursive purposes are achieved. On the one hand, the construction of a highly individuated target of others' actions may result in some form of empathy or sympathy on the part of the listener in the act of communicating.
On the other hand, by emphasizing the "other" as the topical focus in the position of the syntactic subject, blame is attributed to this person. And this topical focus, so to speak, overshadows the discursive purpose of empathy. The topical construction can be taken to subordinate the empathy goal to the blaming purpose: The empathy aspect is subordinated and as such directed toward the topical focus, i.
Typically in the accounts of older children as well as adults American sadness is constructed by use of two possible options: Those two devices perform a similar function on strategy iidenying the "I" to achieve the linguistic status of a topical focus, with blaming oneself as the discursive orientation as in example 10, where the narrator could have continued by making his decision to move the topic, lamenting about it or his decision making power, which, however, is not very likely for a 9-year old boy.
Thus, it can be maintained that the grammar of American-English sadness differs from the grammar of American-English anger in terms of complexity. While anger comprises the two discursive aspects empathy and blame, and as such requires a delicate balance between these two purposes, sadness seems to be more simple, because it is geared 'only' toward the discourse purpose of empathy.
LANGUAGE, CONCEPTS, AND EMOTIONS
However, taking the prototypical English sentence structure of the transitive scene, the grammar that is fashioned to entertain the discourse purpose empathy is more complex, since it is a deviation from the prototype: It requires the downplay of the topical focus. Or, in other words, after a subject has been established which typically serves as the topical focus "my sister" in example , and "I" in example this focus has to be "defocused" in subsequent clauses, as is done in example 9 by the explanation "because of a car accident", i.
Thus, although the construction of anger is more complex with regard to its discursive functions the construction of sadness - in English - is more complex with regard to its linguistic construction. Turning to the constructions of sadness in the first person genre in the younger children, we often find accounts which strongly resemble their anger accounts in as far as the same linguistic constructs are employed.
Examples 11 and 12 illustrate this construction type. In terms of the sequential arrangement this behavioral symptom is not only consequential, but its arrangement simultaneously communicates that nothing else was done. As such it contributes to an interpretation of 'helplessness', and, since the role of a comforting other is left vacant, it can be taken as an indirect request for comfort or empathy.
Thus, the younger children's responses typically consist of two components, the first topicalizes the perpetrator, and constructs a highly transitive event, which is likely to be taken by the listener as an act of blaming; the second component, however, shifts from the "other" to the "I" as the new topic, resulting in the likelihood to be taken as the communicative attempt to elicit empathy.
Within the frame of these structural characteristics, the younger children's constructions of sad scenarios in the first person genre are different from the older children's in that they consist of two units which co-exist next to one another. While the older children either topicalized the "I" such as in example 10or they shifted from an inagentive "other" to a sad "I" in subject position, the younger children seem to be stuck with a highly agentive "other" in subject position as the topic of what the scenario "is all about".
Thus, the obstacle of changing the focus from the highly agentive "other" to the helpless "I" is too difficult to overcome, and the attempt to construct a sadness scenario ends up very much like the construction of an anger scenario. Before turning to the question how American English-speaking children learn to differentiate successfully between being angry and being sad along the lines laid out in the personal accounts of the older children, let us briefly consider how anger and sadness are constructed in the explanatory genre.
The Grammar of Anger in the Explanatory Genre. The construction of anger in explanatory discourse is achieved by a number of construction types. The following two examples display the syntactic frames used to construct the generalized person perspective by use of which "being angry" is 'explained': Seeking empathy or blaming anyone for any wrong doing clearly don't matter.
If there is a discursive purpose, it lies in 'describing' or making a general activity explicit, though from a detached angle. Children of the younger age groups gave shorter situation descriptions than the older ones such as "somebody hitting you". Almost half of the preschoolers, in one or another way, tried to weave into the situation a first person perspective such as in the following two examples: As these examples document, the younger children do not systematically use the present tense to signal the atemporal, hypothetical character of the situation, nor do they systematically use the simple past in order to characterize the past, though potentially normative quality of the incident reported.
Tense choices as well as modality markers can, could, would are tokens for the younger children's efforts in trying to sort out the kind of detached stance that is asked for in the explanatory genre. The Grammar of Sadness in the Explanatory Genre. As was revealed in a preliminary way in Tables 1 and 5, all children constructed being sad explanations by use of far more low transitivity constructs and much less high transitivity constructs than in their first person accounts. Similar to the accounts given in the first person genre, a happening is constructed in which either "something is happening to you", as in the following example, or "you want something but you can't get it".
Only at two occasions were actions of others constructed as leading up to a situation of being sad; one of them in the next example, where, however, the agency of those others was somewhat transformed by the pronoun "it": The only two occasions in which transitive actions of others were depicted as leading up to sadness, however, were explanations that were incorporating components strongly resembling the first person genre: The discursive functions of attributing blame or eliciting empathy are backgrounded in light of the discursive purpose of 'being descriptive'.
In an attempt to pull together the insights gained in the above analyses, we are now better equipped for locating the origins for children's early confusions between angry and sad scenarios and for delineating some of the factors involved in the developmental process between preschool age and the time children reach third grade.
First, the evidence assembled clearly points toward the early constructions of sadness accounts in the first person genre as the "source" for the confusion.
In the attempt to determine how these accounts differ from later sadness accounts, and also how they differ from accounts of anger experiences across all age groupswe realized that anger accounts typically consist of the construction of a highly agentive "other" who is introduced as the discourse topic.
This construction is in direct service of the discursive act of attributing blame. Sadness scenarios, however, require a deviation from this more prototypical syntactic format. If another person has been introduced in subject slot, and therefore is likely to be taken to be the topic of the account, the narrator has to de-emphasize this person's agency in order to avoid the invocation of blame. It is exactly this problem of re-orientation which younger English- speaking children face in their accounts of their own sadness experiences.
Thus, the confusion in the younger children between being angry and being sad cannot be traced to the general unreadiness of linguistically presenting what has conceptually already been mapped out. Rather, the early underdifferentiation between the two types of accounts lies clearly rooted in the pragmatics of emotion talk, more specifically, in the respective discourse purposes of attributing blame and eliciting empathy. With regard to what it is that pulls the 'confused' child 21 out of the state of underdifferentiation, and pushes toward a higher level of differentiation and as such also to a higher level of integrationwe have no evidence to say for sure.
However, the way we were able to map out the developmental route from a clear state of underdifferentiation to a higher level of making sense of sadness.
First, it shows that modeling emotional development in terms of an 'internalization process' of learning how to feel may not be sufficient. Further, we were able to draw out the limitations of modeling emotional development in strictly cognitive terms. As shown by this study, grammar, if understood correctly, i. To view this process in terms of appropriation rather than internalization gives space for the dialectics involved in the developmental process in general: On the one hand, the grammatical means - so-to-speak - are preformed.
They have their social existence before they are put to use in social practices. It is for exactly this reason that children or others can come to use these tools inappropriately such as in their early sadness constructions in the first person genre. However, they are not predetermining their use apart and independent from their users. The child early on is practicing in a relatively autonomous way with these tools, assembling new construction parts with others that are already successfully in place.
Thus, viewing this process of appropriating linguistic constructions in the determination of emotion meanings as an integral part of learning 'the language' adds an extremely relevant component to emotional development, probably one that is much more central than we were able to imagine thus far.
In addition, and here we admittedly enter more speculative territory, having documented that the differentiation between anger and sad accounts took place developmentally prior in the generalized person, explanatory genre, before it could be appropriated in the first person, past experience narrative genre, one could expect a learning effect spilling from practices in doing talk for 'being descriptive' to doing talk for more involved, interpersonal purposes such as 'blaming', 'saving face', or 'seeking empathy'.
This should not be misunderstood as meaning to imply that those latter purposes are learnt in more detached speech genres first. But in cases where the linguistic procedures relevant for the construction processes of highly involved speech genres constitute a particular problem such as in the case of constructing sad scenarios in the abovepractices in more detached speech genres might enable speakers to sort out the procedures and re-integrate them at a higher level of integration in more involved speech genres.
Taking up on a finding by Stein and her associates that was discussed above in section 1, namely that children younger than in our study were perfectly able to differentiate between the different components that distinguish English anger, sadness, fear, and happiness, which at the same time seems to contradict the findings reported in this section, we are now in a better position to reconsider this seeming contradiction and tie it closer to the concerns of methodology and development.
While one of the important differences between the two studies under consideration is the age of the children, another one is the way the data were elicited. Apart from these two aspects, however, there is a third issue, which concerns the question of which aspects of performance we take to represent relevant developmental strides. Note that the on-line interview technique, used by Stein and her associates, is traditionally employed as a cognitive procedure to test comprehension.
For this purpose it is legitimate to interrupt the natural conversational flow with questions that probe children's 'real' understanding. The discourse mode that is created in this type of interview resembles the way caregivers and children interact in a topic-elaborative style that is quite common in our culture, where the caregivers "build bridges" to test and teach 'knowledge'.
This type of knowledge, though not necessarily of an abstract nature, is nevertheless accessed in a much more detached, quasi descriptive, explanatory mode. In contrast to this type of discourse mode, we found in our own investigation the early "confusion" of anger and sadness scenarios to be grounded in the involved discourse mode, where it was the primary goal to grammaticize the discursive force of the two different emotions.
Thus, we do not see the findings of Stein and her associates contradicting ours. Rather, they complement our own findings in the sense that a more detached discourse mode in both investigations was found to facilitate a clear differentiation of what is underdifferentiated only in the involved first person genre. A person sees someone else as emotional when concept knowledge e.
Affect is often described as a homeostatic barometer that allows an organism to understand whether objects in the world are good for it, bad for it, approachable or avoidable Barrett and Bliss-Moreau, By contrast, exteroceptive sensations provide an organism with a representation of information from the external world outside of the body e.
Exteroceptive sensations contribute to perceptions of emotions in other people via vision, audition, and perhaps even tactile or olfactory sensations but are also often the sources of shifts in core affect e. Importantly, the CAT predicts that both affect and exteroceptive sensations are made meaningful as instances of specific emotional experiences or perceptions using concept knowledge about emotion categories Barrett, a, ; Lindquist, ; also see Russell, ; Clore and Ortony, ; Cunningham et al.
For instance, people may know that the category of fear involves a beating heart, sweaty palms, a knot in the stomach, an urge to flee, and threatening contexts related to various objects e. Still other people might know that fear can variably involve clowns, global warming, public humiliation, and existential concerns. Rather than consisting of a number of prototypes for certain emotions, concept knowledge about emotion is thus thought to consist of populations of instances cf.
Once acquired, concept knowledge serves as a form of a priori information to shape predictions about new interoceptive and exteroceptive sensations, helping the brain understand the meaning of sensations and act on them Bar, ; Barrett,; Clark, In the case of emotion, this means that concept knowledge is used to help make otherwise vague and potentially ambiguous sensations from inside the body affect and outside the body exteroceptive sensations meaningful as instances of specific emotions e.
The resulting emotion is thus an emergent state that is at once affective and conceptual cf. We refer to the process of using knowledge to make meaning of sensations as situated conceptualization, because the concept knowledge accessed to make meaning of sensations is highly situated and dependent on the present context.
Situated conceptualization is a relatively automatic 1 process Wilson-Mendenhall et al. The agreement between members of a culture imbues emotions with social reality—they are real even if the specific categories e. In this sense, the CAT and other constructionist views are quite distinct from other psychological and neuroscience models of emotion, which view emotions as domain-specific, inborn, inherited types that are fundamentally distinct from other types of mental states e.
In such natural kind views, there is no role for language in the constitution of emotion Ekman and Cordaro, ; Panksepp, ; Shariff and Tracy, ; Fontaine et al. In recent years, we have extensively reviewed the literature on language and emotion Barrett et al. These findings suggest that access to the meaning of emotion words and the concepts that they represent is an essential component of understanding the discrete meaning of emotional facial expressions. Individuals who labeled their emotions while completing a stressful mental arithmetic task showed physiological responses consistent with an experience of threat i.
These findings suggest that labeling an unpleasant state as one type of emotional experience vs. Neuroscience evidence also documents a critical link between language and emotion. Growing evidence suggests that using emotion words to label posed emotional facial expressions reduces activity in brain regions associated with uncertainty such as the amygdala Lieberman et al. These findings are consistent with the idea that emotion words help to make meaning of otherwise ambiguous unpleasant vs.
Consistent with the interpretation that language plays a routine role in creating instances of discrete emotion perceptions and experiences, meta-analytic summaries of the neuroimaging literature on emotion reveal that a subset of the brain regions involved during studies of emotion perceptions and experiences are also involved during studies of semantic judgments Lindquist et al. Together, these accumulating sources of evidence suggest that language may not merely impact emotions after the fact.
They instead suggest that language plays an integral role in emotion perceptions and experiences, shaping the nature of the emotion that is perceived or felt in the first place.
Finally, evidence from cross-cultural research is consistent with the idea that language plays a constitutive role in emotion. For instance, speakers of Herero, a dialect spoken by the remote Himba tribe in Namibia, Africa, and American English speakers perceive emotions differently on faces.
When participants were asked to freely sort images of identities making six facial expressions anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and neutral into piles, English-speakers created relatively distinct piles for anger, disgust, fear, sad, happy and neutral faces, but Herero-speakers did not sort in this pattern. Instead Herero-speakers produced piles that reflected multiple categories of facial expressions e.
Importantly, the Herero-speakers sorted similarly to one another, suggesting that they understood the instructions but were using different perceptual cues and perhaps different categories than the English-speakers to guide their sorts Gendron et al.
The existing evidence thus suggests that language plays some role in emotion, but what remains in question is the precise mechanisms by which language does so. The CAT hypothesizes that language helps support the acquisition and use of concept knowledge about emotion, but very little work has directly addressed this hypothesis in relation to emotion, to date. We thus turn now to evidence from developmental and cognitive science demonstrating that language helps individuals represent and use concept knowledge in general, as well as concept knowledge about emotions in particular.
The role of language in emotion: predictions from psychological constructionism
We use this evidence to hypothesize about the mechanisms by which language shapes the acquisition and subsequent use of emotion concept knowledge. Language Supports Conceptual Knowledge of Emotion The CAT makes the unique prediction that language plays a role in emotion because language helps a person to initially acquire and then later support the representations that comprise emotion concept knowledge Lindquist, ; cf. Of course, language likely plays a role in the acquisition and use of all category knowledge see Lupyan, ab ; Borghi and Binkofski, However, we hypothesize that language is especially likely to be implicated in emotion because emotion concepts e.
Words for emotion categories e. Traditionally, researchers assumed that emotion concepts are structured as prototypes Shaver et al. In these models, category knowledge is represented outside the sensory modalities as amodal, symbolic representations see Barsalou, Instead, consistent with recent theories of embodied cognition e. Emotion categories are thus represented as re-enactments of prior interoceptive sensations such as feelings see Barrett and Lindquist, ; Wilson-Mendenhall et al.
Based on evidence that the bodily and exteroceptive concomitants of instances of a single emotion category are highly variable Cacioppo et al. In this view, emotions are not natural kind categories with strong perceptual regularities Barrett, anor are they single prototypes that stand in as typical examples of the rest of the category members Barrett, Unlike concrete categories e.
By contrast, when thinking about arithmetic, brain regions associated with engaging in numerical cognition are activated. Similarly, representations of emotion concepts draw on situations, with representations of fear involving brain networks underlying different types of contexts Wilson-Mendenhall et al. In some instances, brain regions involved in representing fear include those involved in social inference and mentalizing i.
By contrast, other representations of fear involve networks underlying visuospatial attention and action planning i. Abstract concepts can thus be thought of as reconstituted amalgamations of situated experience, and these amalgamations evolve with new experiences and new information from early life across the lifespan Meteyard et al. Consistent with this hypothesis, research finds that lexical access, word comprehension, and memory are generally faster for concrete concepts than abstract ones; however, when situational cues are provided, abstract concepts become just as quickly available as concrete concepts Barsalou and Wiemer-Hastings, Critically to this paper, another key to acquiring and using abstract concepts such as emotion concepts may be language cf.
In the absence of strong statistical regularities based on previous perceptions of concrete objects in the environment, abstract concepts may particularly benefit from language—that is from being associated with the phonological form of a word Barrett and Lindquist, ; Vigliocco et al.
People may integrate in long-term memory two representations from the same emotion category even if they involve different bodily and exteroceptive sensations, contexts, and actions because the label for the emotion links them in memory see Gelman and Markman, ; Borghi and Binkofski, As foreshadowed by early researcher Huntp. To date, research assessing the CAT has focused exclusively on documenting evidence that language plays a role in emotion experiences and perceptions at all.
However, very little research to date has addressed whether language specifically helps individuals acquire and use words to make situated conceptualizations of emotion across development, which might form the ultimate mechanisms by which language shapes emotion.
Growing evidence from developmental and cognitive science demonstrates that words help infants and adults acquire and then use concepts throughout the lifespan; this evidence suggests that language is key to the acquisition of emotion concepts.
We thus turn to this literature to motivate predictions for how words help individuals acquire the emotion concepts that they then use to make situated conceptualizations about emotion. Lessons from Early Development and Adult Cognition Language and the Acquisition of Emotion Concept Knowledge in Infants Understanding how infants and young children use words to learn novel concepts sheds light on how language more generally contributes to the acquisition of concept knowledge, and by extension, concept knowledge about emotion.
Developmental accounts of concept knowledge traditionally assumed that infants are either born with pre-existing knowledge of specific categories a nativist account or learn every category de novo an empiricist account; for discussion, see Xu and Griffiths, Similarly, before the recent emergence of constructionist accounts of emotion, many models of emotion assumed that infants were born with the ability to experience and perceive basic emotions such as fear, sadness, and disgust Izard, ; Ekman and Oster, ; Barrera and Maurer, ; Campos et al.
Probabilistic learning continues across the lifespan and is a fundamental aspect of human cognition Oaksford and Chater, ; Carey, ; Clark, For instance, probabilistic learning may first exert its influence when infants learn to categorize sounds as linguistic vs.
Fetuses exposed to particular phonemes linguistic speech sounds in utero show more neural responsiveness to those phonemes after birth than newborns that were not exposed to such phonemes as fetuses Partanen et al.
This early sensitivity to language suggests that even as neonates, infants bring with them the ability to differentiate and make predictions about different linguistically relevant sounds. Indeed, neonates who are less than a day old already prefer phonemes from their native language to phonemes from a non-native language Moon et al. After birth, infants use the statistical properties of language to help them differentiate between phonemes and extrapolate rules of grammar in their native language Saffran et al.
Just as infants use statistical learning to differentiate words from non-words, they also use probabilistic learning to understand visual sensations in the world around them; these two processes likely co-occur and interact for review, see Bergelson and Swingley, By 3—4 months of age, infants begin to form categories for natural kinds e.
Some concept knowledge for these categories may be developed on the basis of visual statistical regularities alone e. Yet not all categories can be learned on the basis of statistical regularities alone, especially abstract categories, and so it is predicted that infants use the phonological sound of a word as a salient cue for differentiating between sensations in the environment.
Thus, by 9 months of age, infants regularly use words as cues for understanding which objects in the world are similar vs. For example, the presence of two distinct labels helps infants establish a representation that two objects are in fact distinct in an object individuation task Xu, Words seem to be special in this regard; the presence of two different labels facilitates object individuation, but the presence of two distinct tones, two distinct sounds, or two distinct emotional expressions does not 5.
By contrast, when 9-month-old infants hear one label repeated twice, they expect to see two objects that are perceptually similar Dewar and Xu, By around a year of age, infants can use the presence of words to make predictions about the types of stimuli to expect. Twelve-month-old infants will look for two objects when an adult uses two words as opposed to one word to describe objects that are unseen by the infant Xu et al.
Similarly, emotion labels may be an important cue for helping infants and young children understand emotion categories and apply those categories to their own experiences and observations.
Importantly, for abstract concepts that do not have strong perceptual similarities, labels also help infants learn that perceptually distinct objects should be treated as members of the same category.
For instance, in month-olds, linguistic labels can override the perceptual qualities of objects, directing infants to group together objects that do not possess strong perceptual similarities Plunkett et al. When infants are taught to group cartoon creatures possessing various features e. Thus, words not only inform infants about the nature of phenomena they encounter and help them classify what phenomena go together, but words also tell children where to look for boundaries between categories—including categories that might not be perceptually obvious but that are encoded in language Bowerman, ; Roberts and Jacob, Language and the Acquisition of Emotion Concept Knowledge in Young Children Once infants become verbal toddlers, their concepts become honed through bi-directional communication with caregivers.
As infants begin producing words themselves, they have the opportunity to receive more directed feedback from adults as to whether their word-sensation associations map on to the word-sensation associations of adults in their culture. Research from computer simulations suggest that the communicative function of language may be essential for helping humans to develop concept knowledge that is shared with other societal members.
For instance, Steels and Belpaeme programmed artificial intelligence agents in a simulation to each possess the same capabilities for perception, categorization, and naming of colors in the artificial environment. The color space in this artificial environment was a set of continuous wavelengths of light with no statistical regularities in terms of the contexts in which certain color categories appear.
Each agent was furthermore programmed to experientially develop its own unique knowledge of which sensory information corresponded to which categories and words.
In one simulation, the agents merely learned to discriminate a given color from the present sensory array all of color space and named the color based on their personal set of category representations.
The second agent the hearer then had to guess which color the speaker was referring to. If the hearer was successful, it strengthened the association between the word used and its own personal color category knowledge. Yet if the hearer was unsuccessful, it lessened the association between the word used and its own color category knowledge and also created a new association between the word the speaker used and color category knowledge. The authors found that although agents in the first scenario learned to discriminate between different colors and each developed their own set of color category knowledge from the environment, each agent possessed completely different color knowledge when the simulation was over.
By contrast, in the simulation involving communication, all agents eventually possessed the same color knowledge. Importantly, similar results persisted even when statistical regularities were introduced in terms of which colors occurred in which contexts in the artificial environment a situation that likely better approximates the real world.