also share a common set of beliefs about the nature of emotion: emotions are categories with firm boundaries that can be observed in nature (i.e., in the brain or body) and are therefore recognized, not constructed, by the human mind. People know an instance of anger when they see it in the face, voice, or body of another person or feel it in themselves.
In this paper I argue that despite the general importance of emotion in the science of the mind and the ever increasing pace of research on emotion, knowledge about emotion has accumulated more slowly than for other comparable concepts, such as memory or attention, because the acceptance of these commonsense assumptions are not warranted by the available empirical evidence. I then consider what moving beyond a commonsense view might look like and what it would mean for the scientific study of emotion.
The received wisdom in psychology is that the science of emotion began with a golden age, with Darwin’s (1859/1965) publication of Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, where he wrote that emotions cause stereotypic bodily expressions. Darwin’s book was followed by James’ 1884 critique, What Is an Emotion?, in which James argued that bodily activity causes emotion, not the other way around. James, in turn, was criticized by Cannon in his 1927 paper, The James-Lange Theory of Emotions: A Critical Examination and an Alternative Theory, in which Cannon argued that the body cannot cause emotion because visceral changes are too slow and too difficult to feel and that the same visceral changes occur in both emotional and nonemotional states. Psychology, the story goes, by then in the grip of behaviorism, sank into the dark ages and did not produce anything worthwhile on the topic of emotion for about 40 years, except for some important neurobiology papers by Papez (1937) and MacLean (1949).
In the conventional story, a renaissance period then emerged in the 1960s, first with Magda Arnold’s 1960 Emotion and Personality, followed by Tomkins 1962 and 1963 books on Affect-Imagery-Consciousness. Schachter and Singer’s 1962 paper, Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of an Emotional State, was also published around this time. According to many, these works rescued the scientific study of emotion from the abyss of behaviorism and launched the modern era of scientific research on emotion.
Sylvan Tomkins became the inspiration for what has been called the “basic emotion” approach. Basic emotion models share the core assumption that there are certain biologically privileged kinds of emotion. Each