Claims about how reported emotional experiences are geometrically organized within a semantic space have shaped the study of emotion. Using statistical methods to analyze reports of emotional states elicited by 2,185 emotionally evocative short videos with richly varying situational content, we uncovered 27 varieties of reported emotional experience. Reported experience is better captured by categories such as “amusement” than by ratings of widely measured affective dimensions such as valence and arousal. Although categories are found to organize dimensional appraisals in a coherent and powerful fashion, many categories are linked by smooth gradients, contrary to discrete theories. Our results comprise an approximation of a geometric structure of reported emotional experience.Abstract
Emotions are centered in subjective experiences that people represent, in part, with hundreds, if not thousands, of semantic terms. Claims about the distribution of reported emotional states and the boundaries between emotion categories—that is, the geometric organization of the semantic space of emotion—have sparked intense debate. Here we introduce a conceptual framework to analyze reported emotional states elicited by 2,185 short videos, examining the richest array of reported emotional experiences studied to date and the extent to which reported experiences of emotion are structured by discrete and dimensional geometries. Across self-report methods, we find that the videos reliably elicit 27 distinct varieties of reported emotional experience. Further analyses revealed that categorical labels such as amusement better capture reports of subjective experience than commonly measured affective dimensions (e.g., valence and arousal). Although reported emotional experiences are represented within a semantic space best captured by categorical labels, the boundaries between categories of emotion are fuzzy rather than discrete. By analyzing the distribution of reported emotional states we uncover gradients of emotion—from anxiety to fear to horror to disgust, calmness to aesthetic appreciation to awe, and others—that correspond to smooth variation in affective dimensions such as valence and dominance. Reported emotional states occupy a complex, high-dimensional categorical space. In addition, our library of videos and an interactive map of the emotional states they elicit (https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/emogifs/map.html) are made available to advance the science of emotion.