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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Explaining emotions

  • Author(s): O'Rorke, Paul;
  • Ortony, Andrew
  • et al.

Emotions and cognition are inextricably intertwined. Feelings influence thoughts and actions, which in turn give rise to new emotional reactions. We claim that people infer emotional states in others using common-sense psychological theories of the interactions between emotions, cognition, and action. We present a situation calculus theory of emotion elicitation representating knowledge underlying common-sense causal reasoning involving emotions. We show how the theory can be used to construct explanations of emotional states. The method for constructing explanations is based on the notion of abduction. This method has been implemented in a computer program called AbMaL. The results of computational experiments using AbMaL to construct explanations of examples based on cases taken from a diary study of emotions indicate that the abductive approach to explanatory reasoning about emotions offers significant advantages. We found that the majority of the diary study examples cannot be explained using deduction alone, but they can be explained by making abductive inferences. These inferences provide useful information relevant to emotional states.

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