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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Emotions as the product of body and mind: The hierarchical structure of folk concepts of mental life among US adults and children

  • Author(s): Weisman, Kara;
  • Dweck, Carol;
  • Markman, Ellen M
  • et al.

How are emotions understood to relate to other aspects of mental life? Among US adults, concepts of mental life are anchored by a distinction between physiological sensations (BODY), social-emotional abilities (HEART), and perceptual-cognitive capacities (MIND); these conceptual units are in place by 7-9y (Weisman et al., 2017a, 2017b, 2018). Here we reanalyze these datasets to explore the structural relationships among BODY, HEART, and MIND. Across six studies (N=1758), adults’ assessments of the mental lives of robots, beetles, birds, goats, and other entities revealed a clear hierarchical structure: social-emotional abilities were virtually never granted to any entity perceived to lack physiological sensations or perceptual-cognitive abilities. This is consistent with a folk theory—similar to prominent theories in affective science—in which emotions emerge from the combination of more basic capacities for sensation and cognition. Studies of US children (4-9y, N=445) suggest that it takes years for children to acquire this understanding.

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