Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

What are emotional mechanisms?

    Mikko Salmela University of Helsinki & Alessandro Salice, University College Cork

Date: 27 November 2019

Time: 15:00

Place: Seminari de Filosofia UB


The talk develops a theory of emotional mechanisms (“EMs”) in two steps. In the first, we introduce three examples of EMs and in the second we offer our account of EMs.

The three examples are:


 • The first example is inspired by the sour grapes’ scenario: in t person P envies rival R, meaning that P desires a good G owned by R. P’s emotion of envy is subsequently (in t’) transformed into commiseration (or moral indignation).

 • The second example is about P reacting in t with anger at a wrongdoing performed by R against P. The emotion of anger towards R is subsequently (in t’) transformed into hatred towards R.

 • In the third example, person P responds with emotion e to p at t. After entering group X, P responds with emotion f towards p at t´ as it is rational for members of X. 


In the second part, we claim that the three scenarios are different kinds of emotional mechanisms. What makes them instances of emotional mechanisms is the fulfillment of three conditions

First, the emotion felt by P in t causes emotional dissonance. Emotional dissonance is a hedonically negative phenomenon, which is defined as the sense of impotence or powerlessness which is elicited by the (perceived) inability to (i) act upon the action tendencies of an emotion or (ii) to express the emotion if this is socio-culturally stigmatized (as is the case with envy). Importantly, the sense of impotence or powerlessness produce a negative evaluation of the self.

In envy, the action tendency is to destroy G owned by R or to achieve G oneself. In anger, the relevant action tendency is to punish R, thereby provoking change in R´s behavior. In the third example, there is a thwarted action tendency or emotional expression in relation to e towards p, which motivates P to affiliate with group X from whose intentional perspective P can feel f towards p.

The second condition is that, in order to resolve emotional dissonance, P revises some evaluative states. These states are long-standing concerns, as in example 1 and 3, or emotional evaluation of the emotion’s target, as in 2. Revision of concerns or emotional evaluations takes time (being partially unconscious), which distinguishes emotional mechanisms from short-term strategies of emotion regulation (Gross 1998).

Finally, the third condition is this: Emotional dissonance dissolves because, based on these newly acquired evaluative states, P emotes in t’ in a way that does not cause a sense of impotence and negative evaluation of the self anymore.