Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 271-302

First online:

From appraisal to emotion: Differences among unpleasant feelings

  • Phoebe C. EllsworthAffiliated withStanford University
  • , Craig A. SmithAffiliated withStanford University

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Recent research has indicated strong relations between people's appraisals of their circumstances and their emotional states. The present study examined these relations across a range of unpleasant situations in which subjects experienced complex emotional blends. Subjects recalled unpleasant experiences from their pasts that were associated with particular appraisals and described their appraisals and emotions during these experiences. Situations defined by particular appraisals along the human agency or situational control dimensions were reliably associated with different levels of anger, sadness, and guilt, as predicted. However, predicted differences in emotion were not observed for situations selected for appraisals along the certainty or attention dimensions. Most subjects reported experiencing blends of two or more emotions, and correlation/regression analyses indicated that even in the context of these blends, patterns of appraisal similar to those observed previously (Smith & Ellsworth, 1985, 1987) characterized the experience of the individual emotions. The regressions further indicated that appraisals along some dimensions were more important to the experience of particular emotions than were appraisals along other dimensions. Thesecentral appraisals are compared with the adaptive functions their associated emotions are believed to serve, and the implications of these findings are discussed.