, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 271-302

From appraisal to emotion: Differences among unpleasant feelings

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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.

This research was supported in part by a Stanford University graduate fellowship and in part by a National Institute of Mental Health training grant to Craig Smith. Part of the writing was done while Phoebe Ellsworth was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and by the James McKeen Cattell Fund.