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Emotional sharing and the extended mind

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Abstract

This article investigates the relationship between emotional sharing and the extended mind thesis. We argue that shared emotions are socially extended emotions that involve a specific type of constitutive integration between the participating individuals’ emotional experiences. We start by distinguishing two claims, the Environmentally Extended Emotion Thesis and the Socially Extended Emotion Thesis (Sect. 1). We then critically discuss some recent influential proposals about the nature of shared emotions (Sect. 2). Finally, in Sect. 3, we motivate two conditions that an account of shared emotions ought to accommodate: (i) Reciprocal Other-awareness and (ii) Integration. Consideration of (ii) and discussion of relational accounts of joint attention lead us to the proposal that a construal of socially extended emotions in terms of a constitutive integration of the participating individuals’ experiences is more promising than proposals that simply appeal to various forms of social situatedness, embeddedness, or scaffolding.

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Notes

  1. First-, second- and third-wave construals are typically presented if not as exclusive at least as substitutive accounts (cf. Menary 2007, 2010).

  2. For an internalist criticism of the extended consciousness claim, see Horgan and Kriegel (2008).

  3. As this list makes evident, any comprehensive investigation of the Extended Emotion Thesis would have to consider a whole series of interrelated phenomena. Compare, for instance, emotions that are merely triggered or enhanced by social factors with emotions that are more robustly structured by social scaffolding. Clearly, a case where my distress is enhanced by the distress of five other people in a waiting room, who also missed their transatlantic flight, must be distinguished from the case where one feels embarrassment as the result of unwanted social attention. The latter must on its part be distinguished from a consideration of the ‘enculturation’ of many of our emotions, such as shame, guilt, or embarrassment (Parkinson et al. 2005; Cole et al. 2006). Whereas, say, embarrassment qua intrinsically social emotion might be constitutively dependent upon the existence of a concrete social relation, contrition or patriotism might be felt in the absence of concrete others, even if their formation and acquisition are constitutively dependent upon specific socio-cultural configurations (Tracy et al. 2007).

  4. For a similar distinction, see Krueger (2014).

  5. A few noticeable exceptions include Krueger (2014), Slaby (2014) and Stephan et al. (2014). However, as we shall see, these proposals exhibit some shortcomings when it comes to specifying the precise criteria for social extension.

  6. To be sure, there are a number of other contemporary authors who have engaged in thorough analyses of emotional sharing. First and foremost, one should mention here Gilbert (2002, 2014) and Salmela (2012, 2014; Salmela and Nagatsu 2016a, b). Concerning Gilbert, as shall become clear in the following, our account significantly diverges from her normativist one. For a more detailed criticism of Gilbert’s account of emotional sharing, see Szanto forthcoming. As for Salmela, and this will become clearer below (Sect. 3), we consider our account complementary to his.

  7. See also Schmid (forthcoming). Incidentally, we are not convinced that this view is correctly ascribed to Scheler. For a different interpretation of the Scheler quote, see Zahavi (2014, p. 245) and Krebs (2015, pp. 112–124).

  8. By ‘mutual awareness of sharing’ we mean that the fact of sharing an experience is mutually manifest or ‘out in the open’ for the involved subjects. Such mutual manifestation might be established, for example, by a “sharing look” (Carpenter and Liebal 2011). Mutual awareness of sharing differs from having common knowledge about the shared experience, if one understands common knowledge as essentially involving iterative epistemic states (following Schiffer 1972 and, on one interpretation of his account, Lewis 1969).

  9. This relational approach stands in contrast to the reductionist approach advocated by Peacocke (2005). According to Peacocke, it would be possible to characterize each subject’s psychological state in joint attention independently of the fact that she is co-attending with someone else, by appealing to what he terms ascriptive interpersonal self-consciousness, i.e., “awareness that one features, oneself, in someone else’s consciousness” (Peacocke 2014, p. 2). The contrast between Peacocke’s and Campbell’s accounts of joint attention is rooted in the contrast between a representationalist and a relationalist view of perceptual experience. It is worth noting that in spite of their contrasting accounts of joint attention, both Peacocke and Campbell concur in thinking of joint attention as more primitive than common knowledge (see previous footnote) (Campbell 2005, p. 295; Peacocke 2005, p. 299), and as a personal-level phenomenon (Campbell 2011, p. 416; Peacocke 2005, p. 301).

  10. One of the supporting ideas of Campbell’s account of joint attention is that unless we think of the latter in relational terms, as a primitive relation, we would have a hard time making sense of the idea that subjects can be engaged in it without entertaining states of implausible complexity. A further motivation is a relational, acquaintance-based view of perceptual experience (of which the relational approach to joint attention is an extension, see Campbell 2002). For a more detailed discussion of Campbell’s relational approach to joint attention, vis-à-vis other approaches to it, see León (2016).

  11. To be clear, the idea here is not that all instances of joint attention involve an affective component, but that they often do (as highlighted by developmental research, see Hobson 2002).

  12. Notice that there is nothing in this requirement that rules out mistakes. I might believe that others are feeling like me and that we are having a shared emotion, but be mistaken about what they feel, and consequently be mistaken about there actually being a shared emotion. Other possible mistakes include what might be called ‘shared emotions-in-the-vat scenarios’, or various real-life cases of, say, solitary terrorist perpetrators, who, due to some psycho-pathological or ideological delusions, affectively identify with an imaginary group of collaborators or fellow travelers (or ‘fellow-feelers’).

  13. This is not to rule out that affective mimicry may be concomitantly present in shared emotions. Indeed, there might be good empirical reasons to think that processes of interpersonal synchronization and attunement greatly facilitate emotional integration and interpersonal identification in cases of shared emotions involving the co-presence of the participating individuals (see Hatfield et al. 2014; Salmela and Nagatsu 2016a, b). Moreover, we concede that affective mimicry and emotional contagion may be genetic or developmental precursors to shared emotions. And notice that also classical phenomenologists such as Scheler (2008), Walther (1923) or Stein (1922) would readily accept this. But our point is that processes of affective mimicry and emotional contagion do not constitute a necessary requirement for and certainly do not in and of themselves amount to emotional sharing.

  14. One consequently has to allow for a certain continuum in the degrees of sharedness, as also suggested by other authors (Salmela 2012, 2014; Salmela and Nagatsu 2016a, b).

  15. What about the case of a consenting sadomasochist couple in which both parties gain pleasure from their interaction and co-regulate their pleasure, even if they draw pleasure from opposite actions within their interaction? One way of marking the difference between this case and the rapist case is by saying that emotional convergence, understood as an overarching integration of complementary emotional experiences, is not foreclosed in the former case. (Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pressing this point).

  16. Salmela and Nagatsu talk about “mutual awareness” of shared emotional appraisal and affective experience among the participants in a shared emotion (Salmela and Nagatsu 2016a, p. 9; Salmela and Nagatsu 2016b, p. 36, 40), but leave the notion of mutual awareness unspecified. Likewise, as previously suggested, their reference to processes of interpersonal affective synchrony differs from what we mean by emotional integration (see above footnote 13).

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for Synthese, for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. Felipe León gratefully acknowledges the support from the University of Copenhagen’s Excellence Program for Interdisciplinary Research to the 2013–2016 project “The disrupted ‘we’: Shared intentionality and its psychopathological distortions”. Thomas Szanto’s work on this paper was funded by his European Union (EU) Horizon-2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship project SHARE (655067): Shared Emotions, Group Membership, and Empathy.

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León, F., Szanto, T. & Zahavi, D. Emotional sharing and the extended mind. Synthese 196, 4847–4867 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1351-x

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