A Constructivist Theory of Emotion
George Mandler Center for Human Information Processing, University of California, San Diego
A cognitive theory of emotion (in this case discrepancy/evaluation theory) is concerned with the representations and processes that construct emotional experience. Its main focus must be on problems of representation, on the way emotion-relevant information is processed, and on the way unified emotional conscious contents are constructed. The intent of this chapter is to amplify an approach to emotional experience that has been in the process of development for over 25 years--and still is ( Mandler, 1962, 1964, 1975, 1980, 1984).
I start with a short summary of the constituents of emotional experience, with special emphasis on evaluative knowledge as the source of "affective" information. I also discuss some ideas about the functions of consciousness (the "constitutive problem of psychology"; Miller, 1985). I then discuss some possible (and actual) criticisms of discrepancy/evaluation theory. The following sections are concerned with extensions of the theory. I present some new data on "affective" processing, showing once more that the inclusion of "affect" slows processing of simple informational tasks. In addition, data are presented on the supposed separability of cognitive and affective processes. Next, I briefly discuss extensions of discrepancy theory and conclude with some speculations about evolutionary aspects of human emotion.
Before I start on this journey, a brief word about the use of the word affect. Unfortunately it has meant many things to many people, ranging from hot to cold interpretations. At the hot end it has been used coextensively with emotion, implying an intensity dimension; at the cold end it is frequently used without