Making Sense Out of Emotion: The Representation and Use of Goal-structured Knowledge
Nancy L. Stein
Linda J. Levine
University of Chicago
This chapter focuses on the representation of emotional experience and the way in which emotion and thought are interrelated. We present a model that specifies the type of knowledge acquired about emotion, the way in which this knowledge is organized, and how it is used to regulate behavior. We describe the thinking that occurs during emotion episodes and the way in which thought and emotion influence each other. We also illustrate how emotional behavior is perceived and understood by both children and adults, and we show how differences in values and beliefs lead to variation in emotional responses. As such we address issues related to both learning and development.
Our model of emotion is based on a goal-directed, problem-solving approach to the study of personal and social behavior. We assume that much of behavior is carried out in the service of achieving and maintaining goal states that ensure survival and adaptation to the environment. A basic tenant underlying this belief ( Stein & Levine, 1987, in press) is that people prefer to be in certain states (i.e., pleasure) and prefer to avoid other states (i.e., pain). A second assumption is that when people experience unpleasant states, they attempt to regulate and change them. One way of achieving this change is to represent a state, called a goal. A goal state can then be used to initiate action or thinking that results in the desired internal state change.
A critical dimension in defining and describing emotional experience, therefore, focuses on the concept of change. Representing and evaluating change with respect to how valued goals have been affected is seen as a necessary prerequisite for experiencing and regulating emotion. As such, our theory is oriented toward a specification of the process by which changes in goal states are detected and