Emotions in the Body and World

Emotions in the Body and World

Prof Giovanna Colombetti
University of Exeter


In recent years the affective sciences, including the psychology and philosophy of emotion, have re-evaluated the role of the body in emotion; accordingly, I think it is fair to say that today it is uncontroversial for affective scientists to view emotions as centrally involving a variety of bodily changes. However, this was not always the case. Cognitive approaches to emotion in philosophy and psychology that were particularly influential in the 1960s and 1970s characterized the body as either merely a contingent concomitant of emotional states, or as contributing at most to the intensity of felt emotions. After briefly discussing this cognitive approach, I present more recent approaches and explain in which sense they involve a re-appreciation of the role of the body in emotion. Here I argue that, from an embodied-mind perspective, even if these more recent approaches regard the body as central and even necessary for emotion, they still assume a dichotomy between the cognitive and the bodily components of emotion. This dichotomy implies that cognition is itself not embodied, and that the body is itself unable to provide meaning. This division is reflected in so-called “componential models” of emotion popular in psychology, for example, as well as in some recent proposals, in philosophy, to reconcile somatic and feeling theories of emotion with cognitive theories of emotion. My own view is that the embodied-mind perspective ought to give up on this dichotomy of the body vs. cognition that is still influential in emotion theory and affective science. Instead, we should characterize the cognitive aspects of emotion as embodied, and the bodily aspects of emotion as cognitive. I say something in more detail about this view, and provide related references. Towards the end of the presentation I briefly list other issues that, in my opinion, are topical for an embodied approach to emotion. This includes referring to recent works that argue that emotions involve not just the body, but also parts of the world located beyond the skin—in other words that emotions are not just embodied but also extended.


Further questions

  1. Are emotions embodied mental states? If so, in which sense? In particular, if emotions are embodied mental states, how can they also be about objects/situations in the world?

  2. Can emotions “extend” beyond the skin? If so, how?

  3. Can emotions be intersubjectively shared? If so, how? Do groups have emotions?

  4. Does affectivity reduce to emotion? Are there are affective states that are notemotions? If so, which ones? (possible candidates:moods; affective dispositions;motivational states). What is the relation among these affective states and emotions?

  5. Is cognition distinct from emotion/affectivity? Inparticular, if we conceive ofcognition as embodied, does that affect how we think of it in relation to emotion/affectivity?

  6. Does the experience of emotion necessarily involvesome kind of bodily experience?

  7. How is the body experienced when we undergo an emotional experience? And does this experience also include at the same time an experience of the world? Or are the two experiences distinct from one another?

  8. How do we experience other people? In particular, how are our (and other people’s)bodies involved in our experience of other people? And even more specifically, are our bodies involved in how we make sense and empathize with others’ emotions/affective states? If so, how?


Essential readings


Secondary readings

  • Colombetti, G., & Krueger, J. (2014). Scaffoldings of the affective mind. Philosophical Psychology, 0(0), 1–20. doi:10.1080/09515089.2014.976334

  • Colombetti, G., & Roberts, T. (2014). Extending the extended mind: the case for extended affectivity. Philosophical Studies. doi:10.1007/s11098-014-0347-3

  • Damasio, A. R. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness. London: Vintage.

  • Gibbs, R. W. (2006). Embodiment and cognitive science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 8.

  • Griffiths, P., & Scarantino, A. (2009). Emotions in the wild: the situated perspective on emotion. In P. Robbins & M. Aydede (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of situated cognition (pp. 437–453). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Krueger, J. (2014a). Affordances and the musically extended mind. Frontiers in Psychology, 4.

  • Niedenthal, P. M. (2007). Embodying emotion. Science, 316, 1002–1005.

  • Scheve, C. von, & Salmela, M. (Eds.). (2014). Collective Emotions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Slaby, J. (2008). Affective intentionality and the feeling body. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 7(4), 429–444.

  • Stephan, A., Walter, S., & Wilutzky, W. (2014). Emotions beyond brain and body. Philosophical Psychology, 27(1), 98–111.

  • Thompson, E. (2007). Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chapters 12 & 13.