The Circumplex Model of Affect

It has been quite sometime since we posted anything here. Here we go! This time we briefly explain about the circumplex model of affect.

We are familiar with many emotions. Are there any relations among them? Or, are they independent? Happiness and sadness looks dependent such that when one increases, the other decreases and vice versa. What about others like surprise and happiness? We cannot directly state a relation. These kinds of curiosities lead  to the circumplex model of affect.

So, what is circumplex model of affect?

This model postulates that the underlying structure of affective experience can be characterized as an ordering of affective states on the circumference of a circle as shown in the following figure.

Circumplex Model

Figure: The Circumplex Model of Affect [Promises and Problems with the Circumplex Model of Emotion,” by R. J. Larson and E. Diener, in M. S. Clark (Ed.), 1992, Review of Personality and Social Psychology: Emotion (Vol. 13, p. 31), Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Copyright 1992 by Sage]

Originally proposed by Schlosberg [Schlosberg, H. (1941). A scale for the judgment of facial expressions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 29, 497-510., Schlosberg, H. (1952). The description of facial expression in terms of two dimensions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 44, 229-237.], this model is most extensively elaborated upon by Russell [Russell, J. A., & Pratt, G. (1980). A description of the affective quality attributed to environments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,38, 311-322].

According to this model, affective states should have decreasing positive correlations with one another as their separation from one another approaches 90°. At 90° separation, two affective states should be uncorrelated with one another. As the separation approaches 180°, affective states should have increasing negative correlations with one another. Here we can observe that it is plotted in a two dimensional scale (positive – negative and high arousal – low arousal). The following figure shows 28 affect words plotted in this scale.

28 Affect
28 Affect

Figure: 28 affect concepts in circular order [Russel, J Al, A circumplex model of affect, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1980, Vol. 39, No. 6, pages 1161 – 1178].

There are some criticisms against this model. The criticisms are that the two dimensional representation fails to capture important aspects of emotional experience and therefore sometimes does not reflect crucial differences among some emotions, the model was formulated on the basis of a selection of emotions that was not guided by systematic sampling or clear theoretical guidelines, different versions of the model sometimes postulate different locations for affective states and that empirically affective states are not always located in their predicted regions of the circle, etc.

Emotion and Reasoning

We are familiar with emotions. We are familiar with reasoning as well. What is the connection between the two? Are they related? If yes, how closely are they related? Isn’t it interesting to think this way?

Even though they seem to be completely different things, they share a wonderful relationship.

Have you thought why our emotions are different when an accident happens to a stranger compared to when an accident happens to our dear one?

In the second case, the dear one is more relevant to us. Hence any mishaps to the dear one are also more relevant to us.

Here we can see the role of reasoning in emotion. Before an emotion is onset, so many factors are considered and reasoned. In this example, when we witness an accident, our mind picks up a lot of information about the accident. It checks whether the event (in this case, accident) is relevant to us or not; if yes, how good or bad is it for our survival, etc. Now, our own situation is considered like what is the level of the resources (like physical energy, possibility for help, self-confidence, etc.) available in us. According to our own state and the nature of the event, it is decided how much active we should become and how much should we be defensive, aggressive, etc. This decides on our emotional state. Of course this reasoning can happen both consciously and subconsciously. Anyway, here we can see that emotional process uses reasoning as a tool to decide on the emotional state.

Similarly, there is a role for emotion in reasoning as well. Reasoning is always dependent on the emotional state when it is done. For example, your friend would react in different ways if you mock him when he is happy compared to you mocking him when he is angry.  This shows the difference in his reasoning under the influence of different emotions. Another influence emotion has on reasoning is through goal management. Here, the word goal means aim – the thing that we want to do. Emotion has a big role in deciding or managing our goals. The best example is revenge. A person takes revenge because of his anger, sadness, frustration, etc. Here, these emotions set a goal in the person’s mind to harm the other person involved. Now, his entire reasoning is with respect to this goal. Hence emotion influences the way we do reasoning.

We can see that emotions and reasoning are interlinked and interlaced. They support each other, they complement each other; sometimes they also oppose each other. All these happen at different levels of reasoning and emotions. Isn’t that a beautiful relationship?

What is emotion?

There are a lot of words related to emotions that we use every day – happy, sad, confused, wonder, contented, etc. we never had any doubt about what they mean. When we use these words to communicate, we never doubted whether the other person will understand it or not.

What comes to our mind when we hear these words?

For example, what comes to our mind when we hear the word ‘happiness’?

It must be a smile or laughter. We remember cry or a frown face when we hear the word ‘sad’.

Is this what emotion is all about?

Definitely not.

According to Nico H Frijda, there are three components for emotions.

  1. Behavior/expression
  2. Subjective experience
  3. Physiological responses

Laughter, cry, smile, frown, etc. are behaviors that are associated with certain emotions. Apart from these expressions, we can observe bigger and more significant behaviors also as part of emotional behaviors, like throwing something when angry, patting a pet when affectionate, etc.

Apart from these, there are feelings or experiences that are associated with each emotion. It is very difficult for someone to explain this experience even though everyone experiences it. It is more like ‘the self’ or the ‘I’ within us experiences the emotion. This is evident when someone explains their emotional state like “I feel sad”, “I feel happy”, etc. The assumption is that if people emphasize on “I feel…” there must be something special about that feeling.

Another thing that comes into picture is physiological responses. For example, shivering, palpitations, etc. We use some nice phrases to represent the physiological changes.  ‘Broken heart’, ‘butterflies in the stomach’, etc., are some phrases we use to explain some of these states.

When we face an event, we generate all the three mentioned above as a response to what we face. This phenomenon is called emotion.