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Auteur: Vanda ZAMMUNER

Knowledge of emotion concepts: structure of basic emotions on the basis of an intensity-level linguistic production task

Abstract/Résumé: What is included in the semantic domain of a target emotion E (family)? As the E lexicon of western languages is rich, are there words (W) that denote (as assessed by consensual language usage) specific features of the target E , such as (variations in) intensity, arousal, etc., and E's causes and consequences? The present study (financed by Fondazione Cariparo) addressed these issues by means of a novel linguistic free-production task. For each target E (happiness, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust) Italian people provided two words, denoting respectively a "higher intensity", and a "lesser intensity" of E. Participants' (N 2.097) productions were checked for spelling errors and grammatical variations were grouped. The results showed that many distinct W (range: about 100-400) were produced for each target E and each 'intensity level'. Rank-order W frequencies (by E and intensity-level) showed that variety rather than consensus was the rule: on average, 0 to 1 W was produced by at least 20% of the sample, 1 to 6 W were produced by at least 5% of the sample, and about 10-20 W were produced by at least 1% of the sample. The total number of distinct W produced by at least 1% to describe "higher intensity" E was generally lower (N 60) than that produced to describe "lesser intensity" E (N 78). The conceptual (content) analysis of W showed that for all emotions and both intensity levels participants often listed, in addition to 'proper' EW depicting variations in 'intensity' and arousal, also W referring to appraisal, hedonic tone, physiological, expressive, and behavioural responses, and finally W referring to eliciting events and to dispositional traits. Individual differences in production (e.g., related to gender and education level) were also explored. The results of the analyses of W productions altogether allow us to depict the prototypical conceptual schema for each target E, both its 'core' and its 'periphery' - e.g., depression, despair, pain, and crying depict the 'core' of high-intensity SADNESS, whereas anguish, loneliness, melancholy, suffering, etc. depict its 'periphery' or the less exemplary emotion-family features; conversely, melancholy, together with sorrow, depict the 'core' of low intensity SADNESS, whereas bitterness, delusion, apathy, bad mood, etc. depict its 'periphery'. The results help us understand (a) how E concepts are structured, (b) what is the 'active' E lexicon in the linguistic community, and (c) enable us to define a data base for a specific language (Italian) as regards the meaning people attach to specific E W (e.g., in relation to "intensity", to how interchangeable words are in actual linguistic usage, and so forth).