Indeterminacy in Emotion Perception

Disorientation as the Norm


  • Ditte Marie Munch-Jurisic University of Copenhagen



Most psychological and philosophical theories assume that we know what we feel. This general view is often accompanied by a range of more specific claims, such as the idea that we experience one emotion at a time and that it is possible to distinguish between emotions based on their cognition, judgment, behavior, or physiology. One common approach is to distinguish emotions based on their motivations. From this perspective, some argue that we can distinguish between emotions based on their ultimate goals. Empathic distress, for instance, has the potential to motivate empathic concerns; personal distress, on the other hand, is self-oriented and motivates egoistic concerns. In this paper, I argue against this and similarly teleological views of emotions and affect. Through a close study of the emotional breakdown of an American drone operator, I make the case that emotion perception entails much more ambiguity than dominant theories assume. In our emotional lives, disorientation and confusion are often the norm.


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