The Immutability of Valence and Arousal in the Structure of Affect

Williams, L. A. (UNSW Sydney), Bliss-Moreau, E. (UC Davis), Santistevan, A. (UC Davis)

Over the past century, great debate has ensued regarding the fundamental properties of emotion. The idea that two properties—valence and arousal—are two such properties has had substantial staying power in the literature. In two studies, we examined whether a third dimension – reflecting socialness – might arise if stimuli high in that dimension (i.e., “theoretically social emotions”) were included in the task (Studies 1 and 2) and if social information was primed (Study 2). In Study 1 (N = 306), we assessed the dimensional structure of 41 different emotion terms (of which 41% were “social emotions”) based on pair-wise similarity ratings of a subset of the emotion terms. In Studies 2a and 2b (total N = 701), we tested whether priming social information before and during the similarity rating task would shift the emergent dimensional structure of emotion. Across studies, results indicated that the structure of emotion is best described by two dimensions – valence and arousal – and was not influenced by priming social information. Contrary to predictions, evidence did not emerge for a third dimension corresponding to socialness, nor any other property of affect, highlighting the immutability of valence and arousal.


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Feeling Social Symposium