Are Emotions Natural Kinds

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  • Barrett, L.F.
  • 2006
  • Barrett 2006
  • Are Emotions Natural Kinds?
  • Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 28-58
  • Laypeople and scientists alike believe that they know anger, or sadness, or fear, when they see it. These emotions and a few others are presumed to have specific causal mechanisms in the brain and properties that are observable (on the face, in the voice, in the body, or in experience) – that is, they are assumed to be natural kinds. If a given emotion is a natural kind and can be identified objectively, then it is possible to make discoveries about emotion. Indeed, the scientific study of emotion is founded on this assumption. In this article, I review the accumulating empirical evidence that is inconsistent with the view that there are kinds of emotion with boundaries that are carved in nature. I then consider what moving beyond a natural-kind view might mean for the scientific understanding of emotion.
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