Grounding emotion in situated conceptualization

Christine D. Wilson-Mendenhall, Lisa Feldman Barrett, W. Kyle Simmons, Lawrence W. Barsalou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

244 Scopus citations


According to the Conceptual Act Theory of Emotion, the situated conceptualization used to construe a situation determines the emotion experienced. A neuroimaging experiment tested two core hypotheses of this theory: (1) different situated conceptualizations produce different forms of the same emotion in different situations, (2) the composition of a situated conceptualization emerges from shared multimodal circuitry distributed across the brain that produces emotional states generally. To test these hypotheses, the situation in which participants experienced an emotion was manipulated. On each trial, participants immersed themselves in a physical danger or social evaluation situation and then experienced fear or anger. According to Hypothesis 1, the brain activations for the same emotion should differ as a function of the preceding situation (after removing activations that arose while constructing the situation). According to Hypothesis 2, the critical activations should reflect conceptual processing relevant to the emotion in the current situation, drawn from shared multimodal circuitry underlying emotion. The results supported these predictions and demonstrated the compositional process that produces situated conceptualizations dynamically.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1127
Number of pages23
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Conceptual system
  • Embodied cognition
  • Emotion
  • Grounded cognition
  • Situated action


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