Learning situated emotions

Lauren A.M. Lebois, Christine D. Wilson-Mendenhall, W. Kyle Simmons, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Lawrence W. Barsalou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


From the perspective of constructivist theories, emotion results from learning assemblies of relevant perceptual, cognitive, interoceptive, and motor processes in specific situations. Across emotional experiences over time, learned assemblies of processes accumulate in memory that later underlie emotional experiences in similar situations. A neuroimaging experiment guided participants to experience (and thus learn) situated forms of emotion, and then assessed whether participants tended to experience situated forms of the emotion later. During the initial learning phase, some participants immersed themselves in vividly imagined fear and anger experiences involving physical harm, whereas other participants immersed themselves in vividly imagined fear and anger experiences involving negative social evaluation. In the subsequent testing phase, both learning groups experienced fear and anger while their neural activity was assessed with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A variety of results indicated that the physical and social learning groups incidentally learned different situated forms of a given emotion. Consistent with constructivist theories, these findings suggest that learning plays a central role in emotion, with emotion adapted to the situations in which it is experienced.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106637
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Constructivist theories
  • Emotion
  • Learning
  • Situated cognition
  • Situated conceptualization


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