Knowledge of Emotion: Expression and Social Cognition

The Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Knowledge of Emotion (KofE) project began in April 2012 and ran until September 2015. Directed by Joel Smith and Catharine Abell, the project undertook a sustained and comprehensive investigation into the role of emotional expression in social cognition.

It is important to know the emotional state of those around us. We need to know how others are feeling to assess their sincerity and to act rightly towards them. Ethical, legal and political decisions are often highly influenced by judgements about the emotions of others. Those others can be experienced ‘in the flesh’ or represented in various media, including newspapers, television and radio.

Since our social lives are so influenced by such attributions of emotion, it is crucial to know their rational grounds, if we are to distinguish those emotion attributions that qualify as knowledge from those that do not. 

Paradigmatically, emotion attribution is based on emotional expression. Emotion is expressed facially, through vocalisation, action and bodily movement. In such cases, three things combine: emotion, expression and attribution.

We need to understand the nature of these, how they interact and how they constrain each other, if we are to determine the conditions under which expression-based emotion attributions to others constitute knowledge.

The purpose of the project was to combine these in a unified investigation of expression-based knowledge of others’ emotions. The project brought together researchers in a number of fields (social cognition, the emotions, expression) and across disciplines (philosophy, psychology, law).

KofE was a project of the Mind & Language Research Group.