Conceptual Structure of Emotions

Alexandra E. Kelly, Yoed N. Kenett, John D. Medaglia, Jamie J. Reilly, Priya Dudhat, Evangelia G. Chrysikou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theories of semantic organization have historically prioritized investigation of concrete concepts pertaining to inanimate objects and natural kinds. As a result, accounts of the conceptual representation of emotions have almost exclusively focused on their juxtaposition with concrete concepts. The present study aims to fill this gap by deriving a large set of normative feature data for emotion concepts and assessing similarities and differences between the featural representation of emotion, nonemotion abstract, and concrete concepts. We hypothesized that differences between the experience of emotions (e.g., happiness and sadness) and the experience of other abstract concepts (e.g., equality and tyranny), specifically regarding the relative importance of interoceptive states, might drive distinctions in the dimensions along which emotion concepts are represented. We also predicted, based on constructionist views of emotion, that emotion concepts might demonstrate more variability in their representation than concrete and other abstract concepts. Participants listed features which we coded into discrete categories and contrasted the feature distributions across conceptual types. Analyses revealed statistically significant differences in the distribution of features among the category types by condition. We also examined variability in the features generated, finding that, contrary to expectation, emotion concepts were associated with less variability. Our results reflect subtle differences between the structure of emotion concepts and the structure of, not only concrete concepts, but also other abstract concepts. We interpret these findings in the context of our sample, which was restricted to native English speakers, and discuss the importance of validating these findings across speakers of different languages.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date18 Apr 2024
StateE-pub ahead of print - 18 Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 American Psychological Association


  • abstract concepts
  • emotions
  • feature analysis


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