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  • Ways of Knowing Emotion, and What You Don't Know about Your Own Emotions:The Case of Kama Muta
  • Alan Page Fiske (bio)


We have emotions, but in what ways do we know or not know them? Emotions have many facets—I will characterize 13 of them—each of which a person may know or not know. These ways of knowing are dissociable—one may know an emotion in any of these ways without necessarily knowing the emotion in any other given manner. Indeed, it is rare to know even one's own emotion in all of these ways at once. And one never is certain of all these facets in another person's emotions.

Five of these ways of knowing an emotion concern aspects of the emotion itself:

  1. (1). the interpreted perception that evokes the emotion (sometimes called the appraisal);

  2. (2). labels one uses to name it;

  3. (3). the sensations and signs of the emotion, including gestures and nonverbal utterances;

  4. (4). its valence (positivity and/or negativity of one kind or another); and [End Page 171]

  5. (5). the motives that the emotion gives rise to (which one may not be aware of or, if aware, not fully able to articulate).

On any occasion, or in general, one may or may not be aware of any one of these aspects of even one's own emotion and in that respect know or not fully know the emotion. For example, if one has sensations or makes gestures, one may attend to and acknowledge them. Or one may not be aware of some or all of one's sensations and gestures, and hence in that particular respect not know the emotion.

There is a temporal dimension to knowing these five aspects of an emotion. One may know or not know any of these aspects of the emotion in the moment as immediate current experiences; as memories; or subjunctively, as plans, hopes, imagined or fictionally represented occurrences. In important respects imagination, memory, and even perception are constructive processes, based on implicit and explicit culturally informed and experientially developed models. So when one's models of an emotion generate a nonveridical construction of an emotional moment, one's knowledge of it is distorted, confabulated, or incomplete.

This leads us to the observation that living in the world can affect a person in six more ways that cognitive psychologists call memory systems. Each of these six memory systems is a way of knowing. Two of them are conscious and more or less articulable, hence they are called declarative or explicit memory systems. The first of the two is episodic mnemonic knowledge of an event or story, such as memory of the first time you kissed someone romantically. The other kind of declarative memory is knowledge of an idea, or having a belief; this is the seventh way of knowing an emotion, consisting of semantic conceptual knowledge, such as, for example, the concept of "falling in love."

Four of the effects of living in the world are not readily accessible to consciousness and not directly or reliably articulable, so they are called nondeclarative or implicit memory systems. One (the eighth way [End Page 172] of knowing) is perceptual representation of the overall sensory structure or gestalt of something, such that, for example, you recognize an emotion by just one slight sensation. A second implicit kind of memory (the ninth way of knowing) is classical conditioning, such that, for example, hearing a song that you used to dance to with your first love evokes the emotion you felt then. You can also have the habit of doing something or the competence to do it; this (the tenth way of knowing) is procedural memory, also known as habitus, practice, or praktognosia. For example, you may be able to make people feel welcome and cozy—without knowing how you do it, and perhaps without even knowing that you habitually do so. The fourth kind of implicit memory (the eleventh way of knowing) is operant conditioning, which consists of skills or habits that have been shaped by patterns of rewards or punishments that you may not have consciously noticed. Again, you might not even...


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pp. 171-195
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