General background

Here is a list (to be completed) of important background material for anyone interested in understanding emotions.

"Everybody knows what emotions are but no one knows how to define them ..." is a favorite reaction to the statement that one is doing research on emotions. In fact, a simple, comprehensive and generally acceptable definition of emotions seems elusive. Nevertheless, reading the categorized list of emotion definitons by Kleinginna and Kleinginna (1981) provides an overview of relevant phenomena that should be taken into account. It is trivial to say that emotions are a complex phenomenon. Yet, the list of these definitions probably captures all the facets that are important.

Having a starting point to start somewhere is always good. The case for universal and biologically given emotions might be such a starting point .


Look at this well-known figure, ask yourself what emotions they reveal and consider that your answer is confirmed by basically all inhabitants of this planet.

When trying to theorize about emotions, it is also a good idea to keep in mind that factor analysis seems to suggest that emotions can be reduced to two dimensions only: intensity and value (positive via neutral to negative). This can be nicely illustrated for a collection of emotions expressed in German language.


To understand the complexity of the endeavour, consider the following long, but probably still incomplete, list of emotions. An attempt was made to offer expressions both in English and German (anyone willing to complete this for other languages, please contact us, we would be very grateful). There is also a rough association to existing literature. This literature overview is definitely incomplete.

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