Naïve Theories of Emotions: Why People Might (Not) Be Uncertain or in Conflict About Felt Emotions


  • Vanda Lucia Zammuner


Beliefs about conflict and uncertainty over felt emotions—for Joy, Pride, Sadness, Jealousy and Envy events—were studied by means of Yes/No and Why questions. Each participant (N = 1,156) judged a typical antecedent for a single emotion—e.g., Jealousy: story protagonist SP sees his or her partner kiss someone. The Yes/No results showed that SP was frequently expected to experience both phenomena, the more so the greater the event impact (Yes range: 40–86%). Beliefs associated with Yes answers (BY) were categorized into 4 categories: (BY1) reason-emotion opposition—felt emotions are unreasonable, inadequate ways of reacting; (BY2) ambivalent emotions—e.g., joy and sadness; (BY3) unclear emotions; (BY4) other causes—e.g., focused on event implications, SP’s personality. No conflict or uncertainty answers (BN; range 14–60%) mirrored BY categories: (BN1) no reason-emotion opposition, (BN2) no ambivalent emotions, (BN3) clear emotions, (BN4) other causes. Attributions and beliefs about causes did not generally differ by gender. As a collective entity, expressed beliefs were complex, focusing on one or more emotion component—e.g., appraisal, regulation, expression—as well as on emotion intensity, duration, and on self-concept issues. Overall, expressed beliefs seemed to imply a malleability theory of emotions, and emotion awareness. Results overall confirmed the hypotheses that conflict and uncertainty attributions are more likely for: unpleasant experiences; when emotions are norm-incongruent for the judged event; when mixed, ambivalent emotions are felt. The study confirms that people interpret emotion processes according to their lay theories.