School of Computer Science THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM CoSy project

Aaron Sloman
Last updated: 26 Oct 2007


This file contains a slightly edited version of a message sent to the email list of ISRE, the International Society for Research on Emotion (Website

It was a response to a request circulated on 22 October 2007 by Michael Stocker requesting references on 'Intellectual Emotions'.

Thinking about what might be meant by that phrase led me to submit the following. I shall probably (as usual) modify and expand this when I find time.

Responses received with further references are appended.

From Aaron Sloman Tue Oct 23 22:09:59 BST 2007
Subject: Re: [ISRE-L] intellectual emotions

Jim wrote:

> I'm also not quite sure what you mean by intellectual emotions.
> ....

Nor I.

Different people categorise affective states and processes
in very different ways, e.g. in terms of

From the point of view of someone interested in understanding the
variety of information-processing architectures that are possible in
animal (normal or abnormal) or artificial brains, there are also
ways of distinguishing states and processes in terms of which
functionally distinct components of the architecture are involved
and how they interact.

E.g. even when the same components are involved, some interactions
are immediate and transient, some grow and change over time then
produce some behaviour then decay, others remain in control for a
long time, some involve long term competition for control, where one
enduring component is suppressed much of the time but may
occasionally become dominant,  (e.g. long term grief, jealousy,
obsession, infatuation, ambition, patriotism, love of family...)

The label 'intellectual' could be interpreted differently according
to which of those categorisations one uses.

One category that has always interested me goes back to my years as
a mathematics undergraduate: the contents of some very strong
motivational and emotional states had nothing to do with the
environment or social relationships or bodily states, but just the
intrinsic interest of certain problems and a desire to solve them --
which could sometimes become obsessive and last for days, or longer.

It often did not matter that the problem had been solved long ago: I
was not trying to be the first, or to beat someone else. I just
wanted to do it, like someone wanting to climb a challenging
mountain (which never attracted me). I see similar things with some
academic colleagues, though with different intellectual contents.
E.g. it could be a desire to redesign a computer program to make it
more efficient, or more reliable, or even just more elegant, even if
nobody is ever going to use the program.

Rather different, but also intellectual is wanting to know how a
story one is reading or hearing continues, or how a mystery was
solved. Fury at missing the last instalment of a serial thriller has
nothing to do with any practical implications.

This is presumably closely related to desire to find out how things
came about, what made something unusual happen, how things work, how
some process started, all of which link up with scientific
motivation and emotions.

A quite different category of intellectual emotion would be one
defined not in terms of the semantic content but in terms of the
role of "intellectual" components of the architecture in the
resulting processing. So obsessive ambition, or a desire for
revenge, or desperately wanting to protect one's children from a
threat (e.g. global warming) could focus very powerful
problem-solving, deductive, and planning mechanisms, bringing to
bear sophisticated scientific or technical know-how in the process.
Those are intellectual in a different way.

There are also retrospective emotions that refer to intellectual
achievements or successes or failures e.g. pride at solving a
problem, discovering a cure; and regret, irritation, or
embarrassment at failing to notice something that would have solved
a problem, and even wishing you had never got interested in
something, etc.

As for what the requester wanted, perhaps he should tell us?

My fear is that with the steady and possibly irreversible growth of
addiction to junk information, the role of intellectual motives and
enjoyments may be dying for far too many people.



Responses to the above with further references are appended. (I may later reorganise them into reverse chronological order.)

From: "Dr.Louise Sundararajan"
Subject: Re: [ISRE-L] intellectual emotions
Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2007 21:25:01 -0400

Hi Aaron,

What you are talking about reminds me of the following reference:

Kubovy, M. (1999). On the pleasures of the mind.
    In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.),
    Foundations of hedonic psychology:
    Scientific perspectives on enjoyment and suffering (pp. 134-154).
    New York: Russell Sage.
      I found a web link to this here [AS]
And a relevant theoretical framework for "pleasures of the mind" is the
following reference:

Frijda, N. H. & Sundararajan, L.  (2007).
    Emotion refinement: a theory inspired by Chinese poetics.
    Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 227-241.



From: Ed Tan
Date:   Thu, 25 Oct 2007 13:58:23 +0200
Subject: Re: [ISRE-L] intellectual emotions

Dear Aaron,

Reminds me of interest and curiosity

Darwin described the intellectual emotions ( wonder, curiosity,
interest) in The descent of man and in The expression of the emotions in
man and animal.

Keltner, D., & Shiota, M. N. (2003). New displays and new emotions: A
commentary on Rozin and Cohen. Emotion, 3, 86-91.
    use the term epistemic or epistemological emotions.
    That term is also used in philosophy.

Silvia, P. (2006). Exploring the psychology of interest. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
  gives state of the art of research into interest.

There is also work of high standard in educational psychology, e.g.
Ainley, M., Hidi, S., & Berndorff, D. (2002). Interest, learning, and
the psychological processes that mediate their relationship. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 94(3), 545-561

Best regards,

Ed Tan

Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham