Département de philosophie

Emotion, Attention and Value

Home       History       Publications      Activities      Projects      Schedule       Collaborations



Project leaders: Julien Deonna (Geneva) and Fabrice Teroni (Bern/Geneva)

1. Background What are the links between emotions and attention? We focus primarily on the role of attention in various claims according to which emotions play a crucial role in making things salient, in detecting relevance, and in revealing value.

The first idea to be explored is that attention is itself an emotion. This makes sense if we think of attention as a form of episodic interest (Husserl 2004). This sheds light on the obvious connections between 'S was attentive to X' and 'S found X interesting', and on some of the intimate links between emotions and attention. And the most promising contemporary approach to episodic interest indeed conceives of it as an emotional episode related to appraisals of novelty and coping (Silvia 2006).

Still, although the term 'attention' is sometimes used to refer to episodic interest, it is doubtful that the appraisal of something as interesting is key to the understanding of the relations between attention and the emotions. For example, assimilating attention to an affective phenomenon will not leave room for explaining the foreground-background distinction that is so essential to the former (Rubin 1921). Moreover, to cite only two problems, not only can one be attentive to X without finding it interesting, but tired or distracted thinkers may very well be motivated by interest (Mole 2011: 47-8).

The conception of attention as emotion – although part of this project – does not leave room for many lines of research we might want to explore regarding the relations between emotion and attention: interest seems distinct from attention as it guides (Scheler 1916/1973) and at least sometimes explains (Bradley 1886, White 1964) it. One of the virtues of this alternative idea is that it allows us to preserve an explanatory link between the two, the idea that attention manifests interest.

Now, and crucially, interest does not have to be exclusively understood as an episodic appraisal or evaluation in terms of novelty and coping. After all, the focalization of one's attention on a given object or event, and thus one's interest in it, can be explained by any sort of emotional reaction the object elicits: fear, sadness, anger, shame, etc., and thus by appraisals in terms of danger, loss, offensiveness, degradation, etc. This supports the idea that the relation between attention and interest understood as a specific form of appraisal is just an instance of a more general truth: all affective phenomena, because of their relations to evaluative properties, that is to what is significant to us, have important connections with attention (De Sousa 1987). Understanding whether these connections are constitutive or merely contingent is one central objective of this project, as are the following.

2. Objectives Is attention presupposed by emotional responses? Is attention affected by emotional responses? If both questions are answered positively, do we speak of attention in the same sense? More generally, how do these questions relate to the classical distinctions between endogenous and exogenous attention, or between alertness and selection? Can we resolve important debates as to the nature of emotions and affective phenomena in their relation to salience, relevance and value from the perspective of their connection with attention?

2.1. Links between affects and attention a. Are there facts regarding this connection that hold across the emotional domain? Are all of these facts empirical? Do these connections point to a causal or a constitutive model of these links (Tappolet 2007)? b. Virtuous and vicious subjects are not only characterized by actions they are inclined to perform, but also, and perhaps more importantly, by their patterns of attention. How does this impact on an account of affective dispositions? Personality traits are often conceived as patterns of reason sensitivity (Goldie 2004, Schueler 2004). Is this approach compatible with the claim that character traits are mainly characterized by specific patterns of attention? (Brady 2010) c. Foreseen case study: Shared indignation and patterns of joint attention.

2.2. Attention and emotion theory a. What are the consequences of process and adverbial accounts of attention (Mole 2011) on emotion theory? Given our approach to the emotions (Deonna & Teroni 2012), we shall be especially interested in 'cognitive unison' theories of attention and want to investigate their consequences regarding the individuation, phenomenology and intentionality of emotional episodes for approaches to the emotions that emphasize felt action-tendencies. b. Does affective consciousness depend on attention? How does attention impact on emotional phenomenology? Is emotional salience, which seems to qualify one's experience rather than its object, compatible with strong representationalism? (Tye 1997) c. Foreseen case study: Emotion and attention in aesthetic experience.

2.3. Consequences for value theory a. What are the consequences of the relations of emotions to attention for our understanding of values? Are attentional phenomena fully explainable in terms of properties of our access to values, or do they presuppose the existence of specific (perhaps subject-relative) relations amongst values? Does the endogenous vs. exogenous attention contrast map onto the distinction between subjective and objective values? b. One influential approach to values is the buck-passing account (e.g., Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen 2004). Can this account respect the way attention in emotional experience is typically channelled (i.e. to the object as opposed to the experience itself)? What are the consequences for this account of the fact that emotions, like all attention-related phenomena, tend to fade as a result of repetition (D'Arms and Jacobson 2010)? c. Foreseen case study: In the domain of morality, information including negative valence content (e.g. moral wrongdoings in the media) seems to enjoy privileged salience and to grab our attention (e.g., Nadelhoffer 2004); by contrast, in other value domains, such as aesthetics, it is information including positive valence content that seems to enjoy the limelight. How can we explain this contrast?

3. Methods Our principal method of investigation is conceptual analysis, as complemented and informed by relevant empirical research in neuroscience, experimental psychology, anthropology as well as historical and literary disciplines. The core elements of conceptual analysis include i. investigation of linguistic usage, ii. close attention to ontological distinctions amongst the affective or perceptual phenomena examined, iii. attention to the narrative contexts in which they occur, iv. introspection, v. comparison with neighbouring phenomena (i.e., actions, judgments, moods, desires, valuing), vi. close attention to the tools and interests peculiar to the metaphysics of value, philosophy of mind, and moral philosophy.

4. Competences and resources J. Deonna & F. Teroni, who have published extensively on many aspects of the emotions, will be overseeing the activities of newly hired collaborators as well as others already implicated in our ongoing research of project 207 "Emotions, Feeling and Value".

Home       History       Publications      Activities      Projects      Schedule       Collaborations