Explaining emotions

Paul O'Rorke*, Andrew Ortony

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Emotions and cognition are inextricably intertwined. Feelings influence thoughts and actions, which in turn can give rise to new emotional reactions. We claim that people infer emotional states in others using commonsense psychological theories of the interactions among emotions, cognition, and action. We present a situation calculus theory of emotion elicitation representing knowledge underlying commonsense causal reasoning involving emotions, and show how the theory can be used to construct explanations for emotional states. The method for constructing explanations is based on the notion of abduction. This method has been implemented in a computer program called AbMaL. The results of computational experiments using AbMaL to construct explanations of examples based on cases taken from a diary study of emotions indicate that the abductive approach to explanatory reasoning about emotions offers significant advantages. We found that the majority of the diary study examples cannot be explained using deduction alone, but they can be explained by making abjuctive inferences. These inferences provide useful information relevant to emotional states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-323
Number of pages41
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

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