Core Affect and the Psychological Construction of Emotion


Core affect and the pyschological construction of emtion paper by Jmes A. Russell.


“At the heart of emotion, mood, and any other emotionally charged event are states experienced as simply feeling good or bad, energized or enervated. These states—called core affect—influence reflexes, perception, cognition, and behaviour and are influenced by many causes internal and external, but people have no direct access to these causal connections. Core affect can therefore be experienced as free-floating (mood) or can be attributed to some cause (and thereby begin an emotional episode).” James A. Russell

Core affect explanation

Core Affect model (
Core Affect model (

The core affect and the psychological construction of emotions has been used throughout other work in HCI because it allows people to accurately interpret, predict and understand emotions and their context. Core affect see’s the subject has having two axis the pleasure and displeasure and the activation or deactivation. When laid together you can chart where various emotions will be. Core affect is where you are on this model which is being continually reassessed by the subject in an ongoing feedback loop. Emotions are not outside of this model such as “Fear of a bear” this would be on the model of high activation and high displeasure they are all part of emotional episodes which are part of the core affects reassessing and taking in new information.

The emotional episode or feedback loop as I am viewing it works as such

Antecedent event – An external event.

Affective quality – the event is perceived by the subject in its affective quality I.e. how pleasant/unpleasant exciting boring etc. the antecedent is.

Core affect – Core affect begins to change in response to the perceived affective quality of the antecedent event. This is happening continually.

Attribution – The core affect felt is attributed to the antecedent event (Which now become the “object”) that object makes me feel *****

Appraisal – cognitive processing of the object, qualities, future impact on goals/outcomes (This is closely linked to core affect in that the subject is more likely to process qualities which align with their current core affect, I.e. You see the bad in the object when you are feeling bad to begin with.)

Instrumental action – activity is directed at the object in response to its effect on core affect and appraisal. This takes into account circumstances, resources any goals etc.

Physiological and expressive changes – “Facial, vocal, and autonomic changes occur and are accounted for (a) by core affect and (b) as part of, preparation for, or recovery from instrumental action.”

Subject conscious changes – “there is a flood of metacognitive judgments” much feels beyond conscious control and these are aligned with the core affect.

Emotional meta-experience – The subject experiences the emotion of being “afraid” or “angry” a self-perception and categorisation of the current emotional state.

Emotional regulation – deliberate self-control over the emotion with the social and circumstantial rules by the subject.




How it can be used in the HCD project

The model can be easily worked into and integrate with activity theories models to help add more meaning to the links between say outcome/ object and explain why a subject will be attempting to reach that outcome through emotion.

“Decisions thus involve predictions of future core affect (March, 1978). Core affect is involved in motivation, reward, and reinforcement” Which aligns on activity theories cases of subjects performing activities to reach objects which won’t directly benefit the subject, but will in the long run or “predicted future” will results in a positive gain.

I can also possibly use the model to chart where the core affect should start and where it should end after using the software. This gives you a clear guide when designing as to what kind of stimuli need to be included and lets other designers know the journey a user “Should” be taken on when using the artefact.

This model will be excellent and helpful when trying to create or tell an emotional journey for the artefact. It should allow users of the theory to pin point exact areas which are designed to elicit emotions or act as antecedent events and how they should look and feel in order to properly alter the core affect or “emotions”.

Core Affect and the Psychological Construction of Emotion

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