Emotional Responses Survey Results (Eli Weber, guest poster)

Here is Eli's discussion of the survey results:

Thanks again to everyone who took the emotional responses survey.  Below are the cases and response data for the first 100 responses.  I’ve given a bit of analysis following each case, and there are some general remarks following that.  First, I wanted to say just a bit about what I was up to here.


Resentment is widely held to be an important moral emotion.  There is also a widespread assumption that resentment is best captured by a judgmentalist theory of the emotions. Judgmentalism is roughly the view that emotions are necessarily constituted by certain beliefs or judgments, and that emotion types can be differentiated by these beliefs or judgments.  Judgmentalism is especially attractive as an account of resentment because it allows us to differentiate between resentment and anger, a basic emotion that is thought to be importantly related to resentment.  On the judgmentalist picture, resentment is constituted by a belief or judgment that one has suffered a moral injury of some sort.  Anger is thought to lack this cognitive content.  Even some prominent non-cognitivists about the basic emotions understand resentment in these terms.

My concern with regard to this survey was to test two hypotheses.  First, I wanted to see whether anyone would describe an emotional experience that had behavioral and physiological markers typically associated with anger as resentment, even in the absence of a judgment of having suffered a moral injury.

Second, I wanted to see whether anyone would regard resentment as subject to the phenomenon of stable recalcitrance.  Recalcitrant emotions are episodes of emotion whereby one experiences an emotion that is in conflict with one’s settled judgments about its object.  Stable recalcitrance involves the persistence of recalcitrant emotion over time, despite the stability of judgments that conflict with the emotional response. 

The phenomenon of stable recalcitrance is prominent in an argument for judgmentalism about resentment given by Justin D’Arms and Dan Jacobson.  They argue that stable recalcitrance is a phenomenon that is unique to the natural emotion kinds.  Because resentment is not subject to stable recalcitrance, it is not a natural emotion kind, and should instead be treated as a cognitive sharpening.  Since cognitive sharpenings are roughly what judgmentalism says they are, resentment should be understood according to a judgmentalist theory of the emotions, or so the argument goes. 

D’Arms and Jacobson support the claim that resentment is not subject to stable recalcitrance by way of a case roughly analogous to Case #2 in the emotional responses survey.  They claim that once the subject of this case ceases to believe that they have been treated unfairly, it ceases to make sense to explain their emotional response as resentment.  My reaction to this claim has long been “Really?  Why doesn’t that make sense?”  Case #2 is an attempt to see if I am alone in that reaction.             

Without further ado, let’s check out the data.  

Case #1
Your favorite football team has just lost a close game to their arch-rivals. Following the conclusion of the game, you feel your face turn red and become hot, your pulse quickens, and you have an intense desire to punch something. For the next several days, whenever you think about your team's loss, you have a similar emotional experience. How would you describe the emotion you are experiencing?

Anger   71.7%   71

Jealousy  2.0%  2

Resentment  12.1%  12

Envy  1.0%  1

None of the Above  19.2%  19

Total Responses 99

Skipped Question 1

In constructing this survey, I was hoping to establish some sort of baseline for anger, in the form of a case that almost everyone would agree was an instance of anger.  Clearly, that did not happen, though there was a substantial majority who described this as an instance of anger.

Case #2
You have just been denied tenure. Initially, you identify yourself as resentful of the tenure review board, and you judge that they have evaluated your case unfairly. Over time, you come to see that you have not been treated unfairly, and that you really are not deserving of tenure. Despite this judgment, however, whenever you think about this situation, you feel your face become hot, your adrenaline increases so that you feel a burst of energy, and you feel as though you'd like to punch the members of the tenure board. How would you describe the emotion that you are experiencing?

Anger  48.4%  46

Jealousy  1.1%  1

Resentment  29.5%  28

Envy  1.1%  1

None of the Above  28.4%  27

Total Responses  95

Skipped Question  5

This is D’Arms and Jacobson’s tenure denial case.  Although a lot of people agreed with D’Arms and Jacobson’s analysis here, a non-negligible number of you felt the same way I do—that this is best described as an instance of resentment, even after one judges that they have not been treated unfairly by the tenure review board.  At a minimum, I think that this case is not as definitive in favor of resentment as a cognitive sharpening as D’Arms and Jacobson take it to be.  But I’d look forward to comments on whether that’s a reasonable conclusion to draw here.

Case #3
Suppose you come to find out that a close friend of yours has begun dating your ex-girlfriend, who you broke up with approximately one year ago. Your initial reaction is one that you take to be resentment. On reflection you judge that your friend has not injured you in any morally significant way. You regard your ex-girlfriend as an especially bad romantic partner, and have no desire to rekindle your relationship. Whenever you see the couple together, you experience a rush of adrenaline, your face turns red and begins to feel hot, your pulse quickens, and you feel as though you'd like to either punch something or take a long walk to cool off. Despite your best effort to bring your emotional response in line with your considered judgment, you simply cannot shake this feeling. How would you describe the emotion you are experiencing?

Anger  35.1%  33

Jealousy  36.2%  34

Resentment  17%  16

Envy  4.3%  4

None of the Above  20.2%  19

Total Responses  94

Skipped Question  6

I found the result of this case to be most interesting, but also most disappointing for my own purposes.  I had hoped to argue that even if we accept the tenure denial case as an instance of anger, rather than stable recalcitrant resentment, this case clearly involved stable recalcitrant resentment. Those results did not play out, as a much lower percentage of people saw this as a case of resentment, in comparison to Case #2.  So that was disappointing. 

However, it was intriguing to me that so many people saw this as a case of jealousy, since there are elements of the case that are supposed to direct respondents away from that reply.  It seems that many of you would describe yourselves as jealous even when you do not want your former partner back, and do not think well of them as a romantic partner.  Even more interesting, as Dan Jacobson noted in his earlier comments, was that the behavioral and physiological manifestations here are those of anger.  This indicates what could be a very deep problem for self-attributions of emotion as evidence of an emotion’s constitutive conditions.  If neither the behavioral and physiological response, nor one’s judgments, tells in favor of calling the emotion jealousy, one wonders what basis there is for thinking that jealousy is what we are experiencing.  The implication is that our self-attributions of emotion are not very reliable. 

As for my initial hypotheses, neither was vindicated by these results, and the range of responses even to what seems like an obvious case of anger suggests that appealing to cases to sort out the constitutive conditions for an emotion type may simply be the wrong methodology.  However, if our own emotional attributions are informative with regard to the constitutive conditions for an emotion type, these results give us reason to question the judgmentalist account of resentment that is presently so widely accepted.  These results also suggest that stable recalcitrant resentment may be possible after all.  If D’Arms and Jacobson are correct that this phenomenon is unique to the natural emotion kinds, our account of the emotions ought to capture resentment as a natural emotion kind, rather than a cognitive sharpening.  The further question, of course, is how to do that, since resentment does not appear in any of the empirical psychological literature on basic emotions, which at least initially suggests that it does not have the same cross-cultural significance or adaptive function that is attributable to other basic emotions like disgust or fear.    

Comments welcome and appreciated, whether with regard to the data, my analysis, or the construction of the survey in general.  Thanks again for all the responses.

22 Replies to “Emotional Responses Survey Results (Eli Weber, guest poster)

  1. Hi David,
    Regarding the last case, might jealousy be a *type* of anger? Phenomenologically, my own experience is that all of the options are different kinds of anger. Very roughly, I seem to experience resentment as anger in response to a moral harm (thus I didn’t judge case #2 as resentment), envy as anger at a deserving person having something that I don’t deserve (but nevertheless want), and jealously as anger at someone having something I think I deserve. I don’t know. Just a thought.

  2. I wonder how or whether people might differ if these stories wre told in the 3rd person as opposed to the first person.
    The case on jealousy is also interesting. I wonder if there is a possible confound in telling stories stereotypically associated with certain emotions, in that people might ignore or interpret evidence in light of the narrative. For instance, if you asked people in the jealousy case to recall the feelings the person felt, would they pick out a descrtion of the feeling of anger, or even ‘I felt angry’ as opposed to feelings of jealousy? It would be good to know what information is in people’s heads once they read the story, since these (and not the story itself) are what he judgments are based off of.
    Finally, some emotions may not be cognitively penetrate in a certain way. It does not matter what you think about the mystery emotion you feel about your ex and their partner, nor what you tell yourself about how they were a bad lover etc. all this does is serve as evidence that deep down you are jealous, perhaps. There is a need in distinguishing between people’s actual judgments and what people believe their judgments are, and this is not clearly distinguished in the jealousy case.

  3. Sorry about the typos and incorrect words. Apparently my autocorrect only works on correctly spelled words.

  4. -Marcus-You may be right that jealousy is a type of anger, but it’s a further question, I think, whether an instance of anger is mere anger, or something more fine-grained. It may be that it’s difficult to differentiate the two at the phenomenal level, even though they are not as closely related as they seem. Theoretically speaking, if I am remembering correctly, the locus of concern for anger is slights. For jealousy it’s the possession of something good, which one wishes to have, by another, where the focus is on the thing possessed rather than the rival (as is the case for envy).
    Also, I wonder if your claim that you experience resentment as anger in response to a moral harm. Is that really the experience, or is that the post-hoc explanation of the experience, informed by one’s theoretical commitments?
    Taylor-I also wonder how these cases might turn out from a third-personal perspective. It’s arguably more important that we are able to correctly attribute emotions to others, so perhaps that’s a better guide for what emotions are occuring in a particular case.
    Also, I worry about your suggestion that our judgments and self-attributions of emotions somehow don’t matter, and all serve as evidence of jealousy. We wouldn’t want a theory which guarantees that all negative emotions directed toward a former romantic partner are instances of jealousy, since it’s clearly possible to feel other negative emotions in such cases.

  5. the range of responses even to what seems like an obvious case of anger suggests that appealing to cases to sort out the constitutive conditions for an emotion type may simply be the wrong methodology.
    So, my apologies, but I started to take the survey and then stopped, because I found myself unable to confidently make the judgments that the questions required of me. One of the reasons that I found myself unable to do so was that I was in a basically dispassionate state, and I was being asked to make fine distinctions between emotions that I was not experiencing. Isn’t this a basic limit of survey-based methodology in this case? People are bad enough at introspective reporting as it is, but relying on subejcts’ introspective reporting of imagined states seems to make the results even less reliable.

  6. Hi Eli,
    I am thinking you might get different results with a different case, which involves treatment that would more “naturally” provoke resentment.
    Imagine that my friend, Osama Muhammed Al-ali, is always stopped, extensively questioned, and strip-searched when he goes to the airport. He initially thinks this is an instance of just treatment. After learning that a top terrorist operative shares his name and that his information is being put on a “do not delay” list that is in the works, he comes to believe the treatment is not unjust. But before the changes are implemented, he goes the the airport, is questioned, strip-searched and then missed a flight that would allow him to go receive an award he has worked long and hard to get.
    I would expect resilient resentment here, but not in the tenure case you mention.

  7. Doh! Corrected version:
    Imagine that my friend, Osama Muhammed Al-ali, is always stopped, extensively questioned, and strip-searched when he goes to the airport. He initially thinks this is an instance of *unjust* treatment. After learning that a top terrorist operative shares his name and that his information is being put on a “do not delay” list that is in the works, he comes to believe the treatment is not unjust. But before the changes are implemented, he goes the the airport, is questioned, strip-searched and then missed a flight that would allow him to go receive an award he has worked long and hard to get.

  8. Nick-several people have mentioned having difficulty imagining these cases, so that’s a problem with either the cases themselves, or the methodology. I wonder, do you think it would be similarly difficult to make these sorts of imagined evaluations from a third-party perspective? I’m beginning to think that this is the right point of view for collecting this sort of data.
    Perhaps the best survey methodology would be to have people watch recorded live-action scenes where subjects behave in ways that suggest certain emotional states, and see how observers assess those scenes. This might resolve the “people are bad at self-attribution of emotions” problem and the “I’m having trouble imagining this case” problem.
    Brad-I love that case, hadn’t considered it, but it makes perfect sense to me to expect recalcitrant resentment under such circumstances. And if the processing of this “do not delay” list was particularly lengthy, we might have a good case of stable recalcitrant resentment. Certainly a better one than my ex-girlfriend case, which was utterly unconvincing to most of the survey respondents.

  9. On Case #3:
    As for me, I selected multiple check-boxes. I answered ‘anger’, ‘jealousy’, *and* ‘resentment’. Yet on reflection what I *meant* to answer was: ‘anger’, ‘envy’, *and* ‘resentment’. I made the common ordinary-language mistake of conflating envy and jealousy despite the philosophical differences (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/envy/#1.2). Perhaps this also happened with other respondents: they saw traces of either envy or jealousy there; ‘jealousy’ gets used more in ordinary parlance; so they selected that term.
    Let me explain why I think I interpret the case as involving anger, envy, and resentment.
    ANGER. There are physiological anger symptoms, and I agree with Marcus in the first comment that resentment, envy, and jealousy are plausibly all types of anger.
    One reason the case is hard to imagine is that it is unclear what about the protagonist’s experience of the couple sets off the physiological anger symptoms if not anger, jealousy, or resentment. Envy seems like the best interpretation, yet the cases suggests that initially it was resentment.
    ENVY. Plenty of reasons to think the protagonist is envious.
    – The protagonist could be envious that his ex is dating anyone whatsoever
    – The protagonist could be envious that his friend is dating anyone whatsoever
    — And either case, it would add insult if one imagines the case such that the protagonist is single.
    —> Could modify the case so that the protagonist is now happily engaged to be wed to someone else, and is stipulated to not care/be envious about whom the other two date.
    RESENTMENT. The protagonist can be interpreted as feeling either recalcitrant or non-recalictrant resentment.
    ///non-recalcitrant///
    – As I imagine the protagonist, he feels resentment at the fact that the friend is dating his ex, as in many social circles (mine included), this is can be perceived as a slight regardless of whether the original relationship is totally over.
    — Especially relevant if one imagines the friends as a pair who see each other often, such that the ex will keep coming around. Indicates that the friend doesn’t care about the protagonist enough to put him first, or to eliminate the awkwardness of seeing the ex be romantic with someone else.
    —> Could modify the case so that the friend and ex are living off somewhere else.
    ///recalcitrant///
    – The protagonist might have felt the initial resentment *before* then *remembering* that the ex is not worth being with.
    —> Could modify the case so that this sequence is made more explicit. That might help you get the case you want.

  10. Alternatively, the interpretation of Case 3 could go such that there is jealousy.
    JEALOUSY. It could be that the protagonist still has romantic feelings for the ex even though he (officially) regards her as a bad partner and has no (executive, overall) desire to rekindle their relationship.
    Not sure how to modify the case to get rid of this. Romantic feelings are hard to control!!
    (… For better or worse. It’s one of the intriguing curses of being a sexual mammal. Sigh… 🙂 )

  11. Jay,
    Thanks, a lot of good suggestions here. You are absolutely right that it’s not well-specified what the object of one’s emotional response actually is in this case. I actually find it easier to understand this as a case of envy, despite jealousy being the preferred response for many people. But I do think it’s plausible to interpret it as a case of resentment, for roughly the reasons you gave above. I wonder if first and third personal interpretations might come apart here. Whereas the subject in this case might decide that his friend hasn’t really wronged him, others in his peer group may not share in this judgment, and continue to see him as resentful.
    As it stands, I think a plausible case of stable recalcitrant resentment, if one can be constructed, will have to be something like the one that Brad offered above. I see now that romantic scenarios involve too many other emotional responses to get definitive intuitions about.

  12. Another case that might work:
    —-
    You loaned your beloved copy of the works of Jane Austen to your friend Pete to use for the semester for his English course. But Pete reports to you that he lost it. At first you feel resentment toward Pete over this. But then you remember that a couple of years ago you lost his beloved copy of the works of Shakespeare. You decide it is inappropriate to keep feeling resentment toward Pete over this, and resolve not to.
    However, for the next several weeks, every time you see Pete around friends or in the physics class you’re in together, you experience a rush of adrenaline, your face turns red and begins to feel hot, your pulse quickens, and you feel as though you’d like to either punch something or take a long walk to cool off. Despite your best effort to bring your emotional response in line with your considered judgment, you simply cannot shake this feeling. How would you describe the emotion you are experiencing?

  13. Hi Jay,
    It might also be interesting to think about someone who comes to think that resentment is an altogether unjustified emotion – on broadly meta-ethical grounds.
    Imagine a Marxist, for example, who comes to think that resentment is part of the bourgeoisie morality system and thus tries to ignore and eliminate it. But before this project succeeds, he still feels the emotion crop up. Reflection on cases of Nazi’s who aim to overcome what they take to be wayward compassion for the people in the camps (and some memories of reading Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon”) has me thinking that this Marxist might well still feel resentment in cases that he thinks he should not.
    This case is interesting because it promises to draw attention to a more “metaethical” way an emotion can be undermined and I wonder whether judgmentalists would think that non-natural emotions are responsive to this in the same way they are (thought to) be responsive to changes in judgment that are based on normative considerations. Discussions of what it is like to believe the error theory might be relevant I suppose.
    Any way, just some thoughts.

  14. Brad,
    This is an interesting suggestion. There are some compelling metaethical concerns about resentment that we might take from the history of philosophy as well. Butler thought resentment also involved a desire that it’s object be made to suffer, or a belief that they deserve to suffer. He was very concerned with how to reconcile this feature of resentment with God’s goodness. While I’m not really a proponent of this last aspect of Butler’s view, he’s not the only one to worry that resentment involves ethically impermissible thoughts, and therefore ought to be altogether avoided.
    Your Marxist case reminds me, though I’m not altogether sure why, of Nietzche’s argument that resentment ought to be avoided because it involves an unjustifiable preoccupation with what others owe you, which draws one’s attention away from oneself and what one can do with one’s own life. Not exactly the same argument as in the Marxist case, but a similar worry that resentment ought to be avoided in a given case because it is part of a flawed moral system, rather than because it is somehow inappropriate or not merited.
    That said, I wonder if these sorts of worries are problematic for judgmentalists about resentment. It seems to me that the judgmentalist can claim that resentment presents its object as having inflicted a moral injury upon us and that the emotion is fitting when this presentation is accurate. A judgmentalist might hold this view, but still think that he has moral reasons not to resent others, apart from fittingness reasons.
    This is still interesting, in that for someone like the Marxist you describe, he perhaps feels resentment, but determines that he ought not, though not because he has not really suffered a moral injury.
    In re-reading my comments, I hope I haven’t misunderstood your basic point here, so do let me know if that’s the case.

  15. Previous comment aside, it may be that meta-ethical concerns about resentment explain why some people shy away from interpreting cases as involving resentment, though I’m not sure how many people think of resentment as part of a flawed bourgeoisie or slave morality system. Butler’s concern seems a more likely candidate here.

  16. Hi Eli,
    What you say makes sense if the person in question thinks there are practical reasons to not feel resentment, but does not adopt any sort of error theory.
    But I think the case might get more interesting if they do have some sort of error theory of the judgments (that judgmentalists take to underlie resentment). Perhaps, for example, the Marxist thinks that resentment presupposes the existence of rights, and rights are a illusion & that any beliefs about one’s rights being violated are false. This person could indeed hold that his resentment is unfit because he has not suffered moral injury (because he thinks there are *no* moral injuries).

  17. Brad,
    Sorry, I missed the significance of an error theory in your example. Considering the Marxist case under such lights is potentially problematic for the judgmentalist, I think, since resentment would turn out to never be fitting on their view. This seems to me like a bad result. In my view, a theory of resentment should be neutral with regard to the metaethical facts, such that whether resentment is fitting or not does not turn on whether there are any true moral judgments. But maybe that assumption doesn’t bear out. I’d be curious what you, or others, think about metaethical neutrality of this sort as a desideratum for a theory of resentment.
    I’ll just note that I’ve had similar concerns about judgmentalism if one subscribes to Pereboom-style hard incompatibilism. I think such a person might similarly hold all instances of resentment to be unfit, since the judgment that one has suffered a moral injury presupposes a notion of moral responsibilty that the hard incompatibilist rejects.
    Either way, this strikes me as an interesting argument against the appropriateness of resentment that I haven’t seen much in the literature.

  18. Brad’s Osama case is interesting.
    I’m inclined to agree that Osama might well feel some species of anger, especially “if the processing of this ‘do not delay’ list was particularly lengthy.” But I’m not convinced that this is “a good case of stable recalcitrant resentment,” because it seems to me that the case gets more realistic as the processing gets longer.
    But the longer that the processing of the case takes, and the more frequently Osama gets delayed while the governmental agencies get their lists together, the better a case Osama has for fitting anger (or perhaps even resentment). Not about his being stopped initially, but over the inefficiency of TSA in getting its lists in order and the cost to him of this inefficiency.
    An ideal counterexample would be one where the case for identifying the emotion as resentment, rather than simply anger, is strong; and where the case for positing that it is unfitting by the agent’s own lights, and hence recalcitrant, is also strong.
    Eli: I think you’re doing an excellent job of trying to isolate the right kind of case. Unfortunately, this is extremely hard to do given how much is up in the air, methodologically — in particular, about the issue of how to type-identify emotions. Justin and I are strongly inclined toward a Nico Frijda inspired view that focuses not on thoughts or even feelings so much as action tendencies. This was nascent in our “Anti-Quasijudgmentalism” paper, but it’s more prominent in our recent work. Good luck with your project!

  19. Why is there an assumption that only one emotion is being expressed in these cases?
    Why not think in case #2 for example that you initially expressed resentment. When you discover that tenure was not denied unfairly, your resentment doesn’t turn off instantaneously. There is at that point residual resentment. But, at some point in the future, when your when your emotional reaction is STILL to “feel your face become hot, your adrenaline increases so that you feel a burst of energy, and you feel as though you’d like to punch the members of the tenure board”, why not believe that emotion has transformed into something else?
    The question “How would you describe the emotion that you are experiencing?” assumes that its one emotion throughout – but that certainly doesn’t seem to be required.
    Or better yet, why even assume that its the same emotion throughout?

  20. Dan-I wonder whether we could fill in some details of the Osama case to make it more plausible as a case of recalcitrant resentment. Perhaps thinking about type-differentiations in terms of action tendencies would be useful here. For instance, what if Osama, despite judging that he is not wronged by continuing to be detained, persists in demanding an explanation whenever he is detained at the airport, thereby holding the TSA agents answerable for their conduct? In fact, Osama already knows why he is being detained, and he has already determined that this treatment is not unjust, according to Brad’s description of the case. So by his own lights, he has no grounds for resentment, yet his persistent demand for an explanation suggests, at least to me, that he is in some way blaming the TSA agents for their treatment of him, and is therefore resentful rather than merely angry.
    Of course all of this turns on what sorts of action tendencies are indicative of resentment, and whether the demand for explanation is the distinguishing feature of resentment.
    I’m also attracted to action tendencies as a basis for distinguishing emotion types, and the demand for explanation seems to me a plausible one in the case of resentment. But I suppose I ought to read the Fridja first!
    I appreciate the feedback regarding my efforts to isolate the right sort of case. I remain skeptical about the case-based methodology for defending an account of any particular emotion type, though I am continuing to try to find a convincing case. Thanks for the research suggestions, they’ve been very helpful.
    Marcus-You’re right, I think, to challenge the assumption that only one emotion is being expressed. The thought in case #2 and #3 was to identify the initial emotional experience as resentment, then eliminate the judgment of moral injury that is alleged by judgmentalists to be constitutive of resentment, and then see whether anyone would continue to describe the same set of physiological and behavioral responses as resentment. If a significant number of people did continue to identify this response as resentment, this suggests that at least one argument for judgmentalism about resentment isn’t as powerful as it is often thought to be.
    As for the question of why, in the future, you wouldn’t believe your emotional response is something other than resentment, I think one reason to believe it is still the same emotion is that it has all the same behavioral and physiological symptoms, and it is a response to an eliciting condition that triggered what was initially identified as resentment. My question is why think it’s not the same emotion. The judmentalist has an answer–because the judgment which is a necessary constituent of resentment is no longer present.
    Let me know if I’ve missed anything here, or if you find this response unsatisfactory.

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