The ability to share others’ emotions is often called empathy (Preston & de Waal, 2002). Bodily and vocal expressions of emotion, the most obvious signals among the social animals, communicate the agent’s negative or positive experiences. Preston and de Waal argue that most, if not all, mammals are endowed with empathy (at least in a basic form) as a mechanism linking perception and action.
The importance of empathy to interaction highlights the question of how emotions are represented mentally. Several competing theories on the structure of the emotive domain exist. However, most of these theories contain two basic dimensions: a value dimension on a scale from positive to negative aspects of emotions, and an arousal dimension on a scale from calm to excited emotional states (e.g., Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957; Russell, 1980).1 The Cartesian product of these two dimensions allows a spatial representation of the basic emotions (see Fig. 12.1). Distances in emotive space indicate degrees of similarity between emotions.
It is well known that emotive intersubjectivity is an important aspect of mother- infant attunement interactions (Stern, 1985). The infant learns the correlation between different emotions and the corresponding facial and vocal expressions. In other words, the child learns how to map behaviors into an emotive space. Sharing an emotion means that the participants in the exchange are in emotional states that are closely located within the same emotive space. That is, the emotions are attuned. Such coordination of emotions is arguably the most fundamental way of sharing meaning.