Evaluation of the two process models
Psychological constructionism emphasizes the dynamic interplay of affective and conceptual processing that operate in parallel in producing emotional states and experiences. Even so, the theory is also default-interventionist about the relation of noncognitive and cognitive processing in the context of emotions as these are built upon states of core affect. The distinction between core affects of babies and beasts and post-infantile human emotions that depend on concepts offers a nice solution to the traditional problem of cognitive theories concerning animal and infant emotions. Moreover, the theory explains how conceptually elaborate emotions like anger, shame, and guilt can emerge from appraisals that are minimal in complexity. These cases are anomalous to traditional process-oriented appraisal theories that invoke complex patterns of appraisal as both causes and constituents of emotion. In contrast, those cases are paradigmatic to psychological constructionists who maintain that the core-affect aspect of emotions is always elicited by primitive appraisals; the complex evaluative content is imposed on core affect when the affect is categorized in terms of this or that emotion category. Indeed, appraisal theorists have moved towards the constructionist view by admitting that "appraisals can be outcomes of the emotion process as much as its antecedent conditions. They involve cognitive elaborations motivated by affect and action readiness", as Nico Frijda and Marcel Zeelenberg (2001, p. 151) have pointed out.
In spite of increasing convergence, appraisal theories and psychological constructionism do not coincide. Appraisal theorists maintain that the complex appraisals that figure in emotional experiences have been constructed during actual processes of emotion generation rather than ascribed to states of core affect. Complex appraisals can also be stored in the associative memory and reinstated on the basis of perceptual cues when similar situations are encountered. Appraisal reinstatement does not contradict the fact that knowledge about emotion types and their characteristic appraisal patterns is also learned from others in socialization. Yet the question about the psychological origin of coherent appraisal patterns remains. Do these patterns emerge from actual appraisal processes, initially shaped by the evolutionary process, as Scherer and other appraisal theorists propose, or are they cultural scripts that pass on through social learning as constructionists suggest?
On the one hand, constructionists admit that appraisal processes sometimes continue from noncognitive appraisals of relevance and implications for subjective well-being that underlie fluctuations of core affect to such complex themes as coping potential and normative significance in determining the meaning of the emotion-eliciting situation. Appraisal theorists, on the other hand, are capable of explaining the cases in which emotions emerge from minimal processing by appraisal reinstatement. But then it seems that conceptual knowledge about emotions cannot replace actual appraisal processes as the sole source of coherent appraisal patterns. Instead, both theories appear to be partially right: conceptual knowledge about emotions influences actual appraisal processes in emotion generation, and these processes vary between minimal and elaborate depending on the particular case and its similarity to previous emotion-eliciting situations whose appraisal schemas are available for immediate reinstatement upon recognition of their match to the present situation.
Unfortunately, psychological constructionism has some other problems that reduce its appeal. Deonna and Scherer (2010) argue that the theory performs a disappearance act on the intentional object of emotion by elevating exceptional cases into paradigmatic ones. The point is that we sometimes find ourselves in situations where an ambiguous core affect must be interpreted and labeled as this or that emotion. However, these cases cannot provide the basis for a general theory of emotions. Too much room is given to categorization as one and the same core affect can be interpreted in terms of several emotions and ascribed to many different objects, depending on situational cues. Psychological constructionists assume that core affect typically emerges from primitive appraisals of external objects or events to which the affect is attributed when it is categorized as this or that emotion. Yet the concept of "appraisal" implies that something is already being appraised here, and even if this something may not rise to awareness together with the affect, it is curious to maintain that core affect has "no object until the subject has conceptually investigated and decided what, if at all, the experiences could be about" as Deonna and Scherer (2010, p. 47) remark. "Conceptual investigation" and "decision" are overly intellectual terms for effortless conceptual acts in the constructionist sense but the main point of this criticism holds: the divide between non-intentional core affect and intentional emotion is unwarranted in the context of typical emotions in which the subject is acutely aware of the object of emotion at the time the emotion emerges.
The attached, non-original intentionality of emotions also makes it difficult for psychological constructionism to accommodate emotions whose affective quality is experienced without an awareness of what the feeling is about. Since affective quality underdetermines emotions, it is often difficult to identify whether or not a particular feeling is part of an emotion - feelings of chill, for instance, may be associated with fear as well as with fever, as Goldie (2002) points out. Instead of digging deeper into the context of feelings, however, constructionism seems happy to accept any emotional categorisation of a core affect as long as it somehow fits the situation. Thus a person may come home from work and snap at his or her spouse without realizing that the true cause of the irritated feeling is a rough encounter with one's boss earlier in the day. Smith and Neumann (2005) use this example to point out that emotions can be misattributed to their true cause and misidentified in terms of their type. Unfortunately, psychological constructionism has meager theoretical resources to criticize people for such behaviour as it maintains that emotions come to exist only when a core affect is labeled in terms of some emotion category and attributed to some object. Even if it were possible to misattribute the true cause of one's core affect, the same is not possible for an emotion because according to this theory it has no cause or intentional object before a causal attribution to some salient situation.
Russell (2012b) has responded to some of these claims about the lacking intentionality of core affects and emotions. He points out that core affects can come to have intentional directness in the same sense as localized bodily sensations.
When a core affect is interpreted in terms of its source, such as the pleasure of tasting caviar, it becomes an Attributed Affect; and when a core affect is projected to an external object, we perceive it as an Affective Quality. Yet neither Attributed Affects nor Affective Qualities are emotions because they lack other components such as appraisal of the eliciting event, attribution, beliefs, desires, plans, impulses, and behaviours that typically associate with core affect in constituting emotional episodes whose criteria rely on folk concepts of emotion. Russell maintains that individuals may have emotional episodes without categorizing them as this or that emotion - indeed, many of our most intense emotions seem to occur without an emotional meta-experience. Moreover, he argues that it is possible to err in the categorisation of one's emotional episode as a particular emotion.
On what grounds can a psychological constructionist maintain that there is an emotional episode without categorisation if emotions come to exist only through a categorisation of core affects? Russell replies that this occurs simply because ingredients of a specific emotion without an emotional meta-experience are present in the subject's psychophysical state. However, this response is more problematic than meets the eye. The problem is that even if criteria of discrete emotions rely on folk concepts that are communal rather than private, the theory rejects external perspectives on the same criteria in emphasizing the psychological rather than the social construction of emotions. "Whether a pattern of ingredients constitutes an emotional episode is the question of whether the pattern crosses a subjective threshold of resemblance to a mental prototype" (Russell, 2012b, p. 92-3, my italics). This suggests that a pattern of ingredients may cross a subjective threshold without the subject realizing that it does, and here we may have an emotional episode without a categorizing meta-experience. This is the distinction between being in the state of emotion and the feeling of being in the state of emotion that the philosopher Robert Roberts (1988; 2003) has emphasized.
An emotional episode need not then involve a meta-experience of being in the state of emotion. However, it seems that some kind of recognition of resemblance to a mental prototype is nevertheless needed for an emotional episode in the constructionist account. And since the identity of an emotional episode depends on this subjective recognition, there is no room for error about the identity of an emotion at the time of recognition. Others may categories the subject's emotion differently on the basis of its visible ingredients, and the subject may change his or her identification accordingly. Yet from the subject's point of view, which is decisive for psychological constructionism, this is not a detection of an erroneous categorisation - an insight that "this is how I have felt all along" - but instead a new interpretation of the same ingredients in terms of another mental prototype. This suggests that psychological constructionism has problems with accommodating the phenomenon of mistaking emotions and their intentional objects.
Together, these considerations suggest that psychological constructionism has some serious problems in spite of its sound claim that the appraisal process need not always go all the way to produce an emotion, nor to proceed in a fixed order, which are the main problems of Scherer's sequential appraisal theory. The appraisal process typically begins from the implicit processing of nonconceptual representations and proceeds to explicit processing of conceptual representations before reaching a closure on the type of emotion unless a match to an existing appraisal schema is found. Yet there is little evidence beyond Scherer's and his associates' studies that the process must proceed in a fixed order and go through all or even most stimulus evaluation checks in order to produce an emotion. In spite of these problems, process-oriented appraisal theories and psychological constructionism are promising approaches to accommodate the interplay and integration of non-conceptual and conceptual representations and their implicit and explicit processing in human emotions.