Circumplex Model of Emotion

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
In this lesson, we define the word circumplex and explain the Circumplex Model of Emotion. This model is also well known as the Circumplex Model of Affect. We will identify why it's meant to be more predictive and clearer than linear models in terms of defining emotions.

Displaying Emotions

When he was five years old, researchers tested Benjamin based on what his parents said was his inability to show emotion. It was an interesting case because other than his flat affect (not showing emotion), his development was in line with other children his age. The doctors evaluated him with the autism spectrum which tells whether an individual is autistic and to what degree. They looked at his response to all manner of stimuli; and they even brought his parents in to see how he reacted to them. They finally reasoned that Benjamin was just in the early stages of emotional growth.

The researchers were basing their assumptions on the thought that emotions are innate, meaning emotions are genetically determined. The doctors thought that Benjamin should be showing what they believed the normal range of emotions were for a child his age. But, they were disregarding new information. The researchers had not considered the findings of neuroscientists, such as James Russell, who believe that emotions are much more complex. James Russell developed the Circumplex Model of Emotion (more popularly known as the Circumplex Model of Affect) to effectively show how emotional states are related.

What is a Circumplex Model?

Researchers wanted to see how different emotions were related. They needed a model-type that would show unique relationships within a visual framework. They had already constructed linear models which displayed how different sets of emotions were related along a continuum (the same concept as a number line). However, these models weren't able to adequately show how the entire range of emotions are related. Instead, they used a circular model that was divided into quadrants with axes of crossed continua.

This type of model serves three purposes:

  • It is a pictorial representation of a range of data.
  • It provides a field on which the relationship between different variables can be seen.
  • The items can be equally spaced to show uniformity and precision.

The Circumplex Model of Affect

Circumplex Model of Emotions

A circumplex model is perfect when looking at different emotional states because they can all be demonstrated along with their relative relationships. The x-axis (horizontal axis) of the model is the continuum between emotions that Russell considered pleasant and unpleasant, like happiness and sadness respectively. The y-axis (vertical axis) is the continuum between high and low arousal. Some mark this as the difference between activation and deactivation.

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