Valenced encounters: Toward an ecological understanding of emotional experience

Date of Completion

January 2010


Psychology, Experimental|Psychology, Psychometrics




The most salient aspects of daily life are valenced: They are meaningful and value-laden. The present research explores the sources and structure of this meaningfulness as it occurs in daily life and in experimental settings. In order to accomplish this, Gibson's concept of affordances and Iberall's homeokinetic physics are used to build a theoretical framework that anchors the experiments that follow. Aspects of their theories (in particular valence and behavior modes) and an understanding of ecological events allow for the grounding of emotional experience in the organism-environment relationship. Four experiments are then presented that build upon this conceptual framework. Experiment 1, using a portable-switch methodology, demonstrates that the temporal structure of the valence of events and emotional experience can be captured across short and longer time-scales. There is good dynamical correspondence between the temporal structure of valenced events and the temporal structure of affective experience. Emotional experience is likely grounded in perceptual processes. Experiment 2 provides a method of capturing and recording events—homeokinetic behavior modes—that likely shape and pattern the affective experience of the day. The dynamics and occurrence of these modes captures the fit between organism and environment and are found to be expressible as Markov chains. Experiment 3 corroborates the portable-switch methodology, showing that the variables measured in Experiment 1 yield good dynamical correspondence to known artificially created and manipulated event structures. Finally, Experiment 4 reveals that the temporal dynamics of affective valence—the positive and negative experience of emotional states—is coupled between cohabitating pairs. Taken together, the present research provides a theoretical and empirical framework for studying emotion from an ecological perspective and for advancing ecological psychology as a psychology of meaningfulness. ^