John W. Carter: "Investigations into the Phenomenology of Emotion: Charting the Landscape of Positive Interpersonal Feelings"


The purpose of this lecture is to share my ongoing research program in the area of positive interpersonal emotions, and in particular, to describe the results from two studies-one phenomenological-qualitative, the other descriptive-quantitative. Both studies stem from a desire to better understand the landscape of our good feelings about other people; feelings such as liking, loving, and lusting. At the outset of this research, I became frustrated at the lack of adequate descriptions of positive interpersonal emotional states in the psychological literature. Empirical studies tend to reduce emotions to observable measures; theoretical writings tend to make emotions into universal abstractions; neither captures the richness of these emotions as experienced by real human beings. In the first study, I completed 19 in-depth phenomenological interviews with 8 participants in Southern California in an attempt to develop detailed descriptions of particular instances of positive interpersonal feelings and to discover how people distinguish between different types of feelings. Feeling instances were rigorously compared, both within and between participants. From the data, I identified 9 aspects of emotional experience, 7 dimensions along which different instances of feelings vary, and 45 prototypical descriptions of different positive interpersonal feelings. The second study, still underway, is an attempt to partially validate these results by asking a larger sample to locate these feeling prototypes in terms of their relative similarity or difference from one another. The 8 original interview participants, plus 65 new participants from the West Georgia area (total N=73), were asked to sort descriptions of these 45 feelings into groups based on "felt" similarity. Hierarchical cluster and multidimensional scaling analyses were overlaid to create a concept map of the "territory" of these emotions. Preliminary results are consistent with a model of 38 distinct feelings arranged in 18 broader clusters. These results are compared to the categorization scheme I developed from the interviews. Implications for emotion theory and psychotherapy, as well as future directions for my own research program, are discussed.

John W. Carter (PhD University of Southern California) is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of West Georgia. His dissertation, titled, "A Phenomenological Topology of Positive Interpersonal Emotions", was completed under the directorship of Donald Polkinghorne. In addition to having an active research program in emotion theory, he has been collaborating with Josef Parnas and Sarnoff Mednick for many years in the area of schizophrenia etiology. He is currently serving as Webmaster for the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (APA Division 24) and Acting Coordinator of Therapeutic Training for the UWG Department of Psychology.