In one of our previous posts – How to design atmospheres attuned to the concerns of the user? – we briefly mentioned the basic model of emotions. In this post we’ll discuss the model in more detail.
People differ in their emotional responses towards a given building. Nevertheless, in spite of these interpersonal differences, the process of emotion, i.e. the way in which emotions are elicited, is universal. There is a basic process model of emotions. This model describes the eliciting conditions of emotions with the use of three underlying key variables: appraisal, concern and stimulus.
Pieter Desmet created a basic model of emotions for his research (Designing Emotions), which was drawn up on the basis of this definition and on the related appraisal models developed by psychologists such as Roseman (1), Ortony et al. (2), and Lazarus (3). This model, shown here on the left, visualizes the eliciting process of emotions.
Three key variables are identified in the basic model: appraisal, concern and stimulus. These three variables, and their interplay, determine if a stimulus (which can be an architectural space or any other stimulus) elicits an emotion, and if so, which particular emotion is experienced.
The basic model explained
An architectural example: Imagine Anne and Thomas searching for a new house:
The second house they visited was what Anne was looking for. The house reminded Anne of the house of her favourite uncle. She immediately had the desire to buy it. Although it was not the favorite architectural style of Thomas they decided to go inside. To Anne’s (unpleasant) surprise there were holes in the wall. Thomas on the other hand, was inspired by these strange holes and thought that they could become very interesting windows. Anne already started to feel better about the idea of buying this house. When they bought the house Anne was very proud about the windows they made in the holes.
According to appraisal researchers, all emotions are preceded and elicited by an appraisal (4). An appraisal is a non-intellectual, automatic evaluation of the significance of a stimulus for one’s personal well-being. It is this personal significance of a product, rather than the product itself, which causes the emotion. Because appraisals mediate between products and emotions, different individuals who appraise the same product in different ways will feel different emotions. Thus, the occurrence of Thomas’s inspiration versus Anne’s unpleasant surprise in response to the holes in the wall is the result of their different appraisals. Thomas, who felt inspiration, evaluated the holes as beneficial, whereas Anne evaluated it as harmful. Similarly, a given individual who appraises the same building in different ways at different times will feel different emotions. At first, Anne felt unpleasantly surprised because she appraised the holes as harmful to her well-being, but later she felt proud because she appraised the same holes as beneficial. Furthermore, a person can also appraise a given building in different ways simultaneously, and thus experience ‘mixed emotions.’
Every emotion hides a concern, that is, a more or less stable preference for certain states of the world. (5) According to Frijda, concerns can be regarded as points of reference in the appraisal process. Thus, the significance of a stimulus for our wellbeing is determined by an appraised concern match or mismatch: stimuli that match our concerns are appraised as beneficial, and those that mismatch our concerns as harmful. This principle also applies to architecture: a building elicits an emotion only if it is appraised as relevant to a person’s concern. Why was Anne proud of the windows in the holes? Because it matched with her concern for social acceptance. Why was Thomas inspired by the holes in the wall? Because it matched his concern for creative stimulation. The number and variety of human concerns is vast. Types of concerns reported in the research literature are, for example, drives, needs, instincts, motives, goals and values. (6) Some of our concerns are universal, for example the concern for safety, for love and for self-esteem. Others are more personal, like Thomas’ concern that the house was not in his favorite architectural style. Some concerns, such as the concern for happiness and righteousness, are abstract. Others are more concrete, such as the concern for being home before dark or for owning a house.
According to Frijda (5), any perceived change has the potential to elicit an emotion. This can be some event, e.g. someone saying something to us or encountering something in a space. Anne’s unpleasant surprise was evoked by the event of seeing the holes in the wall. Not only actual events but also remembered or imagined events have the potential to elicit emotions. We all know from experience that thinking of someone we love is sometimes enough to elicit strong emotions. Or merely fantasizing about a planned summer vacation can fill us with anticipatory excitement. Similarly, Anne’s concern that the house reminded her of the house of her favorite uncle.
The basic model of emotions applies to all human emotions:
A stimulus elicits an emotion when it is appraised as either harmful or beneficial for one of our concerns.
In the post How do emotions work? – 4 Examples we’ll give you some specific examples of how the basic model of emotions works for architecture.
What do you think of the basic model of emotions?
Does it have the potential to give us better insight into human – environment interaction? Let us know what you think. And if you have any other comments, questions, ideas – please let us know.
- ROSEMAN, I.J. (2001) A model of appraisal in the emotion system: integrating theory, research, and applications.
- ORTONY, A., CLORE, G.L. & COLLINS, A. (1988) The Cognitive Structure of Emotions – affiliate link
- LAZARUS, R.S. (1991) Emotion and Adaptation – affiliate link
- ROSEMAN, I.J., SMITH, G.A. (2001) Appraisal theory: assumptions, varieties, controversies.
- FRIJDA, N.H. (1986) The Emotions – affiliate link
- SCHERER, K.R. (2001) Appraisal considered as a process of multilevel sequential checking.