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18-07-2016 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2017 Open Access

Psychological Research 4/2017

Placing joy, surprise and sadness in space: a cross-linguistic study

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2017
Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, Juan C. Correa, Gopal Sakarkar, Giang Ngo, Susana Ruiz-Fernández, Natalie Butcher, Yuki Yamada


The valence–space metaphor posits that emotion concepts map onto vertical space such that positive concepts are in upper locations and negative in lower locations. Whilst previous studies have demonstrated this pattern for positive and negative emotions e.g. ‘joy’ and ‘sadness’, the spatial location of neutral emotions, e.g. ‘surprise’, has not been investigated, and little is known about the effect of linguistic background. In this study, we first characterised the emotions joy, surprise and sadness via ratings of their concreteness, imageability, context availability and valence before examining the allocation of these emotions in vertical space. Participants from six linguistic groups completed either a rating task used to characterise the emotions or a word allocation task to implicitly assess where these emotions are positioned in vertical space. Our findings suggest that, across languages, gender, handedness, and ages, positive emotions are located in upper spatial locations and negative emotions in lower spatial locations. In addition, we found that the neutral emotional valence of surprise is reflected in this emotion being mapped mid-way between upper and lower locations onto the vertical plane. This novel finding indicates that the location of a concept on the vertical plane mimics the concept’s degree of emotional valence.

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