A Perceptual-Motor Theory of Emotion

Howard Leventhal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


This chapter examines the current status of the motor theory of emotion and point the way to future developments. It offers an information-processing analysis of emotions that incorporates recent developments in the study of cognitive processes. This formulation is essentially a network analysis. The requirements for a theory of the mechanisms that mediate the construction of emotional experience and expression are focused in the chapter. The chapter offers a model that might meet investigators needs. The model diverges from recent social psychological theorizing in arguing for the reality of emotional experience; the qualities of emotion or primary emotional meaning are given by an innate sensory–motor structure and not derived from social influence. The chapter suggests two different ways in which emotional experiences are stored: schematic or perceptual memories and conceptual or reflective verbal memories. The modes of storage effect the organization of emotional processing and generate a series of problems for the elicitation and control of emotion. The operation of the expressive-motor component of the system and a hypothesis about the structure is described in the chapter. The relationships among the processing systems are also discussed in the chapter. The study of emotional interactions holds the key to future advances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-182
Number of pages66
JournalAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology
Issue numberC
StatePublished - Jan 1 1984

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


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