Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Circumplex model of affect

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Circumplex model of affect:
What is the circumplex model and how does it impact on our emotional lives?

Overview[edit | edit source]

This chapter addresses a number[vague] of questions, the main being "what is the Circumplex Model and how does it influence emotional lives?". To answer the question, it is important to know the way the Circumplex Model was created and what methods were used to make the model as effective as it is. Valence and arousal are the main aspects of the Circumplex Model as they make up the circular construct and it is important to consider the way valence and arousal interact to influence emotional responses[for example?].

This chapter will go into detail about the construction of the Circumplex Model's three analyses, what valence and arousal are and how they interact as well as the strengths and weaknesses found in the Circumplex Model.

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Focus questions
  1. What is the Circumplex Model?
  2. How do valence and arousal influence emotions?

Circumplex model of affect[edit | edit source]

The Circumplex Model of Affect was first introduced by James Russell . The study that was conducted to develop this model was a series of 3 analyses[explain?]:

  1. Circular scaling of terms
  2. Unidimensional scaling
  3. Multidimensional scaling of terms.

Factor analysis was used to determine the amount of variance the model accounted for and various correlation tools were employed to measure the relationship between the items included in the analyses[vague].

These 3 different methods resulted in a consistent and reliable model which was the final Circumplex Model of Affect[1].

The circular scaling of terms[edit | edit source]

The Circular Scaling of terms stage of this study employed 36 university students to do a series of ordering tasks which they were given 28 words associated with moods and emotions and asked to sort the words into one of eight categories [2]. The second ordering task in the series asked students to put the 8 categories from the previous task into a circle. The results of this analysis showed that 10 participants ordered the categories in the hypothesised order and, after a similarity test between the hypothesised arrangement and the average of the subjects[grammar?] arrangements of the categories, it was found that subject arrangement matched the predicted arrangement of categories [3].

The multidimensional scaling of terms[edit | edit source]

The next stage of the study, the Multidimensional Scaling of Terms employed a set of 34 different students to participate. This stage of the analysis instructed the participants to group the same emotion words from the previous stage into groups based on similarity in trials[4]. The words were scored based on how many times they were sorted into the same group in consecutive trials[5]. The results of this aspect of the study showed a significantly similar arrangement of items on the circular scale as what was developed from the first stage, validating the previous stage[explain?][for example?].

Figure 1. Circumplex Model of Affect diagram[6].

The unidimensional scaling of terms[edit | edit source]

The Unidimensional Scaling stage of the study investigated whether the emotional words could be split into two dimensions, level of arousal and pleasure or displeasure. To do this, all the words were rated on the Mehrabian and Russells[grammar?] 1974 scale of pleasure and displeasure and arousal[7]. The ratings found that the correlation between the words was statistically significant at .03 and was then compared against the results from the two previous analyses, finding that all the scaling methods produced similar results[8].

Final product: circumplex model of affect[edit | edit source]

The results of all three of the analyses which employed different scales concluded that emotions fall on a circular scale in a meaningful order which displays pleasure, excitement, tired and distressed [9] among many other emotions (see Figure 1). The study concluded that people have an emotional construct that they use in their daily lives to navigate emotional situations. According to the article by Russell (1980) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the purpose of the Circumplex Model of affect is to assist psychologists and the community in recognising emotional experiences, as the model is made up of the cognitive structures of individuals interpretation of emotion.

The circular system the model is made of came[Rewrite to improve clarity] from a procedure of which the items were ordered based on their similarities and the degree of arousal[10]. Russell recognises that the model does not account for all the variance of the emotion terms[11], which may be a direction for future development of this model. The in depth analysis that was conducted to compose the Circumplex Model assists heavily in the reliability of the model. The number of analyses and the different methods used also adds validity to the model especially as all three modes of analysis resulted in similar constructs. This helps to ensure the model is an accurate representation of emotional experience and acts as a major strength of the model.

Physiology of the circumplex model[edit | edit source]

The Circumplex Model suggests all emotional states are the product of the interaction between 2 independent neurological systems; valence and arousal[12]. The Circumplex Model shows emotions on a circular scale of valence and arousal[13] (see figure 1).

Valence[edit | edit source]

Valence in psychology is the appraisal of a situation or stimulus as either good or bad/pleasant or unpleasant[14]. Individuals daily experience levels of valence as they interpret situations as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant thus influencing emotional lives. Individuals can experience positive and negative valence which both influence emotional lives.

The experience of negative emotions is a normal aspect of human life which is not always considered negatively influential on emotional lives. For example, while the feeling of fear is a negative emotion, it is also associated with high arousal as fear is a survival instinct. On the contrary, feeling depressed involves low levels of arousal as well as negative valence, which can influence emotional functioning if experienced regularly.

Arousal[edit | edit source]

The American Psychological Association states that arousal is excitement influenced by a persons[grammar?] interpretation of a stimuli[15]. Arousal can be seen in a number of physical responses to stimulus like increased heart rate and blood pressure[16]. Levels of arousal are known to influence activity and performance, as well as our emotional responses. The level of arousal exhibited by an individual can be indicative of emotional experience whether negative or positive, although is not necessarily a contributor to emotional disturbance like negative valance can.

Interaction between valence and arousal[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Brain region diagram

The way in which valence and arousal interact in the brain to influence emotions is an interesting aspect of this model. As these systems are the two dimensions of the Circumplex Model, it is important to consider how these systems interact. An fMRI study by attempted to investigate the relationship between valence and arousal through measuring brain activity in females when they looked at affective images[17]. The study uncovered some of the brain regions that deal with the different kinds of emotions we illicit. The study found that the images which promoted arousal increased brain activation in the temporal gyrus, hippocampus and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex[18] (See Figure 2), and Lateral prefrontal regions responded to negative valence while orbitofrontal areas responded to positive valence. The study concluded that the brain can differentiate between and respond to different combinations of both positive and negative valence and arousal in female subjects [19]. The different brain regions that responded to arousal are responsible for social cognitions[20], consolidation of information to memory[21] and response inhibition[22]. This study shows how the brain responds to different stimuli and also the way that valence and arousal interact in female brains to influence emotional lives. This study may suggest that impairment or damage to different brain regions may result in impaired social functioning or emotional disturbance.

Study by Killgore (1999) How valence and arousal can influence emotional experience

Killgore (1999) conducted a study on the relationship between valence and arousal and the likelihood of developing depression or anxiety. The study utilised 200 undergraduate students to provide self-report responses for pleasure and arousal. The study found that pleasure ratings were associated with higher anxiety scores on the measure. It concluded that the relationship with arousal responses and scores for anxiety were more complicated and suggested the need for further research.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

What is NOT a brain region involved in arousal?

Lateral Prefrontal region
Ventrolateral Prefrontal cortex
Temporal Gyrus

Strengths & weaknesses[edit | edit source]

Researchers have conducted analyses in order to evaluate the validity and reliability of the circumplex model, and many have uncovered strengths and weaknesses of the model. In Russell's original study that developed the model, the three analyses were utilised in a way that attempted to ensure the validity and reliability of the measure. Due to this, a major strength of the study is that it is considered a reliable model of affect.

Strengths[edit | edit source]

A strength held by this model of emotion is that it can be used a universal model for emotion. A cross cultural study of the Circumplex Model attempted to apply the concept to other countries. Russell, Lewicka & Niit (1989) conducted this study to further confirm the models reliability. The study which involved two studies investigated whether non-English speaking participants from Europe and Asia would produce similar results to the original study. The investigation employed adults aged between 16 and 80 years old who were asked to do similar tasks as the original study[23]. In study 1, the participants were asked to judge the relationship between feelings and a list of 28 words in their language. In study 2, the participants were asked to do a similar task as study 1 but with facial expressions instead. The results found the same circular concept as Russell's original study in 1980, which further validates the Circumplex Model and it's generalisability and reliability[24].

In addition to the strengths of validity and reliability, the Circumplex Model of Affect is also an effective tool in research of developmental disorders. In a study measuring the valence and arousal responses of individuals with autism, the Circumplex Model was used to detect differences in their levels of valence and arousal[25]. This study found that the emotional responses from the individuals with Autism spectrum disorder were significantly less varied in emotion than the model[26]. This study illustrates the versatile nature of the Circumplex Model and the different uses the model can provide. It also shows how individuals with different emotional capabilities experience emotion in their lives.

Weaknesses[edit | edit source]

Russell acknowledged the model didn't account for 100% of the variance in the data in the original analyses, posing a weakness of the Circumplex Model. The original study discussed this limitation and attempted to attribute the remaining variance in the data to errors in measurement, unclear labelling of affect terms and unreliable data[27]. An article Reexamining the Circumplex Model by Remington, Fabrigar and Visser (2000) addresses the limitations of the Circumplex Model and attempts to correct these limitations. Remington & Fabrigar (2000) used a different method to analyse the data from the original model and found that the model fit was accurate but, found also that there was still significant variability in the data unaccounted for. Overall, this study found that further analysis may be necessary to investigate why some emotional states did not fall into the expected section of the model and suggests refining the model may improve this variability between the original study and replications.

Remington & Fabrigar (2000) also recognised other limitations of the Circumplex Model. The two dimensional model of emotion has been considered to not highlight the differences between emotions, as emotions that are both rated similarly on the scale may be very different experiences[28]. This limitation suggests that further evaluation of the similarities between emotional experience may be necessary to influence the positions of some of the emotions on the scale.

Both the strengths and weaknesses of the Circumplex Model highlight some further analysis that may be crucial in improving the model, so as to be used as a more effective representation of emotional experience.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 What is a Strength of the Circumplex Model? It:

can influence emotion
did not use many participants[say what?]
is not reliable
stands as a universal model of emotion

2 What is not a weakness of the Circumplex Model?.

It doesn't highlight differences between emotions
It helps people recognise emotional experience
It needs refining to become more reliable
There was significant variability in the data

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The Circumplex Model of affect was created by James Russell, to be used as a tool to help psychologists and the community recognise emotional experiences. Russell conducted a series of three analyses: Circular Scaling of Terms, Multidimensional Scaling of Terms and Unidimensional Scaling of Terms to construct the Circumplex Model. The final model resulted in a circular formation of a series of affect terms, on a scale of high and low arousal and high and low valence. Due to the method Russell employed to form the Circumplex Model, it is considered a valid and reliable representation of affect. It is recognised though that not all the variance in the data was accounted for in the original analyses, and later research has attempted to acknowledge these and correct them to improve the model. Further research may be necessary to address the other limitations of the model in order to ensure the validity of the model. The strengths and weaknesses addressed in this chapter outline the need for further research to correct past limitations, and investigate further the placement of certain affect terms.

The Circumplex Model of affect is based on two dimensions: valence and arousal. Valence is the appraisal of a situation or event by an individual which can be either positive or negative. Arousal is the response to stimulus that can result in excitement. The way these systems interact is important as they both actively contribute to the emotional experience of individuals in their daily lives. While the Circumplex Model itself does not directly impact emotional lives, the interaction between valence and arousal does. Researchers have discovered the different brain regions that are responsible for processing valence and arousal and investigated their interaction, which is significant. Valence and arousal can both negatively and positively influence emotional lives in various ways, through the appraisal of negative and positive situations (valence) as well as the way valence and arousal can impact emotional disturbances.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Russell, J. A. (1980). A Circumplex Model of Affect. </nowiki>Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(6), 1161-1178.

Posner, J., Russell, J. A., Peterson, B. S. (2008). The circumplex model of affect: An integrative approach to affective neuroscience, cognitive development, and psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 17(3), 715-734. doi: 10.1017/S0954579405050340

Nielen, M.M.A., Heslenfeld, D.J., Heinen, K., Van Strien, J.W., Witter, M.P., Jonker, C., Veltman, D.J. (2009). Distinct brain systems underlie the processing of valence and arousal of affective pictures. Brain and Cognition, 71(3), 387-396. DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.05.007

American Psychological Association. (2018). Emotional Valence. Retrieved from APA Dictionary of Psychology:

American Psychological Associaion. (2018). Arousal. Retrieved from APA Dictionary of Psychology:<nowiki>

Rubin, D. C., Talarico, J. M. (2009). A Comparison of Dimensional Models of Emotion: Evidence from Emotions, Prototypical events, Autobiographical memories, and Words. Memory, 17(8), 802-808.

Russell, J. A., Lewicka, M., Niit, T. (1989). A cross-cultural study of a circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(5), 848-856.

Tseng, A., Bansal, R., Liu, J., Gerber, A., Goh, S., Posner, J., Colibazzi, T., Algermissen, M., Chiang, I., Russell, J., Peterson, B. (2014). Using the Circumplex Model of Affect to Study Valence and Arousal Ratings of Emotional Faces by Children and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 44(6), 1332-1346.

Remington, N. A., Fabrigar, L. R., Visser, P. S. (2000). Reexamining the Circumplex Model of Affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(2), 286-300. DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.79.2.286

Killgore, W. D. (1999). Affective valence and arousal in self-rated depression and anxiety. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 89(1), 301-304.

Sturm, V. E., Haase, C. M., Levenson, R. W. (2016). Emotional Dysfunction in Psychopathology and Neuropathology: Neural and Genetic Pathways. Genomics, Circuits, and Pathways in Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 345-364.

Stigler, K. A., McDougle, C. J. (2013). Structural and Functional MRI Studies of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Neuroscience of Autism Spectrum Disorders, 251-266.

Dutta, S. S. (2019). Hippocampus Functions. Retrieved from News Medical:

American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology. (2018). Physiological Arousal. Retrieved from APA Dictionary of Psychology:

External links[edit | edit source]

  1. Russell, 1980
  2. Russell 1980
  3. Russell, 1980
  4. (Russell, 1980)
  5. (Russell, 1980)
  6. "Google". Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  7. (Russell 1980)
  8. (Russell 1980)
  9. (Russel, 1980)
  10. (Russell, 1980)
  11. (Russell 1980)
  12. (Posner, Russell, & Peterson, 2008)
  13. (Rubin & Talarico, 2010)
  14. (American Psychological Association, 2018).
  15. (American Psychological Association, 2018)
  16. (APA dictionary of Psychology, 2018)
  17. (Neilen et al., 2009)
  18. (Neilen et al., 2009)
  19. (Neilen et al. 2009)
  20. (Stigler & McDougle, 2013)
  21. (Dutta, 2019)
  22. (Sturm, Haase & Levenson, 2016)
  23. (Russell, Lewicka & Niit 1989)
  24. (Russell, Lewicka & Niit, 1989)
  25. (Tseng et al. 2014)
  26. (Tseng et al. 2014)
  27. (Russell, 1980)
  28. (Russell, 1980)