The Structure of Emotional Experience and Its Relation to Trait Emotional Awareness: A Theoretical Review

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Abstract

Emotional experience (EE) and trait emotional awareness (tEA) have recently become topics of considerable experimental/theoretical interest within the cognitive and neural sciences. However, to date there has been limited empirical focus on how individual differences in the factors contributing to EE (a state-based construct) might account for differences in tEA. To promote clear, well-guided empirical research in this area, in this article we first offer a concise review of the primary factors contributing to EE. We then provide a theoretical investigation into how individual differences in these factors (i.e., differences in affective response generation, affective response representation, and conscious access) could mechanistically account for differences in tEA; we also discuss plausible origins of these individual differences in light of current empirical findings. Finally, we outline possible experiments that would support (or fail to support) the role of each factor in explaining differences in tEA—and how this added knowledge could shed light on the known link between low tEA and multiple emotion-related mental and systemic medical disorders.

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