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Perceiving Expressions of Emotion: What evidence could bear on questions about perceptual experience of mental states? (2015)

by Stephen A. Butterfill

---Consciousness and Cognition 36, pp. 438--451
--- links: [pdf] external [doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.03.008]


What evidence could bear on questions about whether humans ever perceptually experience any of another’s mental states, and how might those questions be made precise enough to test experimentally? This paper focusses on emotions and their expression. It is proposed that research on perceptual experiences of physical properties provides one model for thinking about what evidence concerning expressions of emotion might reveal about perceptual experiences of others’ mental states. This proposal motivates consideration of the hypothesis that categorical perception of expressions of emotion occurs, can be facilitated by information about agents’ emotions, and gives rise to phenomenal expectations. It is argued that the truth of this hypothesis would support a modest version of the claim that humans sometimes perceptually experience some of another’s mental states. Much available evidence is consistent with, but insufficient to establish, the truth of the hypothesis. We are probably not yet in a position to know whether humans ever perceptually experience others’ mental states.