What exactly is the difference between affect and feeling?

Affect seems to refer to conscious experience:

Affect is the experience of feeling or emotion.

And confusingly, so does feeling:

In psychology, the word is usually reserved for the conscious subjective experience of emotion.

I realize that the definitions of emotion and mood are dicey as there are several different approaches (with corresponding definitions) in common use today. But is it the same for affect and feeling? Are there accepted definitions, or even accepted parts of definitions? Or do definitions depend on the emotion model?


According to constructionists (e.g., Russell & Barrett, 1999), affect (or "core affect") is a composite of valence and arousal, which underlies all emotional experience. So when I feel good and highly aroused, that's affect. When I categorize my affect (good, high arousal) as excitement, that's an emotion.

According to those who consider emotions to be multi-componential reactions to the environment (e.g., Gross, 1998), affect is an umbrella word to describe anything related to emotions or mood. It's definition isn't as specific as the one above.

On the other hand, "feelings" has no specific definition. It's a vague term that most emotion theorists don't use because it could refer to almost anything (e.g., interoception, nociception, exteroception like touch). To specify that feelings are specific to the affective domain, we often use the phrase affective feelings, but it's not a word that's central to any modern emotion theory that I know of.

So when in doubt, don't use the word feelings. But do use affect, emotion, or mood, as long as you explicitly define them using whatever theory you subscribe to.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thanks @mrt, I was hoping you would answer. :-) I was just reading a review ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835158 that mentions a variety of different definitions for both affect and feelings in use throughout modern history. It's common for different theorists to operationalize the same concept in subtly different ways, but there is usually a common thread (ie, the core concept). In this case, I couldn't figure out what it was ... but I guess, as you've said, there really isn't one. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Oct 29 '16 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg Yep, that's a great paper!! And your impression of the literature is definitely spot on. Definitions change depending on the theory, history, and fashion. There are even current attempts to revive terms like "sentiment," making things potentially more confusing! $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Oct 29 '16 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ Feeling has the advantage not to have any definition nor precise meaning. It's ok to have a word to encompass all the others, as long as it is not used to designate something precise (which wild therefore require a more precise word...) $\endgroup$
    – Yako
    Oct 29 '16 at 14:56

According to Shouse (2005):

Feelings are personal, emotions are social and affect is prepersonal. In other words, feelings are how we understand and label our sensations, based on our own experiences. Emotions are how we project these socially (through facial expressions etc.) Emotions can therefore be manipulated to fit with social norms. Affect is more abstract and is the 'non-conscious experience of intensity' felt through the body, before we name and categorise it.

Shouse. Feeling, Emotion, Affect. M/C Journal 8.6 (2005)


See the article by Shouse, E. (2005), "Feeling, emotion, affect."

Affect is the basic element in non (or more than) representational theories.

Shouse, E. (2005). Feeling, emotion, affect. M/c journal, 8(6), 26.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Care to elaborate on that? Answers should stand on their own, otherwise the article could just as well be added as a comment. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Apr 12 '18 at 18:31

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