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Introduction to Special Section: On Being Moved. A Cross-Cultural Approach
Emotion Review  (IF7.345),  Pub Date : 2021-09-20, DOI: 10.1177/17540739211040081
Pia Campeggiani

At first blush, “being moved” is nothing more than a generic expression we use to account for states of emotional arousal. These can be as diverse as joy and sorrow, or pity and admiration, and are often generic themselves, which is why we do not need nor care to be more specific when we talk about them. On closer inspection, however, things are not so simple. For a start, there seem to be some emotional experiences (e.g., shame, envy, jealousy, or hate, as well as, on the positive side, cheerfulness or gaiety) that speakers of English would not normally describe in terms of “being moved.” Besides, if we were to render the phrase “to be moved” in another language – Italian, for example – we would be faced with two options: stick to its generic meaning of “feeling emotional” (emozionarsi) or further qualify it by translating it as commuoversi, therefore denoting a quite specific, bittersweet way of feeling that we typically experience “when something very dear to [us] makes it appearance” (Tan, 2009, p. 74). This would also be the case if we were translating the phrase into Spanish, German, French, Swedish, Russian, or Japanese, just to give some examples. To be able to differentiate between the generic and the specific sense of the phrase, a good translator would need to consider the larger narrative in which it is embedded and, looking for cues, she would ask questions such as “What is the emoter moved about?”, “Why is she moved?,” and “How does this experience make her feel and act?” Over the past few years, scholars in philosophy and psychology have taken up the challenge of conceptualizing being moved as a distinct emotion and by specifying its intentional, phenomenological, and action-related features they have provided us with interesting insights into just the narrative cues we are looking for. As for the physiology and the phenomenology of the experience, scholars mostly agree on the ambivalence of being moved as a mixed emotion that brings about heart rate acceleration and piloerection, often gives us a sensation of warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat, and makes us smile through tears. However, the intentionality of being moved is more controversial and different theories diverge on the definition of its formal object. According to Cova and Deonna (2014), the emotion of being moved is triggered when “positive values are brought to the fore and manifest themselves in a particularly salient way” (p. 453). The positive values specific to being moved are further qualified as those “that are important enough to make human life meaningful” (Cova, Deonna, & Sander, 2017, p. 362). At a psychological level, they belong to the category of “core values” and, as such, resist comparisons and trade-offs. Interpreted in this way, core values cannot be defined extensionally and vary across individuals and cultures. More specifically, however, it is not a core value as such, but its positivity or goodness that we experience when we are moved. So, while we may respond to success with joy, or to generosity with gratitude, in being moved we do not engage with these values per se, but with their overall goodness (Deonna, 2018). Somewhat in the same vein, Cullhed (2020) claims that the formal object of being moved is better understood in terms of “dearness.” While compatible with the idea that being moved is evoked by the apprehension of the positivity of a core value, Cullhed’s view also focuses on the affective quality of our relationship with it, which is “enduring and similar to interpersonal bonds” (p. 115). Social bonds are central to the description that Menninghaus and colleagues provide of being moved as an “intensely felt response to scenarios that have a particularly strong bearing on attachment-related issues – and hence on prosocial bonding tendencies, norms, and ideals – ranging from the innermost circle of one’s personal life (spouse, children, friends) to higher-order entities of social life (one’s country, social and religious communities)” (Menninghaus et al., 2015, p. 12). On this view, therefore, being moved does not occur as a response to just any core value; rather, it is limited to the perception of prosocial norms and ideals. In a similar vein, Fiske and colleagues, who call being moved “kama muta” (the Sanskrit for “moved by love”), further restrict the domain of its core relational theme and