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What are collective emotions?

Collective emotions have important functions in social interaction, but how do they differ from individual emotions? Researchers in the social and behavioral sciences have been intrigued by collective emotions ever since the seminal studies of LeBon, Durkheim and McDougall. However, research on these emotions has not kept pace with inquiries on individual emotions. The article focuses on certain major theories of collective emotions asking how well they are capable of accounting for the two intuitively central aspects of collective emotions: shared intentionality and shared embodied experiences. The theories in focus are aggregative theories, ritualistic theories, and intergroup emotion theory. It is argued that none of these theories is capable of accounting for the two dimensions of collective emotions alone.  A more plausible approach combines the evaluative intentionality emphasized by intergroup emotion theory with a ritualistic account of shared experiences, emerging from synchronized emotional expressions of the group members. However, this model can be specified by distinguishing between different types of collective emotions, depending on the private or collective character of those concerns, goals, or values that rationally underlie collective emotions. Finally, it is suggested that weakly, moderately, and strongly collective emotions have dissimilar functions in the dynamics of social groups.

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