Social process theory of emotion: A dynamic systems approach

Alan Fogel, Eva Nwokah, Jae Young Dedo, Daniel Messinger, K. Laurie Dickson, Eugene Matusov, Susan A. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


In this paper we apply a dynamic systems perspective to infant emotional development. We propose that emotions are not states but self‐organizing dynamic processes intimately tied to the flow of an individual's activity in a context. We review data on the relationship between emotional actions and the social context, in particular the development of smiling and laughter. These data are more adequately explained by our perspective than by other theories of emotional development. We provide a model for how emotional processes in early infancy become embedded into sociocultural systems, and suggest new avenues of research on emotional development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-142
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Emotional development
  • dynamic systems
  • nonverbal communication
  • self‐organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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