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The Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences, in collaboration with the University at Buffalo, developed an Emotion Ontology to describe affective phenomena, as a branch of the broader Mental Functioning ontology effort.

Interdisciplinary research is inherently plagued by the difficulties of integration and standardisation of terminology, knowledge and disparate theoretical frameworks in order to compare results across disciplines which historically have evolved separately. In the context of a multi-disciplinary research environment, to assist the integration and computational processing of results in the affective sciences, the Emotion Ontology has been developed to aid in disambiguation and standardised reporting of research results.

The ontology aims to include all relevant aspects of affective phenomena including their bearers, the different types of emotions, moods, etc., their different parts and dimensions of variation, their facial and vocal expressions, and the role of emotions and affective phenomena in general in influencing human behavior.

Proper delineation of the upper levels is essential to ensure the unambiguous interpretation of the entities in the ontology which contributes to the usability and interoperability of the fully populated ontology. To achieve this, we will draw on the Basic Formal Ontology, the domain-independent upper ontology advocated by the OBO Foundry. Subsequent phases of the project will identify, define and place all relevant affective phenomena within the ontology, and link this ontology to neighbouring efforts in the domains of neural and social informatics, such as the Neuroscience Information Framework. Finally, we will develop software applications which make use of the ontology to directly support the work of Affective Science researchers both in Switzerland and globally.

The latest ontology file can always be downloaded from:

A SUMO version of the Emotion Ontology is available at

Relevant publications:

Dispositions and Processes in the Emotion Ontology, Proceedings of ICBO 2011, Buffalo, USA

Annotating Affective Neuroscience Data with the Emotion Ontology, Proceedings of the Workshop Towards an Ontology of Mental Functioning, ICBO 2012, Graz, Austria

Related publications:

Three hybrid classifiers for the detection of emotions in suicide notes, Biomed Inform Insights. 2012; 5(Suppl. 1): 175–184.

Evaluating the Emotion Ontology through use in the self-reporting of emotional responses at an academic conference, Journal of Biomedical Semantics 5:38.

Also of interest:

A framework for constructing cognition ontologies using WordNet, FrameNet and SUMO, Reed & Pease 2015, Cognitive Systems Research Volume 33 pages 122-144.

For more information, please contact

Project contributors:

Janna Hastings Barry Smith Werner Ceusters Kevin Mulligan


Ontology for emotions and affective phenomena







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