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<p>Successful social interactions depend on people’s ability to predict others’ future actions and emotions. People possess many mechanisms for perceiving others’ current emotional states, but how might they use this information to predict others’ future states? We hypothesized that people might capitalize on an overlooked aspect of affective experience: current emotions predict future emotions. By capitalizing on regularities in emotion transitions, perceivers might develop accurate mental models of others’ emotional dynamics. People could then use these mental models of emotion transitions to predict others’ future emotions from currently observable emotions. To test this hypothesis, Studies 1-3 used data from three extant experience-sampling data sets to establish the actual rates of emotional transitions. We then collected three parallel data sets in which participants rated the transition likelihoods between the same emotions. Participants’ ratings of emotion transitions predicted others’ experienced transitional likelihoods with high accuracy. Study 4 demonstrated that four conceptual dimensions of mental state representation – valence, social impact, rationality, and human-specificity – inform participants’ mental models. Study 5 used 2 million emotion reports on the Experience Project to replicate both of these findings: again people reported accurate models of emotion transitions, and these mental models were informed by the same four conceptual dimensions. Importantly, neither these conceptual dimensions nor holistic similarity could fully explain participants’ accuracy, suggesting that mental models of emotion transitions contain accurate information about emotion dynamics above and beyond that which might be predicted by static conceptual knowledge alone.</p>
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