Statement of Interests

My research interests have been diverse, ranging from a collaborative study of the role of the amygdala in interpreting facial expressions of emotion to a review of ethnographic and linguistic evidence on cultural variations in people's concepts of emotion to the psychometrics of testing bipolarity in correlational data. What unifies this diversity is an abiding interest in emotion. My doctoral dissertation examined the idea that behavior within a place is mediated by the emotional quality of that place: how soothing or upsetting, boring or exciting it is. This interest led to more basic questions about the nature of emotion itself.

One continuing line of research concerns something I now call 'core affect.' Core affect is the neurophysiological state consciously accessible as simply feeling good or bad, energized or enervated. A circumplex model of core affect provides a good fit to data on mood, affective reactions to places, and the emotional interpretation of faces; provides a means of integrating various models of mood; and summarizes results obtained with two-year olds and those speaking various languages. One specific focus has been the question of whether feeling good is, as assumed in the circumplex, the bipolar opposite of feeling bad -- or whether these are better thought of as separable or even independent responses. (Representative Publications)

Another line of research concerns the concepts of 'emotion,' 'fear,' 'anger' and the like. Evidence challenges the classical Aristotelian assumption that these concepts are defined by necessary and sufficient features. Instead, to have the concept of, say, anger is to know a prototype or script for anger. To categorize an event (perceiving oneself or another) as anger is to perceive a resemblance between the event and the script. Resemblance can occur in varying ways and to varying degrees, with no feature of the script necessary or sufficient. Emotion concepts in English resemble but are not identical with emotion concepts in other languages. (Representative Publications)

A third major line of research concerns the claim that basic emotions produce facial signals that are easily and universally recognized. There are a variety of ways to account for existing data without making this assumption. (Representative Publications) A similar conclusion stems from studies of how children come to understand facial expressions. (Representative Publications)

Recently, I turned to the integration of these various strands into a broad framework, called the psychological construction of emotion, which tries to provide a fresh perspective on continuing conceptual debates about the nature of emotion, ranging from the idea that emotions are universal aspects of human nature to the idea that they are artifacts of human culture.