Interdisciplinarity in emotion research: Limits and possibilities

July 11th A0.01
W. Gerrod Parrott (Georgetown University)

The topic of emotion is generally thought to be interdisciplinary. Multidisciplinary societies such as ISRE provide researchers the opportunity to learn about developments in other fields, yet most of the symposia, talks, and posters report research from just one discipline. This symposium considers the value of such interdisciplinary sharing and explores the potential for research that is truly interdisciplinary, whether it be by reviewing and combining insights from several disciplines or by collaboration among researchers from multiple fields who combine their knowledge and methods. The speakers in this symposium address this issue in a variety of ways. The speakers themselves are in departments of philosophy, psychology, literature, or history. Some have participated in interdisciplinary research projects or research centers. Some have attempted the synthesize findings from multiple disciplines. Three are currently editors of emotion journals and regularly deal with compatibility and communication between disciplines. Each speaker will consider the potential benefits of interdisciplinary research as well as the limitations and difficulties that arise.

Interdisciplinarity in Research on Shame

W. Gerrod Parrott

I will discuss interdisciplinary research on emotion, drawing from research on shame. Interdisciplinary approaches to emotion take many forms. Researchers commonly glean ideas or test theories from other disciplines; there are many examples of cross-fertilization between psychology, anthropology, history, and literature about shame. Researchers also collaborate with or borrow techniques from other disciplines to conduct research that is truly multidisciplinary. Several examples of research on shame (including some of my own) demonstrate the benefits of such cross-fertilization, but limitations and challenges are evident as well. One difficulty is simply the fact that the assumptions, methods, and knowledge bases of academic disciplines are so very different—interdisciplinary emotion meetings (e.g., ISRE) and journals (e.g., Emotion Review) can only function if researchers have some knowledge outside their own discipline or if authors communicate with awareness that their audience includes outsiders. A second limitation is that different disciplines really do ask different questions and care about different things. Interdisciplinary research requires that there be some subject matter that multiple disciplines have in common. There are times when disciplines seem to perceive almost no overlap on the multidisciplinary Venn diagram, as when anti-essentialist humanists reject psychologists’ isolation of emotions from their context, and psychologists dismiss humanist explorations of particular cases and episodes as not being about emotion per se. If commonalities can be found, however, interdisciplinarity can help to overcome the limitations of any one approach.

Affect Theory and Emotional Contagion: The Case of the Gothic

Laura Rosenthal

In the last twenty years, scholars in the humanities have taken renewed interest in emotions, a development that holds the potential for cross-fertilization with psychologists. But humanities scholars tend to reject psychology in favor of psychoanalysis, embracing the study of “affect” while viewing “emotion” with skepticism. In this paper I will consider the possibility that exchange between the disciplines could be mutually beneficial. My three points of reference will be emotion theory, affect theory, and gothic literature, a genre that appears at a key historical moment with the goal of a particular emotional affect (terror, horror) that depends on the movement of feelings from body to body. In Theresa Brennan’s case for “the transmission of affect,” feelings also move from one person to another, and people absorb emotions from their environment. Brenan draws on psychiatry, medicine, and psychoanalysis, but seems unaware of the parallel study by psychologists of “emotional contagion.” On the other side of the divide, “affect theory” has made little headway into studies of emotion outside of the humanities. The difference, I will suggest, lies in Brenan’s suggestion that before the eighteenth century emotions were generally not understood as individual but as collectively produced, and they had different consequences for people in different social positions. Gothic novels appear at the fulcrum of this change, and thus become productive test cases for tensions and intersections between affect theory and emotional contagion. By focusing on this historical turning point, I hope to suggest the benefits of thinking through both disciplines.

Interdisciplinary Emotion: Envy and Jealousy in Literature and Psychology

Bradley J. Irish

In Emotion in the Tudor Court: Literature, History, and Early Modern Feeling (Northwestern University Press, 2018), I argued that humanist scholars working on the literary history of emotion should pursue a research agenda that not only relies on familiar analytical methods from literary and historical studies, but that also draws upon the insights of the modern affective sciences. In this talk, I model such disciplinary interaction—that is, show how different research traditions can inform one another—via a brief case study: the historical understanding of rivalrous emotions (envy and jealousy) in Renaissance England. Modern psychological theories of envy andjealousy help shed light on historical instantiations of these emotions, while these particular historical manifestations also, in turn, provide evidence that helps recontextualize and strengthen the theories emerging from modern psychology. The best way to considerhistorical emotion is one that thusly draws from such multiple research traditions—but it is one that requires careful consideration, as well as a willingness to be less territorial about the boundaries and domains of one’s disciplinary home.

Emotion and evaluation – Appraisal theory and philosophy of emotion

Fabrice Teroni

The aim of this talk is to examine the potential interactions between approaches in psychology and philosophy of emotions that emphasize the fundamental connections of emotions to values and evaluations. According to appraisal theory, emotions are – or are caused by – sequences of appraisal checks that assess whether a given target is novel or not, intrinsically pleasant or unpleasant, goal congruent or incongruent, etc. Appraisalists often claim that these sequences of “molecular” appraisals are psychologically more “real” than “molar” appraisals, which more readily correspond to folk evaluative concepts (“offensive”, “admirable” etc.). Philosophical approaches that emphasize the evaluative dimension of emotion, according to which emotions are evaluative judgements, evaluative thoughts or evaluative perceptual experiences, have almost exclusively focused on these concepts. So, how should we understand the relation between the psychologist’s molecular appraisals and the philosopher’s evaluations? In this talk, I shall explore three ways of understanding this relation. First, the relation may be conceptual: molecular appraisals constitute an analysis of folk evaluative concepts. Second, it may be epistemological: molecular appraisals constitute reasons to think that folk evaluative concepts apply to the target. Third, the relation may be ontological: molecular appraisals refer to properties that exist, and evaluative properties are nothing over and above these properties. I shall assess these three ways of understanding the relation and examine on this basis whether it makes sense to claim that molecular appraisals are psychologically more real than molar appraisals.

Interdisciplinary histories of emotion

Katie Barclay

If historians have a shared concern with locating events or experiences in temporal contexts (with a fair level of sceptism towards ‘universal’ explanations), we are a broad church, encompassing a wide range of theories and methodologies. This is not to say that historians are innately interdisciplinary; indeed, much of our most vibrant arguments reflect that theory and method often act as the critical dividing lines within our discipline. Historians are as likely to argue with each other over the basic principle of scholarly operation, as with those beyond our boundaries. This is as true of the history of emotions as any other topic, where a wide array of approaches have been brought in to help us access the historical experience of feeling – from psychology through to linguistics and visual analysis. One of the key dividing lines has been over the nature of the historical emotions project itself – are we historians of science, exploring how past people conceived of emotion, or historians of emotional experience, exploring what emotion ‘does’ within particular times and places. Our position on this question has required quite different methodologies, that have cleaved the discipline more than is perhaps necessary. This paper reflects on how different knowledges and methods within and beyond history have enabled the history of emotions, the challenges of interdisciplinarity in this context, and what interdisciplinarity brings to the scholarship.