Right now, I am still in the process of thinking about what to write in the next weeks and months. For me, this blogging thing is new - it is interesting, exciting, daunting, and also, at times, perplexing. Yet, curiously, problems in planning the blog resonate with problems in conducting emotion research. Topics here are: levels, dynamic aspects, intensity, and function.
LEVELS :: In the emotion context, levels may refer to levels of analysis and specifically the approach put forward by Cacioppo and Berntson (1992) when introducing the notion of Social Neuroscience. I love this idea very much; it had a huge impact on my thinking, my teaching, and also my research. The idea here is that some researchers might focus on something like the immune system, others on psychological processes, such as stress, yet others, on interindividual differences, and someone else on the role of social support networks for well-being. Typically, in each case the focus is on a single level of analysis, but the mantra Cacioppo and his colleagues have been repeating ever since is that to understand the type of phenomena that we are dealing with, one a) needs to take into account how the same process relates to different methods, theories, and observations at different levels and b) how these levels relate to each other and interact. In the example, knowing about the inner wokings of the immune system will help in understanding how psychological processes at the individual level, and here interindividual differences, relate to social support. In a nutshell. I will get back to this issue of the necessity of multi-level approaches often. If you do not know the classic paper by Cacioppo and Berntson, the reference is below. John Cacioppo's page lists many relevant papers and gives also access to many. An excellent place to check out!
For the blog context, levels refers to how I should discuss the issues I want to discuss – for the specialists (and I know that there are some who are checking out this blog), or for the colleague with some interest in emotion, for students, or for somebody who is not interested in the nitty gritty of academic discourse, but who wants to understand something about emotions and wonders how such a complex and subjective thing could be studied by science? Frankly, I have not fully decided what level should be the target level. It is sure, that I will sometimes try to be more on the introductory level, and at others, go into some of the more arcane details of specific theories – for sure, there are parts of my website arvidkappas.com that simply list some starting points for the non-specialist – such as, what to read, or where to go to find out more. However, as a rule, the topics here, and the language chosen, will be a bit more on the advanced side, assuming the reader has already some familiarity with key theories of emotion. Feedback is most welcome. I am aware, that it will not be possible to do everything for everybody. I will also try to make cross-links to other blogs so that the interested reader might serendipitously find something even more interesting than this blog ;-)
DYNAMIC ASPECTS :: Dynamic aspects relate to how things develop over time – things like duration, fluctuations. This is a major problem in emotion research. We know so little about how long an emotion lasts, how one emotion tends to change into something else, how frequent we smile, how often we show certain physiological responses. One of my own interests relates to the role of dynamics in facial expressions, particularly smiles. How fast does a smile have to show up on the face for you to feel that it is genuine and not fake?
With regard to the blog it means, how often can and should I write? How much time should I leave between? Should I try to have a fixed rhythm? I’ll see.
INTENSITY :: How intense should this get – meaning, should I provoke? Should I challenge specific readers? I intend to be relatively spontaneous, as I am when I teach – this is not a scientific article, it is a soap box, so I will see whether this works or whether I am burning my fingers as I go along. Maybe I might get a bit out of control? That would be fitting for a blog on emotions, I guess.
In the emotion world, intensity is a tricky one – sometimes it feels as if, for example, anger and slight irritation are the same thing, but at different intensities, and indeed researchers have made that point. Others believe these are different states with different properties Also concepts such as moods or temperament are not only linked to temporal differences, but also to intensity differences. How to measure the intensity of an emotion is no doubt linked to how I define emotion – so is the definition issue, alluded to in the previous post, really a red herring, or is it more important than that?
FUNCTION :: I believe strongly that a functional analysis of emotions is key to understanding them. Emotions are not there to amuse or to puzzle us – they do things. We have evolved emotions because they are particularly good in dealing with certain types of situations. Sometimes they are not so useful, but overall we are much better off with than without. This is a notion that goes back to Darwin’s analysis, particularly of emotional expressions, but also to all behaviors and biological systems. A functional analysis can also be misleading, but by and large it’s the best we can do. What that means, I will say in more detail later, as I will pick up on these other topics. I apologize to Tom – your comment was well taken, much abstract, little concrete in these opening posts …
But what is the function of the blog? Should the function(s) and goal(s) not shape the form and the content of what is being discussed? So I should know what this is about before I start. In an ideal world this might be the case, but in reality, well, this is difficult to achieve. Surely, there is more than one function I guess. Some relates to vanity and hubris. Some relates to idealism and naiveté. Some relates to me trying to make meaning out of what I can observe. This however, for me, is a distributed task – it is about making meaning for myself, but also being part of a larger enterprise that makes meaning out of observations linking many brains - this is why we teach, why we have schools and universities. Emotions are such wondrous things, it takes many brains and much time to discover some of the whys and the hows. The internet is such a curious thing, it allows connections in unexpected and rather direct ways, so I guess what it really is, is an experiment that is trageted at joint discoveries. However, I will also try to entertain a bit, along the way, and I hope I succeed.
So for now I ask you to bear with me until I have a better grasp on the blog, relating to LEVELS, DYNAMIC ASPECTS, INTENSITY, and FUNCTIONS. So that I can talk about LEVELS, DYNAMIC ASPECTS, INTENSITY, and FUNCTIONS of emotions.
Cacioppo, J. T., & Berntson, G. G. (1992). Social psychological contributions to the decade of the brain: Doctrine of multilevel analysis. American Psychologist, 47, 1019-1028. PDF