The release of the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street was the excuse I needed to finally plunk down some electronic cash and get the Rolling Stones Boxed Set. Among the treasure trove of all things Jagger/Richards also Emotional Rescue - by coincidence - or is it - the name of an article about some of the work my colleague Heather Urry is doing at Tufts University.
The research described relates to regulating emotion - apparently the topic of the week for this blog. The article in Tufts Journal is worthwhile reading and might be a good starting point to find out more about Heather's work. What I find fascinating is that in my mind much of the work on the cognitive regulation of emotion goes back to the pioneering work of Richard Lazarus fifty years ago. This is not a criticism regarding today's work but a praise to this early groundbreaking work. Already then, Lazarus and his colleagues demonstrated that the physiological response to a stressful film could be manipulated by either a text presented while the film was shown or given before to create an orientation that influenced the meaning of the bloody film. What these studies showed is that there is no fixed link between a stimulus and the emotion it would elicit, but that how the stimulus is appraised - what the meaning of this stimulus is - plays an important role. This was a revolutionary statement then and to some degree it still is now. It is the basis of teaching people to control their emotions by trying to think about certain things in a different way. GIven how much modern emotion research focuses on the brain it also underlines the plasticity of emotional processes. The brain might have a particular sensitivity to some things, such as faces, or snakes, but in many cases the reaction to a particular pattern is not fixed. The intermediate step between a stimulus and a response is the meaning of that stimulus. Today, rather than just looking at peripheral measures of emotional arousal, such as skin resistance, we can observe how brain activity in specific locations, such as the amygdala, is affected by how we think about a stimulus, such as an ugly picture. Consider the study by McRea and colleagues below as an example.
One of the most interesting challenges in emotion research is to integrate two types of processes - those which we can control by thought and automatic processes that often even happen outside of our awareness. I will be talking more about that ...
Now back to listening to some Stones ...
McRae, K., Ochsner, K. N., Mauss, I. B., Gabrieli, J. D. E. & Gross, J. J. (2008). Gender Differences in Emotion Regulation: An fMRI study of Cognitive Reappraisal. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 11, 145-162.
Arvid Kappas is Professor of Psychology at Jacobs University Bremen. He has been conducting research on emotions for over three decades in the US, Canada, and in several European countries.