How can we know how other people are really feeling? If emotions are intensely experienced it may be easy to tell, but some people are good at hiding their emotions, or they may be unaware of or unable to report what they are feeling. Fortunately, technological advances in measuring brain activity and emotion theory can help us to have a more objective understanding of people's emotional states. Some theories of emotion suggest that different emotional states, such as fear, anger, or happiness, arise because of specific, dedicated neural circuitry that responds in the same way any time that emotion is experienced. For example, the circuitry for happiness is the same whether it arises because you get a compliment or you learned of a promotion. In contrast, the proposed research is built on an innovative 'situated neuroscience' model of emotions. This model hypothesizes that emotions correspond to variable neural patterns. These variable patterns are hypothesized to be determined by the emotion category experienced, such as fear, and partly by the context in which the emotion is experienced. The context includes components from culture and the situation itself. Dr. Kristen Lindquist, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues proposed three experiments to examine this model. Her research will use measures of the location of brain events (functional magnetic resonance imaging; fMRI) and the timing of brain events (electroencephalography; EEG). The integration of emotion theory and technology in this way could help to improve communication about and understanding of emotions, help us to predict when emotions influence our decisions and performance, and may have benefits for the way we interact with others.

The proposed research integrates emotion theory with technological advances in measuring brain activity to "read" emotional feelings from brain states. The aim is to develop a situated neuroscience of emotion that will inform our understanding of the basis of emotions and their conscious experience. Three experiments are proposed that examine the role of situational and cultural contexts in emotion and brain activity. The first experiment examines fear and anger and their interaction with situational and cultural contexts on brain activity, using functional magnetic resonance (fMRI). The situation is manipulated to be either social or non-social, and culture stems from enrolling natives of the US and China who know the emotion-based norms and values of their respective culture. The second experiment extends this investigation to the temporal dynamics of emotional brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG). The third study uses machine learning on data obtained from the prior experiments to determine which variables best predict brain activity during emotion, in the different contexts. Understanding the situated nature of emotion is crucial to an understanding of how neural circuits map on to subjective mental states. These findings may improve our understanding of emotional experience in ourselves and others, and enhance our communication, well-being, and diplomatic relations. It may also inform applied advancements in the areas of mood-related illnesses and brain-computer interface.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Steven J. Breckler
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill
United States
Zip Code