This POWRE award will allow Feldman Barrett to integrate cognitive science and neuroscience perspectives into her current research on emotion generation. She has developed a theory that emotional responses are formed when complex emotion knowledge is applied to elementary feelings of pleasure or displeasure. This application may be either automatic, requiring little attention, or deliberate, requiring effort, when generating a discrete emotional response. As a result, individuals vary in the specificity in their current emotional state, called emotional granularity. Low granularity involves little or no distinction between emotions typically assumed to be separate and specific (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, etc.), whereas high granularity involves fine grained distinctions. This award will afford her the opportunity to formulate a theory of functional emotional architecture that will directly address how feelings of pleasure or displeasure combine with emotion representations to produce emotional states. The award will give her the opportunity to develop familiarity with contemporary literature and methods in cognitive science and neuroscience. She will endeavor to connect observed differences in emotional granularity with available evidence about neuroanatomical models of the brain and thereby to formulate a theory of a functional emotional architecture that directly addresses how automatic and deliberative processes produce emotional states. Moreover, she will initiate a program of study addressing how working memory is linked to the deliberate use of emotion knowledge when emotional responses are generated.
The work has the potential to change in a fundamental way the research questions that psychologists ask when studying emotion. It may move the field away from the notion that emotions are a small set of discrete, universal states that are essentially defined by distinct autonomic or behavioral patterns, and towards a view that emotions, like memory and attention, are emergent phenomena generated by the complex interplay of multiple systems. In addition, it will pave the way for future research on the adaptive consequences of emotional granularity and contribute to the construction of training programs (in therapy or in skill-building programs) designed to improve emotional adjustment (which will, in turn, improve interpersonal adjustment and vocational performance).
This POWRE award, thus, will enable Feldman Barrett to develop new methodological skills, pursue collaborations with cognitive neuroscientists specializing in neuroimaging technology, and thereby broaden the theoretical and empirical base of her research program.