February 2017 – This is my last column as Emotion Researcher editor. I accepted Jerry Parrott’s offer to take over the editorship from Christine Harris in July 2013, and it is now time for me to move on. I thoroughly enjoyed my stint as editor. I am proud of what has been achieved, most significantly the transformation of the Emotion Researcher from paper newsletter to online sourcebook focused on interdisciplinary and cutting-edge research.
I am also extremely grateful to all those who have contributed to this sourcebook over the past four years, putting up with my persistent requests for interdisciplinary comprehensibility. Finally, I want to thank Arvid Kappas and the executive committee of ISRE (Stephanie Shields, Diana Montague, Jody Clay-Warner, Agnes Moors, Christine Harris, Gerrod Parrott, Ursula Hess, Yochi Cohen-Charash, Julien Deonna, Michelle Yik, and Louise Sundararajan) for their trust and good advice over the past few years. If my tenure as editor has shown anything, it is that interesting ideas, whether they originate from psychology, philosophy, political science, neuroscience, sociology, linguistics, literature, affective computing, history, anthropology or other disciplines, can be stripped of their jargon and made available across disciplines to everyone’s benefit.
This issue of Emotion Researcher focuses on Emotions and Politics. The long political campaign for the US Presidency we have just witnessed has stirred in me, as in millions of other people, powerful emotions. It has also put on display for all to see the extent to which emotions can influence political outcomes. The received view on what happened is that Trump won the presidency against Clinton because he exploited the fear and anger of his supporters, who, whipped into an emotional frenzy, bought into his dystopian vision of a failing America only he could make great again.
But is this really how things went down? Did the Clinton and Trump campaigns truly elicit different emotions in their respective constituencies? Would their campaign ads shed light on the matter? More generally, are emotions inevitably a source of political irrationality? Are people of different political persuasions driven by distinctive emotional responses? What roles do specific emotions play in the political arena (e.g. fear, anger, pride, hope, etc.)? These are some of the questions at the core of this issue of Emotion Researcher, which broadly investigates the roles emotions plays in politics.
As usual, we are guided in our exploration by a distinguished cast of leading researchers in a variety of disciplines. We begin with political scientist George Marcus’s overview of his influential Affective Intelligence Theory or AIT (not to be confused with the similarly named theory of Emotional Intelligence or EI). AIT provides one of the dominant theoretical frameworks for understanding the role emotions play in politics. The take home message of Marcus’ analysis is that emotions are not necessarily a source of political irrationality. In fact, on his view some emotions are instrumental for the activation of the rational assessment of political options.
Philosopher Jason Brennan defends a very different view, according to which emotions are indeed responsible for some of the cognitive biases that make our politics so divisive. Brennan begins by distinguishing three archetypical categories of democratic citizens: Hobbits, Hooligans and Vulcans. Political Hobbits don’t give politics much thought, and are happy to go with the flow. Political Hooligans are the sports fans of politics, and they tend to filter information so as to have their pre-existing political opinions confirmed. Political Vulcans, finally, impartially evaluate the evidence and let it dictate their political views. Brennan’s thesis is that typical non-voters are Hobbits, registered party members and political activists are Hooligans and most Americans fall on the spectrum between Hobbit and Hooligan, with practically no one thinking about political matters like a Vulcan. An unsettling corollary of Brennan’s analysis is that hard-to-eradicate emotion-driven cognitive biases systematically prevent citizens from processing political information in a rational way, leading to the detrimental political polarization we witness today.
Political scientists Kathleen Searles and Travis Ridout zero in on the strategic use of emotional appeals by political campaigns. Much of their work focuses on how political ads target different emotions. For example, they considered all political TV ads that aired in U.S. Senate races in 2004, and discovered that pride was the emotion appealed to most often, followed by enthusiasm, anger, and fear. Another relevant aspect of their research concerns the timing of emotional appeals over the course of a political campaign and the impact of incumbent or challenger status on emotional communication strategies. In what promises to be an especially interesting part of their article, Searles and Ridout provide the first quantitative analysis of the campaign ads run by Trump and Clinton in 2016, finding out important differences between them.
The article by Samuel Justin Sinclair, Matthew Ciccone, Kelly Main, Gabrielle Arroyo, Olivia Kolodziejczak, Holly Dulaney, David Barbosa, & Jennifer Sheets focuses on how terrorism impacts the psychology of its victims, with special focus on anxiety/fear. They discuss what factors affect people’s reactions to terrorist attacks, underscoring in particular the crucial role played by media re-exposure even in the absence of physical proximity to the attacks. They also highlight the worrisome connection between elevated fears of terrorism and biomarkers of inflammation that predict increased mortality risk. Finally, they provide an analysis of the reasons why the objectively low probability of dying in a terrorist attack does not translate into subdued fear of terrorism.
Emotions and politics is also the topic of Arvid Kappas’ customary ISRE Matters column. Kappas urges us to be careful in trying to explain recent political upheavals such as Brexit or Trump’s election victory in terms of emotions running amok, for a variety of reasons he explores. Kappas also announces the three keynote speakers for ISRE 2017 in Saint Louis, so make sure to check out who they are!
The Young Researcher Spotlight is on Michael Kraus, who has done noteworthy work on the role of emotional communication in social life. In particular, Kraus has studied how tactile expressions promote trust and cooperation in basketballs teams, how the amount of smiling at the ritual weighing ceremony predicts the result of boxing matches, and how one’s position in a social hierarchy affects the degree of empathetic engagement with others.
Last but not least, I am delighted to announce a wide-ranging interview with Martha Nussbaum, one of the most celebrated living philosophers and a deeply influential student of the many roles emotions play in social life. The interview is a model for how to combine one’s personal history with substantive philosophical discussions. I am very grateful to Martha for her generosity throughout the interviewing process. In addition, you will also find several never-before-seen photos of Martha throughout her life, so there are many reasons not to miss this interview!
In conclusion, I thank you all for your attention and support over the past four years. Your feedback has been helpful for fine-tuning the publication, and your praise and occasional critiques have both motivated me to do better. What is next, you may wonder? We do not have a new editor just yet. But the search is on, and hopefully Arvid Kappas will be able to announce a new editor in the not-too-distant future. A delay between this issue and the next appears to be inevitable at this stage. What you can count on is this: the Emotion Researcher will continue in its vigorous march towards becoming the premiere online reference work on emotions in the world. Meanwhile, enjoy this issue, and stay tuned!
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