Editor’s Column – Understanding Love Issue


Andrea Scarantino, Department of Philosophy & Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University

I am thrilled to announce that, after a long and glorious run as a Newsletter (1987-2015), the Emotion Researcher is morphing into something new: ISRE’s Sourcebook for Research on Emotion and Affect. The new caption, selected through a voting process by the members of ISRE’s Board, is meant to signal a new phase in the life of the Emotion Researcher.

Rather than being primarily a purveyor of news about the profession (although news will continue to be reported), the Emotion Researcher aims to become the premiere web-based, free and multi-media reference work devoted to research on emotion and affect. Such a resource is required if our profession is to stay informed on the growing body of interdisciplinary research going on in the affective sciences and humanities alike.

Why emotion and affect? The caption makes it clear that the Emotion Researcher welcomes both self-described emotion theorists and self-described affect theorists. Since the nature of emotion and affect, as well as their relation, are contentious, we wanted to err on the side of safety: if you study affective and/or emotional phenomena broadly understood, the Emotion Researcher is your home.

Over time, the Emotion Researcher will offer a repository of articles about most cutting-edge topics pertaining to emotion, affect, mood, feelings, preferences, attitudes, affective dispositions, affective disturbances, and so on. And it will cover each topic from the distinctive interdisciplinary perspective that defines ISRE as a society, bringing you the viewpoints of psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, psychiatrists, primatologists, sociologists, linguists, roboticists, business experts, historians, anthropologists, political scientists, educators, lawyers, computer scientists, economists, and anyone else that works in the affective sciences broadly construed.

This change represents a natural progression for the Newsletter, which got its start in 1987 under the editorship of Stephanie Shields (Ross Buck took over in 1992). It was then just called ISRE’s Newsletter, and it was fairly limited in scope (the first issue, which you can check out here, only consisted of 6 pdf pages). Its main purpose was then to facilitate  communication among ISRE members in a largely pre-internet world (once internet use became widespread, Stephanie created the ISRE listserv in 2000).

In the course of the 5 years of her editorship, Stephanie expanded the scope of the newsletter, including book reports, discussions of the state of emotion theory in a particular region of the world, abstracts of articles, and brief commentaries, adding more and more substance to the publication (Stephanie has kindly scanned all issues produced under her editorship. If you are interested, they are all available here).

The Emotion Researcher itself was born in 1999, under the editorship of Tracy Mayne (I found out that the Newsletter was also briefly called Affect Scientist, a moniker soon discarded because not considered sufficiently inclusive). The Emotion Researcher was then 8 pdf pages long (you take a look here at the first issue), and it progressively showcased more and more short articles written by leading researchers.

A sequence of talented and committed editors (I remember the following: Randy Cornelius, Agneta Fischer, Nathan Consedine, Christine Harris. If you edited the newsletter and I did not include your name, please email me!) further expanded the scope and ambition of the newsletter, which by the time Christine Harris became sole editor consisted of 16 pdf pages on specific topics of analysis (I recall helpful issues on happiness, laughter, nasty emotions, emotion regulation, emotion and health, and a celebratory issue on the 25 years of ISRE).

When I took over as editor in 2013, I had two main objectives. The first was to go online, and make the newsletter available to all for free. I am a big believer in the transformative potential of open online academic resources, and I thought then, and continue to think now, that it is in ISRE’s interest to reach the largest number of people, whether they are members or not (but do not be a free rider, and become a paying member of ISRE if you rely on the Emotion Researcher for your research!).

The second was to build a searchable resource, which could help all emotion and affect researchers get their bearings on a new topic, and explore the latest research in disciplines other than their own. The Sourcebook caption makes it explicit that, having now reached a critical mass of articles (equivalent to more than 500 pdf pages), the Emotion Researcher can begin functioning as a reference resource moving forward. The new Table of Contents feature will make navigating the site even easier.

I plan to continue for a couple more years as editor of ISRE’s Sourcebook, and once it is fully established I will leave my post to someone else who will make the Emotion Researcher thrive even more. In the long run, I see the Emotion Researcher, with expanded economic resources and governance, as the counterpart in the affective sciences of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which after a twenty-year run has become a vital reference resource for philosophers all over the world.

Ok, enough with the preliminaries. This Emotion Researcher is devoted to love, which, as we all know, makes the world go around. Love is arguably the most prototypical of all emotions for English speakers, but one of the last to become the object of sustained scientific investigation. This is not by chance.

As Elaine Hatfield, a pioneer of love research, reports in her article with Richard L. Rapson, the study of love was not considered a respectable endeavor in the 1960s, when the behaviorist aversion to feelings was replaced by the cognitivist disinterest in them in favor of computational models of cognitive abilities. As discussed by Arvid Kappas in his ISRE Matters column on love, Elaine Hatfield and Ellen Berscheid even received the first Golden Fleece award from Senator Proxmire, given from 1975 to 1989 to chastise “wasteful, ironic or ridiculous uses of the taxpayers’ money”.

To justify the award, the Senator put together the following spectacularly obtuse explanation:

“I object to this not only because no one—not even the National Science Foundation—can argue that falling in love is a science; not only because I’m sure that even if they spend $84 million or $84 billion they wouldn’t get an answer that anyone would believe. I’m also against it because I don’t want the answer. I believe that 200 million other Americans want to leave some things in life a mystery, and right on top of the things we don’t want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa”.

But Elaine and Ellen pushed right ahead, developing the Passionate Love Scale which has now been translated in dozens of languages, and defining the central questions of love research, several of which have now been (at least tentatively) answered.

One of the central distinctions in contemporary love research is that between romantic (or passionate) love and parental love. In this issue, we have the privilege of back-to-back articles on the neuroscience of, respectively, romantic love and parental love by two leading researchers in the field.

Stephanie Cacioppo walks us through her cutting-edge research on the behavioral and brain markers of romantic love and lust, arguing that they both recruit the dopaminergic reward-related brain system, but also differ in a number of respects. In addition, she explores how these recent findings on neural differences between love and lust could help in the context of couples therapy and pharmacology.

Michael Numan provides us with a first-rate overview of the neuroscience of parental behavior, which in mammals is largely maternal behavior (in 95% of mammalian species, females care for the offspring by themselves). He also makes the case that the neural circuits underpinning maternal behavior may have provided a neural foundation for other types of caregiving behaviors, including long-term pair bonding in humans. An especially interesting aspect of Numan’s analysis concerns experimental studies showing how being the victim of poor parenting behaviors in youth negatively affects one’s own parenting skills.

Finally, Brit Broogard explores a question central to the philosophy of love, namely whether true romantic love must be unconditional. She defends a negative answer to this question, suggesting that on all dominant philosophical theories of love – she distinguishes the union view, the history view and the emotion view – love is based on features that the beloved could lose, thereby leading to a dissolution of the love bond. She also briefly deals with the challenging question of whether romantic love can be rational or irrational depending on the features of the beloved.

The Young Researcher Spotlight goes to Piercarlo Valdesolo, an up-and-coming young researcher from Claremont McKenna College who is doing innovative work on the role of emotions in morality, focusing specifically on trolley problems, moral hypocrisy and moral emotions such as awe.

Last but not least, this Emotion Researcher features a long-ranging interview with Justin D’Arms, one of the world’s leading philosophers of emotions. Justin reminisces about his time in Italy as a young man in the late 1970s, reflects on the relevance of the philosophy of emotions for affective scientists, and discusses his influential theory of rational sentimentalism, which tries to ground sentimental values like the shameful or the funny in fitting emotional responses. Do not miss the now customary ER recipe, which is meat sauce for pasta!

As usual, be in touch with comments, ideas for future issues, reports about especially promising young researchers, and whatever else strikes your fancy. To whet your appetite, let me also tell you that two new issues of Emotion Researcher are in the works, one focused on guilt and the other focused on emotions in the law. Once again, welcome to ISRE’s Sourcebook for Research on Emotion and Affect!

Previous Editor’s Columns

Editor’s Column – Facial Expressions Issue

Editor’s Column – Emotional Intelligence Issue

Editor’s Column – Musical Emotions Issue

Editor’s Column – Emotions and Social Engagement Issue

Editor’s Column – Understanding Disgust Issue

Editor’s Column – Emotional Brain Issue

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