ISRE Matters – Emotional Brain Issue



arvid kappasArvid Kappas, Psychology, University of Bremen, ISRE’s President

Dear ISRE members and Friends of ISRE,

I am truly excited to know that you are reading the first newsletter under the stewardship of Andrea Scarantino. He has a clear vision regarding the content and function of the ISRE newsletter. The way I see it, an important theme Andrea wants to pursue is connection. It will connect different branches of emotion research, specialists in a field with those just curious, the well-established researcher with the PhD student. However, one of the most exciting aspects is that for the first time the newsletter will be available not only to ISRE members but also others who share an interest in emotion research. Indeed, at this point the newsletter is a link to the outside. If you are not an ISRE member yet, why don’t you consider coming in – join us!

ISRE is the natural home for academics who believe that the study of emotions is a truly trans disciplinary topic that benefits from multi-level approaches, from the view of different disciplines and their methods. Transdisciplinary here means that the topic itself is not by default located within a particular field – and this has an impact on how, as a society, we want to foster progress in understanding affective processes. For example, we believe that there is a mutual benefit of natural, behavioral, and social sciences to engage with the humanities because emotions are such an integral part of arts, literature, music, theatre and the likes. Because of the way that emotions are shaped by social experiences in cultural contexts and within biological constraints the aspect of cross-culturality is a key aspect of the topic and how it is studied. One of the most exciting developments in emotion research in recent years must be the addition of affective neuroscience to the “family”. While I try to make sense of what this brings to the table in my research and teaching (I have been teaching a Social Neuroscience seminar since 2006), I am baffled by how some believe that unveiling brain mechanisms can offer a straightforward solution to the many puzzles of our discipline.

For example, the puzzles of how to define what emotions are, how many emotions there are, what role cultural concepts play in shaping them, and how we can or not control them, or how they control us – all of these do not go away by the discovery of the neural networks that are involved in emotions. Because we as researchers still need to define what people are doing in a scanner, what they are looking at, which questions they answer in their mind. If the meaning of basic concepts, such as joy [English], joie [French], or Freude [German] do not map to 100% this will also affect what happens in the brain of participants who grew up here or there. In other words, moving from one language to another does not mean that even words which seem like straight translations have the same meaning and use. Sensitivity to these issues is provided by researchers from different cultural contexts, just as from different disciplines. 30 years of ISRE experience show that this is not just an idea – this is real!

One of the central themes of my presidency will be to make sure that issues such as interdisciplinarity, internationality, gender, seniority of researchers are not just abstract concepts but issues we discuss, reflect upon and turn to a strength in our collective endeavor to understand affective phenomena, whether we call them emotions, affects, moods – I mean the whole family. I have set into motion some activities in this direction and in the next issues of The Emotion Researcher I will talk more about these. You know, ISRE matters!

P.S. did you “like” our ISREorg Facebook page yet?

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