Research

What is emotion? Our research addresses that question from both psychological and neuroscience perspectives, ultimately working toward a general framework for understanding how the brain creates the mind.

Our Conceptual Act Model hypothesizes that "anger," "sadness," "fear," and similar mental events are not basic building blocks in the mind, but instead are mental events that result from the interplay of more basic psychological systems that are not themselves specific to emotion. Think how basic ingredients like flour, water, and yeast can combine to make diverse foods that look and taste very different from one another. Our research suggests that emotions — and other mental events — are constructed in much the same way from basic mental ingredients. This is called a psychological construction approach.

We identify four core systems (core affect, conceptualization, language, and executive control) that correspond to large-scale, distributed networks in the brain. These systems continually shape one another as they combine — like ingredients — to make a variety of mental states... only some of which people call "emotion."

The Conceptual Act Model prescribes a broad, innovative scientific agenda for the study of emotion. It is grounded, first and foremost, in a better understanding of these three core systems and their interaction, with an emphasis on individual differences or variability. In addition, it suggests several counterintuitive hypotheses about the fundamental role of affect in perception and the role of language in perception and experience.

Research tools