What does your research focus on?
My research focuses on understanding the nature of human emotion. I’m broadly interested in understanding what emotions are, how they are created by the brain, and how they emerge during social behavior. My ongoing lines of research are united by the hypothesis that emotions are constructed of more fundamental psychological processes that are general to all mental states. In this view, emotions arise from the combination of basic positive and negative feelings, concept knowledge, and attention. I take a multi-method approach, using social cognitive methods, psychophysiology, neuropsychology and neuroimaging, to ask how these more fundamental psychological processes interact during the experience and perception of emotions.
What drew you to this line of research and why is it exciting to you?
I joined an emotion lab as an undergraduate at Boston College because I thought I wanted to be a clinician and emotion research sounded relevant. However, I quickly fell in love with basic science questions such as, “What is an emotion?” This research remains exciting to me because the study of emotion is a window into human experience in general. Understanding the nature of emotions can help us understand why some people flourish and others flounder, whether some kinds of mental states differ in kind from others (e.g., are emotion and cognition really different?), how other processes such as language influence emotion, and even how the brain creates the mind more generally.
Who were/are your mentors or scientific influences?
I’m grateful for the intellectual and personal support of many great mentors throughout my training and today. Lisa Feldman Barrett was my undergraduate and graduate mentor. She got me interested in emotion and taught me everything from the scientific method to how to be a woman in science. Perhaps most importantly, Lisa taught me to have a broad scientific toolbox and to never be afraid to ask big questions. I’m also grateful to Jim Russell and Wendy Mendes for their support and intellectual guidance throughout the years, and to my new colleagues at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
What’s your future research agenda?
I’m particularly interested in how more fundamental psychological processes such as bodily states and knowledge about emotion interact to influence emotions. For instance, my lab is conducting studies investigating how bodily changes alter emotional experiences. We’re also investigating how individual differences in knowledge about emotion concepts can cause people to have different emotion experiences and perceptions. As a final example, we’re investigating how bodily changes and knowledge about emotion might come together differently during positive vs. negative emotional experiences.
What publication are you most proud of?
The publication that I’m most proud of is: Lindquist, K. A., Wager, T. D., Kober, H., Bliss-Moreau, E., & Barrett, L. F. (2012). The brain basis of emotion: A meta-analytic review. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 35, 121-143.
In my opinion, this is my most impactful publication because it reports a meta-analysis of the neuroimaging literature on emotion. Our findings suggested that discrete emotions such as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, and sadness do not derive from consistent and specific activity in any anatomically defined brain areas. Instead, brain activity during emotion reflects more basic psychological processes such as bodily activity and concept knowledge activation.