Cover Story

The Future is Here: Innovative Training for Emotion Researchers

Observer Correspondent

Cross a scientist who can skillfully track emotion-triggered brain-wave changes in laboratory rats with one who investigates humans’ emotions from their feelings and behaviors. What do you get? The superlative emotion investigator of the future.

That, at least, is the underlying principle of the Predoctoral Training Consortium in Affective Science, a three-year training program now preparing a new generation of emotion investigators at four campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area – Stanford and the University of California campuses at Berkeley, San Francisco and Davis – and of a similar program at the University of Wisconsin. Both are the progeny of an innovative program launched in response to a question asked over dinner 15 years ago.

“Did you ever think it would be worthwhile to put together a postdoctoral training program in emotion?” Paul Ekman of UCSF, remembers being asked some 15 years ago by his dinner companion, Stanley Schneider of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), now retired. (Schneider reminisces about the events that led to the emotion research training consortium below.)

After giving it some thought, Ekman put together a planning meeting, paid for by NIMH. From that meeting grew an 11-campus postdoctoral training program that is the forerunner of today’s Bay Area and Wisconsin programs.

The training seeks to instill in a new generation of investigators an array of research methods, concepts and approaches much broader than what traditional training affords. Most training in scientific research is focused on a single discipline or sub-discipline, involving a relatively narrow span of concerns and methods to which a researcher intends to devote his or her professional life.

But emotions, as the founders of the programs are quick to point out, are fundamentally cross-disciplinary: They spring from and manifest themselves in both behaviors and biology. If they are to be understood properly, they must be investigated from both sides, and crossing scientific divides is what the new training of emotion researchers is all about.

“It’s based on the idea that in the emotion research of the next decade, good high-quality work will require that people who work from a neuroscience perspective also understand the social science approach,” says APS Fellow and Charter Member Robert Levenson of Berkeley, director of the Bay Area program. “They will need first-rate behavioral work to supplement their first-rate neuroscience work. And conversely, people who come to emotion research from a behavioral perspective will have to have an appreciation for and do good work in neuroscience. The bar is going to go up in both areas. They’ll both be held to an increasingly higher standard.”

That wasn’t quite as self-evident 15 years ago when Ekman, a self-described “child of NIMH,” sat down to dinner with Schneider. “Except for my two years in the Army, NIMH has supported me without interruption until this very day,” Ekman says. Which helps explain why the two APS fellows and charter members from opposite coasts were dining together when Schneider popped his seminal question.

Ekman was the logical one for him to ask. Among the first to subject human emotions to scientific scrutiny, by 1965 he was focusing his research on both the expression and physiology of emotion. “Back then, emotion research was a nonexistent field,” he recalls, and that field was still only sparsely populated in the late 1980s, when Schneider planted the idea.

The planning meeting was held at an Inverness, California motel and in Ekman’s weekend cabin at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. NIMH sent Schneider, Mary Ellen Oliveri, and Lori Radloff. Levenson came from Berkeley, along with Richard S. Lazarus (now retired), and APS Fellow and Charter Member Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all top names in emotion research.

“Our idea for this training program was that we needed to train a generation of emotion researchers,” Ekman says, “but no one university could do so. There were many universities that had one or two people [in emotion research], but that was it. It was not sufficient. So the idea was to create a consortium.”

Something else was afoot, remembers Davidson. “I think there was a growing recognition of the importance of emotion research for emotional health. Training scientists using standard methods was not going to cut it in this area. It’s fundamentally multidisciplinary and needed to be conceptualized ‘out of the box’ rather than in the traditional way.”

What resulted was clearly “out of the box.” When Ekman approached his psychiatry department chair about basing the new program at UCSF, he was turned down. “My department chair at the time wanted to know, ‘What does emotion have to do with psychiatry?’ ”

One faculty member was recruited from each of 11 campuses -10 in the United States, one in Switzerland – the best emotion investigators to be found. Other stars in emotion research were brought in for workshops. “It would have been a boon to any department to have it based on campus,” Ekman says. “We were bringing in a lot of talent free of charge to one university.” Spurned at UCSF, the program found its first home at Berkeley.

NIMH funded six postdoctoral trainees for three years. The students, recruited nationwide, spent their first year at Berkeley attending full-day seminars and doing research in one of the Bay Area laboratories. So much talent was being brought to bear that eight predoctoral graduate students at Berkeley also sat in on the seminars, as did Berkeley faculty members. “It was an amazingly distinguished group of people,” Ekman recalls. They spent their second and third years at other labs, typically away from the Bay Area.

A second three-year program followed the first, and over the six years, a dozen postdoctoral students and 15 predoctoral students were trained. Not that program organizers got everything they wanted from NIMH. They had asked for funding for the predoctoral students also, but that was turned down. And, Ekman says, he wanted an “emotion van” that would shuttle students to and from their meetings among the Bay Area campuses. “I thought the conversations in the van, with students talking about their research, that the education would occur even before they got to the meetings. I still think it was a great idea.” It wasn’t funded.

After six years, the program moved to Madison, where Davidson was named director. It was a logical move, Davidson says, “because of the critical mass of faculty doing research on emotion in Wisconsin.” A third three-year cohort of postdoctoral trainees participated in the multi-campus program there, but by then shortcomings were beginning to show.

“It had its virtue and its disadvantages,” Davidson says. “The virtue is that it made it possible to bring together a broad range of faculty and a broad range of perspectives,” but it also meant that postdoctoral trainees spent only one year at one laboratory and two at another, too brief a time “to immerse in research and actually get anything done. It was wonderful for the faculty, but in terms of the trainees’ productivity, it really wasn’t in their best interest.” Yet another complication was that trainees had to move after the first year, and NIMH did not pay moving expenses.

It was decided to abandon the multi-campus approach. Instead, Wisconsin and the four Bay Area campuses applied separately for NIMH grants. Both were funded.

Four of the faculty in the new Bay Area predoctoral program are themselves graduates of the earlier training.

APS Fellow and Charter Member James Gross of Stanford, had been a predoctoral trainee at Berkeley in the very first cohort. His own research now specializes in the regulation of emotions, “all of the ways we try to influence what emotions we feel and how we express what we feel,” knowledge he says is essential to understanding how emotions and their regulation can affect health.

That work, he says, is “a consequence of the training” he received. Each of the three “domains” of emotion – what you feel, how you express it outwardly, and what physiological changes it triggers – are studied using different methodologies. Self-reports and questionnaires get people to express what they are feeling; coding methods are used to examine expressive behavior and coordinate that with how subjects say they feel; and the physiology of emotion is “a whole world unto itself,” Gross says. His lab at Stanford measures such physical reactions to emotion as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, sweat gland activity and respiration, and now also uses Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to detect brain activation.

“I was shaped amazingly by my [training] experience,” Gross says. “The trajectory of my research was pretty much in place by the time I started the program. I knew I wanted to study emotion, and I knew I wanted to study the biological bases of emotions. That was my starting point. So I came to Berkeley to work with Bob Levenson.

“It was a huge bonus that this program happened. The first year of the program there was a year-long seminar. It consisted of Dick Lazarus, Paul Ekman, and all the trainees, and each week some famous scholar in emotion research would be flown in. We’d read a binder of materials they’d prepared. They’d come for the day, we’d talk with them about their research, their methods, there would be presentations, we’d have lunch with them and get to know them. It was an incredible opportunity! I was put into a peer relationship with some of the best people in the emotion business.”

Jeanne Tsai of Stanford, is another trainee turned trainer. In her work she examines the influence of cultural ideas and practices on responses to emotional events.

“It was definitely one of the best aspects of my graduate training,” Tsai says. “We would read articles by the leading researchers, submit questions to them, and then have them address our questions the following week in person. During these visits, we also had the opportunity to meet with them individually to discuss our research. At the end of the year, we presented our research to the entire group and received invaluable feedback. It was a graduate student’s dream.”

A third alumnus, Dacher Keltner, at Berkeley, is now on faculty and leads the first-year training seminar. The APS member says the postdoctoral training he received from 1989 to 1992 shaped his career, which focuses on the social functions of emotion in relationships, interactions – such as teasing, flirtation and power – and pathological groups, with an emphasis on expressive behavior.

“I was very much influenced by the evolutionary and ethological foundation of the approach to emotion to which I was exposed,” says Keltner. “It taught me to look for functions of behavior, to study behavior in meaningful contexts, such as in relationships and during dynamic times, and to study behavior rather than immediately rely on self-report. The biggest benefit was to spend significant time with different scholars, to learn about the behind-the-scenes development and evolution of their ideas and research.”

Yet a fourth trainee-turned-faculty is APS member Brian Knutson of Stanford, a specialist in personality. And Sally Mendoza, of UC-Davis, is also a graduate of sorts: She was on the postdoctoral program’s faculty and has since become a key player in the new program.

Mendoza, who researches stress by measuring cortisol levels in primates, recalls how she was recruited. “Paul [Ekman] called and asked if I would consider being involved as a first-year mentor. My reaction was that I don’t really do emotion research, I was an assistant professor at the time, but when people like that ask you, you say ‘yes’ and wonder later why they asked you. Then, for the second year, they asked me to upgrade my status and become one of the core faculty in the program. I have been one ever since. I still wonder why they thought I’d be a good faculty member, but I’m glad they did.” She went on to become one of the five authors of the new program and sits on its executive committee.

These and other successes of the original program allowed the new one to abandon the logistical problems and costs of a nationwide multi-campus approach, because now both Wisconsin and the Bay Area had the needed “critical mass” of emotion-focused faculty.

The new programs apply lessons learned from the first. The original required trainees to learn two different research approaches – the first year at one lab, two years at another – but these didn’t have to be a combination of biological and behavioral methodologies.

With the growing focus on the role of physiology and the brain in emotions, says Ekman, “We decided in the new program that we wanted to train people in both biological and psychological research, and we now had the talent to do it.

“I have to give NIMH credit,” he adds. “I don’t know if they told us or if we read between the lines, but under [former NIMH Director] Steve Hyman’s stewardship, we believed that programs that combined both [social and biological science] would have a better chance. At our end, three of us on the five-member executive committee had already blended the two areas. Mine was in collaborating with Richie [Davidson] on the central nervous system and expression, and with Levenson on the peripheral nervous system. This had been a big part of my life for 20 years. The same with Sally [Mendoza] and her work with primates. So it resonated with us. We may have done it even if we hadn’t known about NIMH’s interest.”

Mendoza adds, “I’ve known of some training programs that have tried to cross barriers between hard core behavioral and hard core neuroscience, but mostly in those programs I’m familiar with, students studied either one or the other, they didn’t really become experts in both aspects.”

“The new generation of emotion researchers must be strong in both,” says Ekman. “I can remember that being said in the very first meeting [for the original program] and there being no disagreement.” Still, it wasn’t until the newest programs that it became a formal requirement.

Blending the two risks disciplinary and sub-disciplinary boundary disputes, Levenson concedes. “We have MDs and PhDs on faculty, and within each discipline there are different approaches. These are people who don’t regularly work together and train together. Selling them on the idea took some doing initially, although less so now. Still, some people think this is going to dilute the training their students receive, that students ought to spend all their time within their own particular disciplinary approaches. It’s a leap of faith that you’re going to need this kind of broadly-trained scientist in the future.”

In the Bay Area, both faculty and trainees are drawn in fairly equal numbers from the four campuses. Where the original program recruited six trainees every three years, the new one recruits four each year, one from each Bay Area campus, and supports them for three years.

The first year’s seminar, Levenson explains, “begins to model this idea that to be a competent emotion researcher in this day and age one needs to be familiar with both human and animal models and with both biological neuroscience and social science approaches. For those who work with humans, this might be their first serious exposure to animal models. For those who work in the neuroscience tradition, this might be their first exposure to the theories and paradigms social scientists use to study emotion.”

“It’s a culture clash that works its way out with each cohort. It’s really fascinating. People start out being mortified, from both sides, but especially the neuroscience types, who usually see the social sciences as the soft side of emotion research. Then, as the first year seminar progresses, each side comes to respect the other and to appreciate the potential precision and power of a combined approach for getting at the essence of emotions. By the end of the first year, students from both traditions typically love it, but it definitely isn’t love at first sight.”

Keltner, who leads the program’s first-year seminar, sees that “culture clash” firsthand. “It is a very dynamic, and ultimately fruitful, culture clash,” he says. “Neuroscience students often initially seem a bit impatient about working through the philosophical underpinnings of studying emotion – for example, asking, as William James did, what is an emotion, and how such states differ from sensations, moods, traits, and so on. Social-behavioral science students can be initially like fish out of water in terms of the neuroanatomy, the terminology, the micro causal accounts and even the interest in description alongside or even above causal explanation.

“In each year I’ve taught the seminar, however, this tension has been profoundly productive. Both groups see how emotion is the product of processes that occur at multiple levels of analysis. There is a profound sense of excitement about uniting the neuroscience with the behavioral and social. There is a great sense of how the intersection of these two fields – neuroscientific and social-behavioral approaches to emotion – offers so many great questions that await this next generation of scientists.”

“Most knowledge does not belong to a discipline or a sub-discipline,” Ekman explains. “Emotion is a lively topic in many different disciplines – sociology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience. Emotion doesn’t belong to a discipline, let alone a sub-discipline of psychology. Behavior – and I have a broad definition of behavior – is a product of the brain, and as we learn more about the brain and the interface between the brain and behavior, I think this is where all the exciting things are going to occur. Psychopathology, emotion, personality, perception, learning – these are all big areas of psychology where a psychological researcher has to be conversant with what we are learning about the brain.”

Davidson concurs. As an inherently interdisciplinary area, he says, emotion research “brings together the different strands of psychological research, in terms of both concepts and methods. It’s very difficult to train scientists in this interdisciplinary way without a training program of this sort. This kind of training program is an effective structure for bringing together faculty with diverse expertise who are united in their interest in understanding emotional processes.”

“What’s really great about this,” says Mendoza, “is that the students come out with a lot of quality training from faculty other than their mentors, and I think that is unique. We incorporate perspectives from those that are quite a bit different from what they’d be exposed to in the regular student-mentor relationship.”

Another “lesson” learned from the postdoctoral program is that it was less expensive and more effective to train predoctoral students than those who already had their PhD’s.

“We decided the predocs benefited most,” says Stanford’s Gross, another of the authors and executive committee members of the new program. “A training program exerts even greater impact in the formative period of graduate studies. If you take someone before they develop set impressions and methods, from the very beginning, you can get them to think in a different way.”

There was another incentive for limiting it to predoctoral students, says Ekman. “We were advised that the then-new NIMH director [Hyman] had set priorities much more for training predocs than postdocs.”

In Wisconsin, Davidson opted to include both. There, NIMH currently funds eight predoctoral and four postdoctoral trainees, but the program is not restricted to them; students supported by other sources also participate. Davidson plans to ask NIMH for “considerably more slots” this spring.

He understands the reasoning behind the Bay Area’s decision to focus only on predoctoral students. “The reason why all of us felt that this could be better focused on predoctoral trainees is that it’s easier to shape a graduate student than it is to shape a postdoctoral student,” Davidson says, adding that there was also the sense that the best postdoctoral candidates weren’t applying for the earlier program because they already had academic positions, especially those in the social sciences. And in neuroscience, he explains, there simply wasn’t enough faculty to attract them; they had less interest in the social sciences.

That has changed. Now, most graduates seek one or more postdoctoral trainings before seeking an academic position, and the neuroscience side of emotion research has expanded rapidly. “In Madison, we have a strong faculty base in affective neuroscience,” Davidson says. “We now have probably 10 faculty in neuroscience alone, so we are getting good postdoctoral trainees.”

There’s one additional and probably unintended plus derived from the programs, notes Mendoza. The original program, she says, offered faculty an opportunity to gather only once a year, but now there is much more frequent interaction. One result is that, “more and more, the faculty has become more versatile. In my own research, I use more measures of personality or emotion than I ever had before, because of these interactions in the program. I’ve listened to the world’s leading experts talk about it on a regular basis. When you have that kind of opportunity, the temptation to apply it to your own work is almost irresistible.”

Is the cross-disciplinary emotion training a harbinger of the future, in which we’ll see a lowering of barriers between sub-disciplines?

“Yes, I hope so,” says Tsai, of Stanford. “I think that it is becoming increasingly clear that boundaries within psychology are less meaningful than they once were. Instead, psychologists are uniting behind their common research interests. I think that the same thing is occurring across disciplines, at various universities around the country – psychologists, economists, anthropologists, biologists, sociologists, historians, are all coming together to talk about their common research areas. I see programs like ours as facilitating and forging such interdisciplinary connections.”

“I think it is how training can best be done in the future,” agrees Mendoza. “You take a broad concept that provides a richness of training from a variety of perspectives and try to bring together faculty from all of those perspectives, and it is a very rich way of learning, a very effective way of training.”

Training Program

The Predoctoral Training Consortium in Affective Science operates at four Bay Area universities – the University of California campuses at San Francisco, Berkeley and Davis, and Stanford University. Now in its third year, it consists of four main elements:

In their first year, trainees meet weekly in a year-long seminar to discuss basic issues in emotion research and to hear presentations by the training faculty and other leading emotion researchers. Faculty and trainees are specifically recruited to represent the differing neuroscience and social science approaches to the study of emotion and to include both human and animal models. Trainees are afforded ample opportunity to discuss the presentations with the visiting faculty.

Each year, trainees attend several day-long workshops devoted to methodology, exposing them to the full range of methods used in emotion research. Again reflecting the program’s integrative philosophy, the workshops cover methods relevant to both neuroscience and social science approaches. The workshops move from campus to campus.

Every summer, trainees and faculty gather for a workshop at which all trainees make presentations on their current research and meet with a faculty team that provides feedback and consultation. Training faculty also provide updates on their own work.

Trainees conduct their research in the laboratories of their primary mentors, but are also encouraged to build bridges across scientific fences by working with other training faculty across the four campuses.

Coming of Age

Emotion research has come of age. It was but an infant in the 1960s when Paul Ekman, of the University of California at San Francisco, started focusing on the expression and physiology of emotion. At the time, Ekman was one of only three emotion researchers in the world.

The field had not grown much even as recently as a dozen years ago, when Ekman set up the first multi-campus program to train emotion researchers; he was hard-pressed to find any campus that had more than one or two people who could serve on his program’s faculty.

Before that, “no one had been explicitly trained as an emotional researcher,” says James Gross, of Stanford University. “Ekman was extremely exceptional. This was the start of emotion research as a stand-alone enterprise. Now there are a bunch of us who, if you ask us what we do, would say, ‘I’m an emotion researcher.’ I want to make it clear how unusual this was. It took a lot of guts for NIMH to fund this thing.”

Today, the four campuses in the Bay Area can count 15 faculty who identify themselves as emotion researchers, there are five at Berkeley, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has 25.

“This is now such a vibrant area of scientific inquiry,” says Wisconsin’s Richard Davidson, one of the founders of the training program. “The amount of research in this area is increasing dramatically.” Another sign of the field’s growth is that in February 2001, it started it’s own research journal, “Emotion.” Davidson is one of the quarterly’s founding editors, along with Klaus Scherer, of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, also a faculty member of the original multi-campus training program.

“In many ways the journal is an outgrowth of the training program,” Davidson said, “because we all recognized the importance of having a journal that could bring together the different strands of emotion research – where we could have side by side an article on neuroscience and an article on development. That vision has now been realized. The journal is a concrete symbol of the growing maturity of this interdisciplinary area.”

“One of the huge benefits” of the field’s growth, says Gross, is that “you get people integrated in a community of scholars. I have friendships now with people all over the country and world with whom I’ve trained. It’s a supporting, friendly, collegial set of associations that allows us to appreciate a lot of different approaches to the study of emotions.”

On Wisconsin

The emotion research training program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, open to both predoctoral and postdoctoral students, emphasizes three research areas: affective neuroscience, emotional development, and emotion and psychopathology.

All faculty focus on one or more of those areas, explains the program’s director, APS Fellow and Charter Member Richard Davidson, so all predoctoral trainees, from whatever area of psychology, are exposed to the rigors and methodologies of all three areas. After the first year, they specialize in the area of their choice, however. (Postdoctoral trainees have already chosen their specializations.)

The Wisconsin program also requires that all trainees be exposed to both behavioral/social science approaches and methods and biological science approaches and methods, Davidson says. “Moreover, we have a dedicated brain imaging facility here on campus to facilitate exposure to state-of-the-art neuroscience approaches.”

The Wisconsin program has two special features. One is a two-day symposium coordinated by the Health Emotions Research Institute. It brings together 350 scientists each April to foster “cross-disciplinary discussion of cutting-edge research on emotion.” Trainees prepare by reading materials written by the speakers, then preside over a 45-minute question period after each presentation. “Precious few scientific meetings in any field these days preserve that much time for discussion,” Davidson notes. (Information about the symposium can be found on the Institute’s website.)

The second special feature is an “emotion group” of trainees and faculty that meets monthly at a faculty home for two hours to discuss assigned readings. “Each year we focus on a different theme in emotion research, and approach it from different perspectives,” Davidson explains. This year they are discussing emotion regulation.

“The trainees get exposed to a wide range of perspectives,” he says. “If they were in a classical program, they would not have the kind of multidisciplinary exposure that they have in ours, both conceptually and methodologically. We are turning out very well-rounded scientists who can address emotional phenomena at many different levels.”

It also addresses another problem. “A lot of what is subsumed under the guise of emotion research relies too heavily on self-report methods,” Davidson says. “One of the important by-products of our training program is a methodological sophistication across a number of different methods to complement self reports and expose the hazards of relying exclusively on them.”

Mad About the Training
Students’ Views on the Predoctoral Training Consortium in Affective Science

NICOLE ROBERTS, also a graduate student at Berkeley, is in her third year of emotion research training. She expects to receive her doctorate in 2003. She specializes in psychophysiology.

“I’m interested in the internal and external factors that affect emotional reactions, how ethnicity and culture affect emotion, how day-to-day life factors like stress and exhaustion affect emotions, how organic changes, such as neurological changes, patients with dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, damage to the frontal regions of the cortex, all affect emotion. For a long time I’ve been interested in why at certain times people have strong emotional reactions and at other times the same situation fails to provoke an emotional reaction. I’ve always had a natural curiosity about human behavior, and emotion shapes human functioning.

“I plan to have an academic career, where I can continue emotion research. I’d also want to continue clinical work in some capacity, but I think that research really drives our ability to understand human behavior, so I want to continue that as my primary career path.

“[Enrolling] seemed to me the natural thing to do, because already I was thinking in an integrated way. I think people do tend to be fairly entrenched in the methods that they’ve learned, and often graduate students don’t have time to explore other methods and approaches. The best thing about [the program] is having contact with the top emotion researchers in the area, if not the world, and having them hear your presentations, and meeting with faculty about our careers.

“I think the field is starting to recognize that we have to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to both research and clinical issues. … Patients are being seen by interdisciplinary teams now. The whole health care field is moving in the direction of recognizing the importance [of interdisciplinary approaches]. I think there needs to be even more movement in this direction, because it is important for researchers to learn each other’s language and the terminology for the processes they’re studying.”

KELLY WERNER, a second-year trainee at the University of California-Berkeley, is preparing for a career in both research and clinical work. Her research interests focus on how emotion, emotion regulation and empathy work physiologically in neuropathological and normal populations.

“The [consortium] is ideal for anyone interested in emotion research. It has given me a more well-rounded exposure to my field, and facilitated my understanding of the disparate research methodologies investigating the same concept: emotion. It has exposed me to ways of researching emotion that I was unfamiliar with. I come from a clinical background and was unfamiliar with animal and human biological research. I was also unfamiliar with the methods of inquiry of social and developmental psychologists. From learning about single cell recording in rats, to testing hormonal changes in chimpanzees, to assessing self-conscious emotion in a social interaction paradigm with people, my understanding of the study of emotion has broadened greatly.

“The year-long seminar is truly an amazing learning experience. Each week a different faculty member speaks about his or her research. The discussions that ensue are at a very high level, and most professors leave saying that they have never enjoyed presenting their work so much, because everyone in the room has the same interest and investment in the topic. Soon we will start a practicum in which we will visit different labs to get a hands-on view of how research is done at Stanford, UCSF, UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

“The program has also brought me into contact with the leading researchers of emotion in the Bay Area, and the students that will be my colleagues in the future. The Bay Area has many of the key emotion researchers, and it has been very beneficial for the trainees to get a sense of these people on a personal level and to forge connections for the future. The students in the program are exceptionally bright and each brings a separate knowledge base with them. The exchange of ideas in our discussions is very enlightening. The group is setting the foundation for future collaboration and networking.”

Dinner With Silvan: How the Emotion Research Training Consortium Got Started

Adapted from a presentation at the University of Wisconsin on December 13, 1995, Schneider, one of the nation’s most influential figures in psychology training, recalls the people and events on both coasts and in the heartland that paved the way for the establishment of the emotion research training consortium.

The seed for the wonderful program in emotion research training was planted during a lovely spring evening in l976. The Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) was meeting in New York City at the Pennsylvania Hotel (which could be reached, as the song says, by dialing Pennsylvania 6-5000). Bicentennial banners were everywhere and the EPA joined the celebration by placing its banners beneath them.

Rae Carlson, Silvan Tomkins and I attended a late afternoon publisher’s party, and decided to dine together at a place that was a cab ride away. Rae and I overlapped at Michigan and met again, some time later, at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). I came to know Silvan through my predecessor at NIMH, Irv Alexander, who had been a junior colleague of Silvan at Princeton, and especially from my early mentor and friend at NIMH, Hal Basowitz, who was Silvan’s first PhD student at Princeton. Irv and Hal not only had great affection for Silvan, but held him in awesome regard. I easily shared their attitudes.

New York cabbies are a breed apart and with a little luck such rides can be wildly unpredictable. I joined the driver in the front seat, which in those days was not sealed in a plastic cocoon, and conversation flowed easily between the back and front seats. The driver and I were on a roll; he was the perfect straight man and provided me with endless opportunity for zany ripostes, puns, and humor high and low. The general level of hilarity – on any subject including whatever we saw on our way – increased as we headed east. Rae was laughing heartily, and I could barely contain myself. The driver remained perfectly serious during the entire exchange, which heightened the comic effect. Silvan was beside himself. Emitting something between an almost maniacal giggle and a cackle, he was in tears on the floor of the cab when we reached our destination.

The Balkan Restaurant was well named, less so for the character of its food, which was Armenian and Middle Eastern, than for its atmosphere. It was a great place for argument as well as for enjoyment, and psychologists, who could be counted on for both, were frequent customers. After several minutes, when we had settled down a bit from our ride, I was curious about my companions’ current work. Silvan answered with two words, which when he intoned them had almost a quasi-religious character: The Face. Indeed, for those of you in the audience too young to have known Silvan, his own face was remarkable for its almost Buddha-like roundness, searching eyes, flaring nostrils, and cheeks you wanted to pinch. Talking about the face and facial expression naturally led to a treatise on emotion, and Silvan was eloquent, provocative, and persuasive.

During those years, I headed the Psychology Education Branch of NIMH, the unit responsible for developing and supporting clinical and research training programs in psychology. I was acutely aware that we had no training program focused on emotion, even though passing attention might be paid to it elsewhere. For example, we had large training portfolios in what was then called “general experimental psychology” and in social psychology. General experimental psychology training programs were heavily dominated by cognitive psychology, or at that time even more by classical learning approaches, but such a program at the University of Massachusetts would have had contributions from Jim Averill and Sy Epstein. Likewise, the social psychology program at Michigan had a role for Bob Zajonc. But no program contained a critical mass of emotion researchers.

Rae Carlson wrote her seminal piece “Where is the Person in Personality Research?” in l97l, and she authored the chapter on personality for the l975 Annual Review of Psychology. The area of personality research had been withering on the vine for several years; few psychology departments had programs in this area. Having minored in personality during graduate study, I felt a special affection for it. But I was uncertain about the fate of research on personality.

It was a memorable evening. I was dining with stellar representatives of areas of real weakness in NIMH’s training portfolio, and the evening that started out on a completely ludicrous note ended for me with the conviction that emotion research warranted a higher profile in the NIMH training program. I thanked the restaurant owners, the Berberians, and asked after their daughter, who was a gifted singer. We had enjoyed their hospitality for more than four hours. At that time of night, the taxi ride to the hotel was quick, relaxed, and quiet.

Nothing happened immediately for a variety of reasons, some of them centrally pertinent to the task at hand, others more peripheral but not unimportant.

Two things seemed absolutely essential: (1) we required a training program that would be able to bypass the “critical mass” problem and include faculty from a number of different universities; and (2) we needed leadership for the program. I’ll comment on the first of these issues here and return to leadership later.

Training grants had been an inherently conservative mechanism for federal support of science, but their limitations were greatly increased by the National Research Act of 1974 which created the NRSA awards for all institutional training grants and individual fellowships. Following this legislation, the grants were almost completely formula driven. A “standard allowance” accompanying each trainee stipend ($l500 per pre-doc and $2500 per post-doc at the time) replaced the “teaching costs” that were available previously to grantees. Teaching costs allowed programs to request support for faculty as well as for administrative personnel, and these made for a degree of flexibility and innovation that was now lost.

Although excessive requests for soft money positions were discouraged, it was possible for training programs to bring in new people, to support consultants and colloquia, to assure that the program director had the free time to really run the program, and support special research-related activities of faculty and students. The NIMH psychology training grant program, for example, had a long history of providing “developmental” grants that enabled psychology departments to strengthen substantive areas across the field.

An emotion research training program required that level of support. But at the time, there were a number of factors that influenced what could be done in the area of training. Among the more peripheral, but significant, events were the following:

  • A shift in emphasis from pre-doc to post-doc. In 1976, the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Personnel Needs in Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences initiated a long series of recommendations that would eventuate in a massive shift to post-doctoral training support in the behavioral sciences. Almost all support in these fields, especially in psychology, had been pre-doctoral, because that is what departments felt they required. Post-doctoral training in those days occurred mainly in physiological psychology. The NAS finally reversed its earlier recommendations, but the effect over the years on psychology has been destructive.
  • The separation of program and review. In l979, program and review functions at NIMH became completely separated. Previously, review staff were part of program branches. A large new bureaucracy was necessitated by the creation of a new division exclusively devoted to reviewing applications. NIMH was promised 300 new positions to deal with this change, but that promise could not be kept. Instead, with the advent of the Reagan administration in 1980, a reduction in force (RIF) occurred, causing many people to leave, be downgraded, or change positions, and this had a profound negative effect on staff morale.
  • The Reagan Administration. In l98l, the social research program of NIMH was pretty well gutted. The mental health service functions of the institute (tied to the Community Mental Health Centers program initiated under John Kennedy and denied an injection of new life from President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health by the 1980 election) were effectively severed from NIMH and turned into block grants to the states. The large and influential clinical training program, a feature of NIMH from its inception, was reduced to a shadow of its former size, and the training division was abolished in a 1985 reorganization, at which time NIMH became almost exclusively a research institute.1

But something happened in 1984 that was very relevant to our purpose today. The NIMH behavioral sciences research branch, headed at the time by Joy Schulterbrandt, had brought together a group of family process researchers who decided that training was essential to the development of that area. Joy approached Len Mitnick who was chief of the branch in the training division that contained the neuroscience and social science training programs. I was still titular head of the psychology research training program, although I was serving as a special assistant to the division’s director.

Len and I discussed the possibilities and pitfalls of what at the time was an unusual application, and with his guidance, the family process group submitted a consortial training grant application that involved investigators from several universities. (The general program direction was provided by Mavis Hetherington, and the base of first-year operations for all post-doctoral trainees was the University of Virginia.)

The initial review panel responsible for the application raised questions about whether it was possible to even review – let alone approve – such a unique program, which requested and required funds much beyond what was allowed by formula. They were told they had the right to review it and to recommend whatever they deemed appropriate, so long as it was consistent with advancing our knowledge and provided exemplary training. The panel recommended approval, and allowed staff the necessary flexibility to negotiate funding.

In a later phase of the review process, the NIMH advisory council asked essentially the same question: “Is this kosher?” Again, the answer was: ‘It is if you say so.’ Which the council did.

It was a time of great uncertainty and transitional leadership in NIMH and in the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA). A completely new level of review was now required in ADAMHA, by someone who knew almost nothing about training. This could have been Dickensian in result, but with recommendations from the review panel and the NIMH council, and no language specifically precluding consideration of such a program, he signed off on the application.

This meant we had a foot in the door; with precedent on our side, we could entertain other applications of this kind.

The second indispensable part of an emotion consortium was The Person (I say this with the reverence Silvan intoned for The Face): Someone who could provide the necessary leadership, who had the energy, the vision, the knowledge, the patience, and the contacts to make this work. I suggested the matter of an emotion consortium to Paul Ekman while he was still living in Berkeley. At his home one afternoon, he showed me how we could see the site of his new home in San Francisco, from which he would soon be able to see his old home in Berkeley and, on a clear day, his retreat up the coast near Inverness. He surely had the necessary vision to lead this program. Paul’s energy and his ability to stimulate interest and to whet the appetites of emotion researchers were major ingredients in the success of getting the venture underway.

In September, l987, my colleagues from NIMH Mary Ellen Oliveri and Lori Radloff and I were invited to Paul’s sylvan (with a “y”) retreat to meet many of the people to be involved in the program and to consult with them. In such beautiful surroundings and an atmosphere of camaraderie, it was difficult not to be swept up in the spirit of the occasion.

During dinner, several members of the Department of Psychology at UC Berkeley joined us, and Paul’s ability to capture some portion of Berkeley’s infrastructure and resources and the backing of the department was critical. I suspect that the single most difficult hurdle was to persuade Dick Lazarus to co-direct the program. Over the years, I routinely spent some time chatting with Dick when I visited the Bay Area, and knew that his back had been troubling him and he had the air of someone ready to enjoy retirement. How Paul worked his magic in this instance remains a marvel. Bob Levenson was yet another very significant Berkeley asset, and it was clear that Paul had fashioned a special net in the local area to also attract talent from Stanford and from UC Davis.

The seed planted during dinner with Silvan had a long period of dormancy, but it was starting to germinate.

An application for the consortial training program in emotion research was submitted and reviewed in 1988. I recall sitting in on the deliberations of the review committee. Later I heard from a friend at UCLA that Bernie Weiner, who was on the review panel, remarked that “you could see how much Stan really wanted this one.” I don’t recall saying or doing anything, but I was not a disinterested observer. Program people rarely are. And it is hard for me to be impassive when something really matters. The application was approved and the training program was initially funded in July, 1989. When the postdoctoral students arrived in Berkeley to begin their work, the program flowered. The program has been transplanted to Wisconsin, has matured enough to be ready for severe winters as well as other challenges, and is in the extraordinarily capable hands of Richie Davidson.

I remained at NIMH for almost six more years and retired early in 1995 after 32 years in the institute. My interest in this program began long before it came to fruition and will continue long after my retirement.

The volume on The Nature of Emotion (Ekman & Davidson,1995) is a fitting testament to the accomplishments and exciting possibilities in emotion research. Let me close the circle by noting that it is dedicated to the person who is responsible for planting the seed that led to this program so long ago. Silvan would be proud of the research and training that is being done. Critical, but proud. As it should be.

1 At the time, NIMH was part of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration and contained both services and research. ADAMHA was dismantled in the early 1990s, at which time the services component became part of the new Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and NIMH became one of the research institutes within the National Institutes of Health.

Ekman, P. & Davidson, R.J., eds (1995). The Nature of Emotion – Fundamental Questions. New York: Oxford University Press.

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