Re-scheduled Colloquium: Feelings and the Body: The Jamesian Perspective on Autonomic Specificity of Emotion

Prof. Bruce Friedman, Ph.D. Virginia Tech Department of Psychology

Prof. Bruce Friedman, Ph.D.

Virginia Tech Department of Psychology

Friday, April 13, 2012

1:45 p.m.

214 Brackett Hall


‘‘What is an emotion?’’ This question was posed in the journal Mind in a seminal paper by William James (1884), in which he proposed that physiological and behavioral responses precede emotional feelings that are marked by ‘‘distinct bodily expression.’’ This notion broadly inspired the study of emotion-specific autonomic nervous system activity, a venerable topic in psychophysiological research. The scientific and historical trajectory of this area will be traced from its early challenges through its rich history in psychophysiology. This body of work has yielded mixed findings, but recent multivariate studies support the existence of autonomic specificity for certain basic emotions. The construct of autonomic specificity continues to influence a number of core theoretical issues in affective science, such as the debate over the existence of ‘natural kinds’ of emotion, the structure of affective space, the cognition–emotion relationship, and the function of emotion. James’s classic paper, which stimulated the emergence of psychology from philosophy and physiology in the latter part of the nineteenth century, remains a dynamic force in 21st century emotion research.

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