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Regular version of the site

To Learn What Emotions Are and What They Do

Seger Breugelmans
Seger Breugelmans
On September 25, 2013, the HSE International Laboratory for Socio-cultural Research will conduct its regular seminar ‘Culture Matters’. Marcel Zeelenberg, Head of Department of Social Psychology and Seger Breugelmans PhD, Professors of the Tilburg University (the Netherlands), will speak on ‘Emotion and Decision Making: A Feeling is for Doing Approach’. They gave a special interview for the HSE news service.

— Was your decision to choose this topic for research emotional or rational?

We have become interested in studying the effects of emotion in decision making because models of rational choice do a bad job explaining the behavior of individuals. We believe that emotions provide insight into people's goals and concerns and as such they provide an important input in everyday decision processes.

— How would you explain the idea of "a feeling is for doing approach" in a few words for non-specialists?

If one wishes to understand emotions, what they are and what they do, it is instructive to study how they are felt. Our approach is influenced by Nico Frijda's emotion theory and William James' ideas about pragmatism. We believe that emotions are signals about our concerns being threatened (or served), and that emotions also provide information about what to do to in order to achieve our goals (or continue to achieve our goals). In short, we think that emotions have evolved to provide behavioral guidance.

— What are the major findings in your research?

Specific emotions that resemble each other, such as regret and disappointment, or guilt and shame, still involve different experiences and hence also prioritize different behaviors to act on the concerns that are represented by the different emotions. We have now applied our theory to these emotions, and to envy, pride, greed and anger. The results are remarkable, and we continue to learn and be amazed by what emotions are and what they do. The study of emotions, in particular that of their behavioral consequences, proves to be rewarding and inspiring and there is still enough to do.

— What are the criteria chosen in your research? How do you prove your findings?

Marcel Zeelenberg
Marcel Zeelenberg

We are eclectic in our research. We do experiments in which we induce emotions and investigate how they influence behavior, but we also do survey research in which we ask about autobiographical recalls of emotions experiences. And, we also study the effects of emotion cross culturally. Together, these findings ideally triangulate and provide insight into the behavioral effects of specific emotions.

— How did your cooperation with the HSE start? What are the goals and further plans?

We first came to HSE in 2012 and taught about economic psychology and behavioral economics. We were very satisfied with this experience and the mutual interest in economic behavior and cross cultural studies. We hope to extend this collaboration in research and a dual degree program with Tilburg University and HSE. Russia is a huge country with an impressive history in psychology and we think that Tilburg University and HSE can cooperate and join forces to our joint benefit.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, especially for HSE news service

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