Scientific abstracts

International Summer School in Affective Sciences (ISSAS)


The development of emotions

 (July 5-13, 2018, Geneva, Switzerland)

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Day 1 (Thursday 5)

Paul Harris
Children's understanding of emotion
Abstract: In the course of development, children increasingly understand the psychological processes that impact the experience and expression of emotions - both their own emotions and those of other people. A large body of research has highlighted some of the major  landmarks in the development of this understanding, including children's increasing realization that (i) an individual's emotion is triggered not by the objective situation but by his or her appraisal of that situation; and that (ii) the emotion that an individual expresses may or may not correspond to that individual's actual feelings. Developing insight into these aspects of emotion is observed in a wide range of cultures. Nevertheless, psychometric assessment also reveals marked variation among children in their rate of progress. I explore two factors, notably language and cultural milieu, that are associated with such variation.


Day 2 (Friday 6) : Theories of emotion development

Francisco Pons

Eric Walle
It’s Complicated; Deal with It: A Functionalist Approach to Studying Emotional Development
Abstract: Studying emotional development in infancy and childhood is no easy task. Children, particularly infants, are terrible at questionnaires, have limited verbal abilities, and have difficulty sitting still. While it may be tempting for experimenters to exert control over the context and responses afforded the young child, such paradigms often impede our understanding of the very construct we are attempting to study. This talk will argue that embracing the complex, and at times messy, nature of emotion in social contexts can lead to innovative and more ecologically valid insights on emotional development. Utilizing a functionalist theoretical framework of emotion, I detail conceptual and methodological frameworks for incorporating this approach in empirical research. Next, I provide evidence from my own and others’ research that demonstrates how such an approach can be implemented. Lastly, I will discuss lingering questions in the study of emotional development for which this framework may help elucidate novel findings.

Justin D'Arms
Value and Virtue in Emotional Responses 
Abstract: The aim to inculcate some patterns of emotional response rather than others deploys, more or less explicitly, ideals or standards for response. Some of these standards are ideals for persons, concerning what emotions are healthy, or virtuous, or conducive to the person’s wellbeing. Other standards are more clearly based on the objects to which we respond. They concern whether emotional responses are appropriate to the social and material environment, whether they track the “relational goal” or “formal object” of the emotion in question. These object-based standards presuppose that our emotional responses should get it right: we should be afraid only of things that are dangerous, and angry only at real slights or transgressions, and so on. In different contexts, personal and object-based standards compete. This talk will explore that competition, and address the role of reasons and reasoning in human efforts to regulate our emotions in ways that can pass muster as rational.

Laurie Bayet
What can psycho-physiological research tell us about the development of emotions?
Abstract: This workshop aims to provide participants with a working understanding of how existing methods might be leveraged to gain insights into psychophysiological aspects of typical and atypical emotional development. The workshop will start with a brief introduction to core questions and psychophysiological methods in the field of emotional development; such methods include heart rate, facial electromyography, eye-tracking, pupillometry, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), event-related potentials (ERPs), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Videos and/or hands-on demonstrations will be used when possible. The group will proceed to brainstorm experimental designs and methods best suited to answer a short series of selected scientific questions on emotional development, discussing the advantages and limitations of different methods and design options for answering each question. Solutions proposed by the group during brainstorming will finally be compared to the existing literature. In conclusion, we will review how core questions in the field of emotional development may be addressed using psychophysiological methods.

Andrea Samson
Playing Games to Promote Emotion Development
Abstract: This workshop gives first an overview of the importance of play in children’s emotional development. Besides identifying general mechanisms in rule-based (board) games that have the potential to foster emotional competences, I will describe specific components of several games that we developed. These games were designed to help children aged 9 to 12 improve their emotional vocabulary and granularity, emotion awareness, and emotion regulation. The design process of these board games will be described, as well as initial results from play testing with 9 to 11 year old children. The workshop attendants have the opportunity to play in groups three board games we developed, as well as to try out a game in virtual reality developed by our group that assesses socio-emotional competences. It has the potential to be used as part of a training program targeting emotional competences.

Klaus Scherer
An appraisal perspective on the ontogeny of emotional competence 
Abstract: I will briefly document the impact of work on phylogenetic and ontogenetic origin of emotion on the development of my Component Process Model of Emotion (CPM), in particular cues for the increasing differentiation of emotion-constituent appraisal processes. Work with Howard Leventhal, on the different levels of cognition involved in appraisal (and the relative importance for emotional differentiation) lead to concrete predictions for experimental research. I will report the results of a asemajor empirical study on expectancy violation in infants studied in a cross-sectional design for the ages of 5, 7, 9, 11-12, and 14 months, conducted with Pierre Mounoud and Daniel Stern. I will then describe the current version of the CPM and pertinent empirical evidence from hypothesis-driven studies using EEG and facial EMG and venture some speculative proposals on how these results might encourage further work on the ontogeny of the underlying mechanisms. Finally, I will introduce a model of emotional competence (EC) based on the CPM and describe an ongoing large-scale study (ECoWeB) on the prevention of affective disorders in adolescents and young adults by using intervention and promotion programs to increase EC in a personalized approach using state-of-the art assessments.


Day 3 (Saturday 7) : Emotion regulation / Social emotions and moral development


Stephanie Olsen
Children, Childhood and the History of Emotions
Abstract: The rapid emergence and consolidation of the history of emotions has already demonstrated the usefulness of the field in upending established historical narratives and in contributing to multi-disciplinary discussions. While a heterodoxy of approaches still dominates the field, this session will provide an overview of what historians do with emotion, and what is specific in relation to children and youth. Historical work has focused on changing emotional prescriptions and proscriptions of childhood and on children’s emotional experiences. We will also briefly look at related fields: the histories of childhood, children and youth, of play, of space and material cultural, and of education. The session will conclude by pointing to new directions in these related fields, specifically to the usefulness of new theoretical tools: “emotional formations” and “emotional frontiers.”

Claudia Haase
Emotion Regulation in Intimate Relationships: Developmental Consequences, Changes, and Contexts
Abstract: Intimate relationships are hotbeds of emotion. In this talk, I will present findings from cross-sectional and longitudinal laboratory-based studies of emotion regulation in intimate relationships. First, I will show examples of how we measure emotion regulation in intimate relationships in the laboratory (i.e., as couples talk about pleasant and conflict topics while their emotional experience, interpersonal behavior, and autonomic physiology are being monitored). Second, I will discuss how spouses’ emotion regulation during marital interaction predicts long-term consequences for empathic accuracy, marital satisfaction, mental health, and physical health. Third, I will talk about how spouses’ emotion regulation changes with age. Fourth, I will present some new findings on the role of spouses’ emotion regulation in high-challenge contexts (i.e., low socioeconomic status; caregiving for a spouse with a neurodegenerative disease). Directions for future research will be discussed.  

Amrisha Vaish
Social emotions and their moral functions in early ontogeny
Abstract: Humans are a highly cooperative species. Even young children show remarkable prosocial and moral propensities. We are thus equipped from early on with psychological attributes that allow us to engage in and profit from cooperation. In this talk, I will examine the nature of these attributes in early development. Specifically, I focus on two fundamental requirements for safeguarding cooperation: 1) when cooperation breaks down, it must be repaired, and 2) once cooperation has been initiated, it must be maintained. I argue that the social emotions of guilt and gratitude help us meet these requirements, respectively. They serve these functions at two levels – (i) when they are experienced and (ii) when they are displayed. The experience of guilt motivates transgressors to repair the damage they caused, and transgressors’ guilt displays appease victims and bystanders and elicit cooperation towards the transgressor. The experience of gratitude motivates us to reciprocate, and beneficiaries’ gratitude displays signal that the beneficiary appreciates the kindness and intends to reciprocate, thus eliciting affiliation and cooperation. I review recent evidence demonstrating these functions of guilt and gratitude in early development. Guilt and gratitude emerge during early ontogeny as vital mechanisms that help safeguard human morality and cooperation.


Day 4 (Sunday 8) : Psychopathology 


Seth Pollak
The Emergence of Children's Emotions: Learning, Development, Biology, and Risk 
Abstract: How is the brain shaped and refined by children's early social and emotional experiences? I will focus on the development of children who have endured environments marked by toxic levels of stress early in their development. These children are known to be at increased risk for a variety of health, academic, and social problems. Some of these problems appear immediately, but others may not manifest themselves until much later in development. I will highlight ways in which we can address central issues in human development by studying the quality and timing of children’s emotion experiences. To do so, I will describe recent research involving children who have experienced child abuse and neglect, children raised in poverty, children raised in institutional settings, children who have endured traumatic life experiences, and typically developing children. Through these studies, I will highlight new insights about the developmental processes underlying children’s sensitivity to their social environments as a way to understand the emergence of both adaptive and maladaptive human emotional behavior. Defining and specifying ways in which the environment creates long-term effects on brain and behavior holds tremendous promise for improving the health and well-being of children.

Carolien Rieffe
Emotional competence and psychopathology in children and adolescents; The role of the social environment  
Abstract: The research in my lab is focused on the development of emotional competence (e.g. emotion communication, emotion awareness, emotion understanding, emotion regulation, empathy) in a social context, and its links with psychopathology and social functioning in children and adolescents ( Comparing patterns of development in children with and without communication impairments (e.g. hearing loss, autism, or language impairments) who experience fewer opportunities for learning in a social context, creates a natural quasi experimental setting to examine the role of the environment from birth. Outcomes based on these different groups reveal similar patterns among children with communication impairments, despite their different diagnoses.

Catherine Sebastian
Affective and regulatory processes underpinning reactive aggression in adolescence   
Abstract: Adolescence is a key time for the emergence of internalising and externalising psychopathologies including depression, anxiety and antisocial behaviour. What are the behavioural and neural processes that render some adolescents more vulnerable to developing psychopathology than others? I will present behavioural and neuroimaging data focusing on reactivity to and regulation of emotional responses, both through automatic processing of emotional cues, and deliberate use of regulatory strategies. In particular I will focus on those adolescents with a profile of reactive aggression, i.e. aggression in response to threat, frustration or provocation, and will show that this group is characterised by a profile of high amygdala reactivity to threat, increased ‘capture’ by emotional stimuli, and a reduced ability to use deliberate strategies to downregulate emotional response. Thus, these individuals have difficulty in terms of both ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approaches to managing emotions, and may benefit from interventions specifically targeting these skills.


Day 6 (Tuesday 10) : Affective social learning  


Betty Repacholi
Emotional eavesdropping:  new insights into emotionally-guided learning during late infancy  
Abstract: In the course of their everyday lives, infants are often bystanders, eavesdropping on other people’s social interactions. For example, infants might observe a sibling being scolded for poking an electric outlet. It would be advantageous for infants to learn that this is a forbidden act simply by observing the emotion that the parent directs towards the other child. Whether infants can learn through emotional eavesdropping has, until quite recently, been ignored in the affective cognition literature. I will describe a line of research that systematically addresses this issue. Evidence will be presented that 15- and 18-month-olds can learn from emotional cues gleaned from observing two people interacting with each other. Moreover, infants have some capacity to determine when this information is personally relevant versus when it can be ignored. Data will also be presented suggesting that infants can use this emotional information to generate a) trait-like attributions about other people and b) expectations about how others will treat them. Together, these studies indicate that emotional eavesdropping not only guides infants’ learning about the physical world (e.g., how to act on objects), but can also provide them with important clues about the social world – clues that can help them successfully navigate their own social interactions.

Zanna Clay
Comparative perspectives to socio-emotional development: Insights from great apes  
Abstract: Empathy – the sharing and understanding others’ emotions and thoughts – is a defining feature of what it means to be human. Although research suggests that empathy has deep evolutionary roots, we lack knowledge about its origins and to what extent its features reflect species universals. Studying our closest living relatives, the great apes, enables us to identify its evolutionary origins and the extent of its human uniqueness. Combining with a developmental approach enables us to further pinpoint the initial points of emergence across ontogeny and evolution.  Here, I present research that tracks the development of socio-emotional competence in our closest living relatives, the bonobos, which traces the early onset of emotional responding in infants through to adulthood. We compared the socio-emotional skills of orphaned and mother-reared sanctuary-living bonobos. We found striking effects of early disturbances in development: orphans showed reduced empathy and more disordered socio-emotional functioning compared to mother-reared. Our current research focuses on onset of empathic responding in infancy, and the extent to which human maternal scaffolding of emotional development, such as via affect mirroring, shows overlaps with that in great apes.  Overall, results highlight the importance of early experiences in socio-emotional development and the deep evolutionary history of empathy.

Vasu Reddy

Daniel Vanello
Emotional development and intersubjectivity  
Abstract:The aim of this workshop is to explore the relation between emotional development and the development of intersubjectivity. Intersubjectivity refers to our ability to understand other minds; to enter into social and communicative relations with others; and to acquire the capacity to distinguish between self and other. In particular, the workshop will revolve around ideas that challenge the view according to which emotions and intersubjectivity follow distinct developmental trajectories. We will critically assess theories that rely on empirical studies with infants between 0-2 years old to argue that intersubjectivity and our emotional engagement with others are intrinsically linked. The guiding questions of the workshop are:
•  What are the assumptions about emotions that lead theorists to deny them any role in our ability for intersubjectivity?
• Why should we think that emotions play an essential role in our ability to understand others as subjects possessing mental states such as intentions, beliefs and desires?
• How are the core aspects of intersubjectivity e.g. understanding other minds, communication, self-other distinction, related to the development of emotions?
The theme of the workshop is of immediate relevance to anyone who is interested in how emotional development plays a role in shaping our social and communicative practices, including our acquisition of morality and a sense of self.

Martin Debbané
Developing emotions in therapy: a mentalization-informed approach