WHAT WE STUDY
Whether we are angry, happy, or sad, our emotions inform us about how and why people, events, and experiences matters to us. As such, emotions are one of the most fundamental aspects of being a person. In a sense, they are the fabric of our lives - every moment, however mundane or magnificent - evokes an emotional response in us, and that response provides a map for how we should think, feel and act. Sometimes these maps turn out to be useful and appropriate - as when we are overjoyed at the birth of a child - and sometimes they may lead us astray - as when we can’t get over a disappointment or loss and spiral from sadness into depression. In the SCAN Lab, a primary focus is on understanding these and many other aspects of our emotional lives - from the behavioral and neural machinery that gives rise to specific positive or negative emotions - to the ways we connect with and understand other people’s emotions - to the ways we can attempt to regulate emotions.
We humans are a social species. We evolved to live and thrive in groups, which can be a complex business. Successfully building, nourishing and navigating our various social roles and relationships requires various kinds of cognitive and emotional skills. For example, we need to know who is a member of the groups and social networks to which we belong, and where we stand relative to one another within these groups. We need to know how to interpret, understand and empathize with the thoughts and feelings conveyed by the various combinations of facial expressions, words, tones of voice, and body language that we send to one another in all kinds of conversations and interactions - whether they take place “in real life” or virtually through text or video. Our behavior is shaped and influenced by our perceptions of what others think and feel, and we need to know when and how to help others when they their thoughts and feelings cause distress. In the SCAN Lab another primary focus is on understanding these kinds of social behaviors, their neural underpinnings, and importantly, how emotion plays a key role in all of them.
If emotions are the fabric of our lives - and social experiences are clothes cut from this fabric - then the capacity for self-control is what we use to keep everything from becoming frayed and falling apart. Self-control helps us resist the temptations to behave in ways that - while enjoyable in the moment - we know aren’t good for us in the long run. Self-control also helps us get over the inevitable fears, frustrations, setbacks and losses that inevitably come our way. In myriad ways self-control can be used to regulate our emotions and social behaviors so as to help us meet life goals and connect with others. In the SCAN Lab, a third main focus is on understanding the nature of self-control as it is used in emotional and social situations, ranging from resisting the temptation to eat too many tasty treats to overcoming maladaptive fears, anxieties and other negative emotions.