social emotive neuroscience  Lab
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We study the psychology of motivation and emotion, employing social and neuroscience approaches. We are interested in the interplay of cognition, emotion, and motivation. The majority of research conducted in the lab is derived from theory. We use multiple measures in our research. Other the last few years, these broad research interests have been realized in three primary lines of research.

Emotive Functions of Asymmetrical Frontal Cortical Activity

One concerns the emotive functions of asymmetrical frontal cortical activity. Decades of research have established that the left and right frontal cortices are asymmetrically involved in motivational processes, with the left frontal cortex being involved in approach motivation and the right frontal cortex being involved in withdrawal motivation. This conceptual view of asymmetrical frontal cortex differs from the view that dominated the field of emotion for two decades, that is, the view that the left frontal cortex is involved in positive affect and the right frontal cortex is involved in negative affect. Our published studies on anger revealed that even though anger, even though it is negative in valence, relates to left frontal cortical activation, particularly when the anger is associated with approach motivation. This research is being extended to understand behavioral approach sensitivity, reactance motivation, bipolar disorder, and unipolar depression.

Action-Based Model of Cognitive Dissonance

Another line of research has involved testing predictions derived from the action-based model of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance theory is one of psychology’s most influential theories and one of the few instances of a cumulative social psychological theory. As demonstrated in the recent volume on the contemporary status of cognitive dissonance theory (Harmon-Jones & Mills, 1999), researchers have expressed a renewed interest in dissonance processes, as they are omnipresent and central to psychological life. Indeed, some scientists have argued that several contemporary “non-dissonance” theories are merely re-statements of dissonance theory (e.g., Aronson, 1992). However, mechanisms underlying production of perceptual, cognitive, affective, and behavioral changes produced by dissonance are not well understood. Understanding these mechanisms has both theoretical and practical implications. Because much past research had demonstrated problems with each revision of dissonance theory, it was important to develop a new theory of dissonance that addresses the motivation underlying dissonance reduction. Understanding of dissonance processes could be improved and extended with an explanation of why cognitive inconsistency arouses negative affect and how and why this negative affect motivates the cognitive and behavior adjustments. The action-based model of cognitive dissonance proposed answers to these questions.

Effects of Emotive States on Cognitive Scope

Over 5 decades of research had suggested that negative affective states narrow cognitive scope, whereas positive affective states broaden cognitive scope. In this research, however, only negative affects of high motivational intensity (e.g., fear, stress) and positive affects of low motivational intensity (e.g., gratitude, amusement) had been examined. Thus, affective valence was confounded with motivational intensity. We have conducted research examining positive and negative affects that are low (e.g., sadness) versus high (e.g., desire) in motivational intensity. This research revealed that affects of low motivational intensity broaden cognitive scope whereas affects of high motivational intensity narrow cognitive scope, regardless of the positivity or negativity of the affective state.