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ONE DAY MEETING - Emotions in an age of communication

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An interdisciplinary scientific ONE DAY meeting OPEN TO ALL who are interested

09.30 Introduction by Organisers ALAN BLACKWELL AND PETER ROBINSON

Abstracts of the speaker sessions:

09:45 – 10.45 Darwin’s emotions and the problem of expression- PAUL WHITE (University of Cambridge)

Darwin conducted research on emotions for over thirty years before the publication of /Descent of Man/ 1871), exploring the central role of sentiments and affections in the origin of human beings and the development of moral behaviour. In /The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals /(1872), Darwin argued that the outward manifestations of emotions were vestiges of previously serviceable habits, acquired by our animal ancestors. Yet in the course of making this argument, Darwinseems to empty expressions of any meaningful content. It has often been claimed that Darwin ignored or denied the communicative function of emotions, so that it has been left to Paul Ekman and other modern psychologists to rediscover the language of facial movement. In this paper, I want to examine this curious feature of Darwin’s work by addressing the question, ‘what do emotions express?’

11.15 – 12.00 Understanding emotion expressions in other people : Clues from brains, genes, and autism BHISMADEV CHAKRABARTI (University of Reading)

Darwin’s seminal contribution to the systematic study of expressions of emotion laid the groundwork for the field of affective neuroscience, which was not to be brought back to life until about a hundred years later. The development of real-time neuroimaging techniques in the last two decades, adding to an existing body of psychophysiological measures, has vastly changed the nature of our investigations on how we perceive expressions of emotions in others. My talk shall focus on some of this research, in what we know from both neuroimaging as well as lesion patients, about the neural basis of emotion perception. I will explore individual variations in the underlying neurobiology – why some of us are very quick to recognise others’ emotions, while others take longer. Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are extremely informative in this line of investigation, in that people with ASC often show some degree of impairment in processing emotion expressions. Finally, I shall also discuss some early results that are parsing the genetic factors that might modulate how we perceive and respond to emotion expressions.

12.00 – 12.45 What do jays know about other minds and other times? NICOLA CLAYTON (University of Cambridge)

As humans, our thoughts are not ‘stuck in time’ because we can recall the past, and plan for our future (Mental Time Travel). We can also reason about what others might be thinking (Theory of Mind). Many psychologists have argued that these two cognitive abilities are unique to humans. However, recent studies on food-caching jays challenge these assumptions. Western scrub-jays can remember the ‘what-where-and-when’ of previous caching episodes, and use past experience when deciding where to cache for the future. They also remember who was watching when they caches and go to great lengths to prevent these observers from stealing their caches, by hiding most of them out of sight, for example. When observed by potential pilferers at the time of caching, experienced jays that have been thieves themselves, take further protective action. Once the potential pilferers have left, they move caches those birds have seen, re-hiding them in new places. Naïve birds that had no thieving experience do not do so. By focusing on the counterstrategies of the cacher when previously observed by a potential pilferer, these results raise the intriguing possibility that re-caching is based on a form of mental attribution, namely the simulation of another bird’s viewpoint. Furthermore, storers also keep track of which observer was watching when and take protective action accordingly, thus suggesting that they may also be aware of others’ knowledge states.

14.15 – 15.00 The generation of emotions in immersive virtual environments MEL SLATER (ICREA-University of Barcelona)

People tend to respond realistically to situations and events that they experience within immersive virtual reality (IVR). We will present a conceptual framework that helps to understand the conditions under which this occurs, based on the idea that if the participant has the illusion of being in the virtual place, and the illusion that what is occurring there is real, then they will tend to respond as if it were real. We will present several examples of interactions between human participants and virtual characters in IVR that provide evidence of the generation of emotion that follows from responding realistically within an IVR .

15.00 – 15.45 Amplification and attenuation of emotions on-line DAVID GOOD (University of Cambridge)

Our understanding of the emotional state of other people in face to face communication is supported by very many cues from across most if not all sensory domains. Interacting with other people in any context other than face to face reduces the range of cues either party has concerning the other’s emotional state. Technologies as old as writing, and more recently the telephone, have varied both the range of cues available and the timing of their presentation. Novel online environments and communication technologies have added to the variation in the number and type of cues available and their timing, but unlike the telephone and writing, have not been with us long enough for a mature culture of use to be established. The reduction in the information available can lead to a diminished sense of our interlocutor’s emotional state, but in our efforts to compensate for this diminution we may well overinterpret it too. If either option forms the basis of the emotional content of our own response, then there is an obvious potential for significant misunderstanding. In the absence of co-presence, particularly when using an asynchronous communication environment, the moderating effect of an interlocutor through the establishment of levels of empathy is also lost. In understanding these effects, and in our speculations about the development of a culture of use, it is important to recognise that emotional competence in interaction is not evenly distributed across all members of a society.

16.15 – 17.00 Evolution, deception and terror ROSS ANDERSON

Most security engineering problems have a significant human component. Economics and, increasingly, psychology are important to understand risks and to come up with effective ways of dealing with them. Many security failures involve deception rather than purely technical attacks; others involve protective measures that are hard to use; and yet others exploit well-known biases in human behaviour, such as the preference for a sure benefit today at the cost of an uncertain burden tomorrow. The heuristics and biases tradition in behavioural economics can explain many of these. Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is terrorism. Why are modern societies so prone to overreact? And what can be done about it?

17:00 Discussion Session SIMONE SCHNALL (University of Cambridge)

This talk is part of the Cambridge Philosophical Society series.

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