Wednesday 15 July 2009

Emotions and Fiction

There is a growing interest in the centrality of emotions to fiction. From the 6th to the 8th of August in Leuven, Belgium, the International Society for Research on Emotions (ISRE, click here for website) will hold its 2009 meeting, which will include a session on Language and Emotions. This session is to be held jointly with the International Society for Empirical Research on literature (IGEL, click here for website). The conference website can be reached by clicking here. I have been asked to give the plenary address for the joint session, and Ronnie de Sousa and Frank Hakemulder are convening two symposia that will take place in it.

Here is the title and abstract of my plenary talk.
From Moral Sentiments to fMRI:
Empathetic emotions of social relating and of engaging with fiction

A change has been occurring in research on emotion, towards questions of emotions that happen not only within the mind, but between people. Social emotions occur in relation to social goals, the most prominent of which are assertion (in relation to status), attachment (having to do with closeness and safety), and affiliation (having to do with cooperation). The emotions that Adam Smith regarded as the glue that holds society together, which he called sympathy and compassion, become central. In modern times we include empathy in this set: feeling with another person. Studies in brain imaging (fMRI) prompt the idea that when we recognize another's emotion, we do so by an empathetic process that involves experiencing the same emotion in ourselves. This idea is helpful to emotion researchers because it give a clue to how emotions configure relationships, for instance of happy cooperation (when people are happy about doing something together), empathetic helping (when one person becomes sad and helps another in distress), angry conflict (when people contend to adjust a relationship), and so on. The idea is also important in understanding why people experience emotions when they watch films and read novels: identification in fiction is based on empathy. To give an empirical basis for this idea, the research group of which I am part has shown that, as compared with reading non-fiction, reading fiction is associated with improved empathy, and changes in personality.
I have been a member of both ISRE and IGEL for a long time. I am very pleased that the two societies are holding a joint session, and I am honoured that they have asked me to give the plenary talk at it. The talk will include new evidence on empathy, and discussion of how empathy in ordinary life is the basis for identification in reading fiction.

I have also been asked to circulate this announcement of a workshop on the related topic of "Entertainment = Emotion."

Maria Teresa Soto and Peter Vorderer are organizing a highly experimental interdisciplinary workshop, which is far removed from traditional formats, and which seeks to observe the relationship between entertainment and emotions in media consumption. The seminar, called Entertainment=Emotion (E=E), will be held at the Centro de Ciencias de Benasque, from November 15 to 21 (Spanish Pyrenees). They are expecting to welcome a solid presence of researchers and professionals from all geographic areas of the world, and from all of the disciplines involved (sociology, psychology, philosophy, design, fine arts, literature, music, etc). The organizers will be seeking to foster the creation of research networks involving academics and professionals from a multidisciplinary perspective. They are also working on designing highly stimulating social activities in relation with the subject of the workshop. You can reach the website for this workshop by clicking here. The application period for presenting proposals for reports, poster sessions, performances, exhibitions or audiovisual presentations ends on September 7.

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