BHRI Seminar Series - Emotion: Insights from Ethology

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

12:00pm to 1:00pm



Emotion: Insights from Ethology

David Huron, PhD, Professor Emeritus, School of Music and Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Ohio State University


Existing theories of emotion are plagued by a number of problems. People commonly smile when stressed, laugh when in a state of fear, and weep at weddings. Although anger is usually regarded as a negative emotion, research suggests that people enjoy the feeling of righteous indignation. Current confusion has led to widespread dissatisfaction with evolutionary-oriented theories and a concommitant appeal of social constructivist views.


This presentation describes recent breakthroughs applying ethological signaling theory to emotion. The purpose of an ethological signal is to transform the behavior of the observer. Accordingly, emotion researchers have been looking at the wrong person: the common denominator in affective displays is not the emotional state of the displayer, but the evoked behavior of the observer. We show how an ethological approach is able to account for many apparent puzzles and paradoxes, such as the weeping of beauty pageant winners. Compared with existing theories, ethological theory offers a more comprehensive, parsimonious, and biologically plausible account of emotion and affective-related displays.



David Huron is Academy Professor Emeritus at the Ohio State University where he was formerly Distinguished Professor in the School of Music and at the Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences. Among other distinctions, Dr. Huron has been the Ernest Bloch Visiting Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, the Donald Wort Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, and the Astor Lecturer at Oxford. In 2017 he received the Society for Music Perception and Cognition's lifetime Achievement Award.


The mission of the Brain Health Research Institute is to foster and support collaborative research leading to innovative discoveries about the brain that ultimately improve the health of our communities and beyond.