Prof. Dr. Achim Stephan (Project Manager)
Prof. Dr. Dr. Henrik Walter
During the funding period of the animal emotionale project, we studied the affective human reference to world and self, a variety of forms of emotion regulation, and the contribution of emotions to moral judgment from the perspectives of both philosophy and the neurosciences.
The core philosophical insights have been fixed in a theory of affective intentionality (Slaby 2008). Affective intentionality refers to the specific form of self-reference and world-reference of human feelings. Thereby, the involved bodily sensations are seen as an integral part of external experience, particularly, the bodily experience of feelings is conceptualized as a basic structure of the affective directedness to occurrences in the world, and not only as an awareness of physiological changes in one’s own organism. Following up ideas of our cooperation partner Matthew Ratcliffe (Durham) we see existential (background) feelings as an essential element of affective intentionality (Slaby/Stephan 2008). Implicitly, background feelings structure all experiential states – particularly episodic emotional states and processes.
The empirical projects studied affective intentionality in three different areas: in the regulation of negative emotions (e.g. Walter et al. 2009), in moral decision making (Schleim et al. 2010), and in game-theoretical exchange situations, in which trust is an essential factor. In the context of emotion regulation some of the cognitive strategies can be interpreted as activities that primarily aim at a modification of the mentally represented relationship between self and external world. Since these modifications have a counterpart in the human brain they also can be studied empirically with brain imaging methodologies. In particular, we could show that successful emotion regulation is initiated by cortical regions (dorsolateral PFC, inferior parietal PFC), but mediated through changes in the coupling between several brain regions (Schardt et al. 2009). Furthermore, we could show that emotion regulation is not only effective during active regulation, but has a temporal dynamics affecting subsequent perception (Walter et al. 2009) and memory (Erk et al. 2010).