09:45 – 10 - Cambridge Philosophical Society

Emotions in an Age of Communication – Speaker Abstracts
Monday 7 December 2009 - 9-5.30 William Gates Lecture Theatre
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, Darwin seems 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?'
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.
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-whereand-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
The generation of emotions in immersive virtual environments Mel Slater (ICREA-University of
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.
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.
Evolution, deception and terror Ross Anderson (University of Cambridge)
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?
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