Tips for Actors > Emo Studies

28 Sep 2008

Emo Studies

I’m going to provide a few random samples from the web, a few books on the subject, and a few other web based emotion research resources. I go into some detail here, it could even be a little bit of overkill, but the concept seems so alien to so many that I feel it better to say too much than too little. One thing for sure, I am not trying to make brain scientists out of actors, trust me on that one. Hopefully, by showing a few high profi le institutions and individuals who are very seriously pursuing the study of emotions, actors

will understand that the whole world is being affected by emotion research. They will ask themselves, ”What is the acting world doing sitting on their hands and ignoring the subject when obviously the people who come to see actors are looking for emotional

stimulation?” I have had knock down, drag out fi ghts with almost everybody in the acting community for twenty years about the importance of emotion studies for actors.

Well the evidence has already piled up too high for ya’all to argue any more. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work on this or get out of the business. Students, listen to me, if the teachers aren’t doing their HomeWork, then smart actors will learn on their own. Remember, teachers get their paychecks whether you learn anything or not. Obviously, if you’re in a class with this book, your teacher is keeping up with her craft.

Here is a taste of the feast on emotion studies you can fi nd on the web. Again, I’m not trying to make brain scientists out of actors; I just want you to understand that everybody else is taking emotions seriously these days. Since emotions are the key to the actor’s art, maybe you should take them seriously too. I remember a sign that used to be on the bus and in the subway in New York City. It said,

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

Neurobiology advances emotion research

Until recently, the study of emotions was relegated to the fringes of science. A decade or so ago, many researchers believed emotions, the feelings usually associated more with the heart than the head, couldn’t be measured or studied in laboratory experiments. Researchers lacked instruments, and what’s more, most scientists didn’t recognize the farranging and long-lasting effects emotions can have on peoples’ health. More recently, though, hard scientific scrutiny of emotions has dramatically come into its own.

Dalai Lama visits brain imaging center

The Dalai Lama’s deep interest in scientific knowledge that intersects with the spiritual aspects of Buddhism brought him to campus May 21 to visit one of the world’s foremost centers on emotion research


In recent years, the dramatic expansion of interest in emotions has become evident in a surprisingly wide variety of disciplines. The interdisciplinary interests of researchers and the international and cross-cultural scope of much of the recent work on emotions has created a need for a society where researchers from various disciplines can come together to discuss issues of mutual concern.

To address this need, an association called the International Society for Research on Emotions (ISRE) was founded in 1984 with four principal objectives:

  1. To provide a forum for the exchange of information of interests to its members;

  2. To foster critical discussion of new ideas and fi ndings on emotion;

  3. To encourage collaboration on, or joint exploration of, new research areas;

  4. To organize workshops and training institutes on new techniques and paradigms.

Then there is this web page:

The Geneva Emotion Research Group

The Geneva Emotion Research Group, directed by Prof. Klaus R. Scherer, is part of the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences (FPSE) at the University of Geneva. The members of our group work on theoretical development and empirical research in the affective sciences. We conduct research into many aspects of emotions, with special emphasis on emotion-constituent appraisal processes expression of emotion and stress in voice and speech facial expression of emotion central and peripheral physiological reaction patterns subjective experience of emotional processe. Our research methods include experimental studies in both laboratory and field settings, using emotion induction and sampling of naturalistic emotions, as well as computer simulation approaches. In addition to conducting basic research on emotional processes, members of our group are also involved in a number of applied projects including emotionality in business and public organizations emotional intelligence stress and coping affective factors in speech technology

This site provides information on present and past members of the group, current research projects, and publications. The site also hosts a web publication series - the Geneva Studies in Emotion and Communication that provides an outlet for research reports and conference contributions by members of our group. The site also provides access to a number of data bases and research materials developed by our group and made available for general use. Finally, a list of links to other sites of relevance to affective scientists is provided.

Also on this page you will find:


This page is an on-line bibliography in the area of emotions and emotional intelligence, describing current research findings and notes of interest. The main areas covered are:The University of Michigan has a whole new dept. titled, The Science of Emotions, and as you can see, they are not alone, not in this country or abroad. The educational sector is heavily committed to emotion research. Private sector research is also pouring tons of dollars into emotion research. Many of the programs at various institutes are funded by large corporate donations; some are sub-divisions of major corporations.

The following web page shows just one way in which the private sector applies emotion research.

Personality Tests for Business,Research, Descriptions, prices, & ordering information for personality and emotion tests: empathy, EQ, violence, achievement, honesty, self-esteem, optimism, dominance, sociability, internal control.

Emotional Intelligence was just mentioned, written by Dr. Daniel Goleman, this book spent two years on the New York Times Best Seller List. He was on the cover of Time magazine, on the Oprah show and featured in many media all over the world. He now has a top management consulting business with Fortune Five Hundred companies as clients. Goleman was Brain Science editor for the New York Times for at least ten years, and a Harvard, Ph. D. Dr. Joseph Le Deux’s book,

The Emotional Brain, also mentioned, is a good source on this work. Le Deux is at NYU.

Personally, I don’t care if actors, teachers, and directors ever read a line of the work these distinguished people are writing, as long as they take it as a signal that maybe they are behind the times and vow to catch up. For those who are diligent, here are a few more places where emotion studies are going on:

  • Emotion Research Group (Univ. of Cambridge, UK)

  • The Cognition and Emotion Group (Cognition and Brain Science Unit - Cambridge Univ., U.K.)

  • Geneva Emotion Research Group (Switzerland)

  • Face and emotion perception research group (Univ. of York, UK)

  • Kappas’ group (U. of Hull, UK)

  • Joe LeDoux’s Laboratory (N.Y.U.)

  • The Emotion Research Program of the Psychonomics Dept , (The Netherlands)

  • Positive emotion and psychophysiology laboratory (U. of Michigan).

  • Child Emotion Laboratory (McMaster University, Canada).

  • Personalities and Emotions in Agents (Institute de informatica, Porto Alegre, Brazil


Molecules of Emotion

Author: Candace B. Pert, 1997

Publisher: Touchstone book, Simon & Schuster

Emotion and Culture: Empirical Studies of Mutual Infl uences

Editors: Shinobu Kitayama, Hazel Rose Markus, 1997

Publisher: APA

Emotional Intelligence

Author: Daniel Goleman, 1997

Publisher: Bantam

The Emotional Brain

Author: J.E.LeDoux, 1996

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Mind and Brain: Dialog between Cognitive Psychology andNeuroscience

Editors: LeDoux, Joseph E. and Hirst, William

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions

Author: Paul Ekman, 1994

Publisher: Oxford University Press

DESCARTES’ ERROR: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

Author: Antonio R. Damasio, 1995

Publisher: Avon Books, Harper-Collins

The Handbook of emotion and memory: Research and Theory

Author: Sven-Ake Christianson, 1992

Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates


As far as clear and powerful signs that emotions are becoming more and more important in today’s world, these references above are the high end of the game. You have been seeing the low end through all the reality shows on TV: Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Oprah. Get a clue. What do people want? They want emotion, raw and real, and as actors we have to learn to give it to them. Emotionology is the first key that you have to that crucial area of study. When you do your web search, don’t just look and see if I am making this up-REALIZE that there really are tons of web pages devoted to emotion studies-read some of it. It’s not all good, but at least it is dealing, head on, with a vital subject.

Keep in mind that I started this work in 1984. Between the two books written by Goleman and Le Deux there are about sixty pages of Bibliography. In those 60 pages of bibliography, with thousands of references to books, papers, articles etc. most of these references ( I think like 60%-70%) were dated from about 1984 until now. Le Deux, along with four other top brain scientists, was on PBS.

When asked why such a heavy emphasis on emotions at this time, he basically said that when the cognitive revolution came along we threw out everything else and focused on the mind only. Now, as a result, we have people exploding on street corners, panic attacks, and anxiety attacks; emotional disorders of every kind are rampant. He said that because this emotional arena was completely ignored, scientist had no idea as to why there was this emotional chaos; consequently they were in a mad scramble to fi nd out. Emotion research is the hottest thing going right now. This is the world we are moving into, and as I said before, these are the audiences who will judge us.

Look at it this way: as actors, artists, and as people

  • We have investigated our souls.

  • We have investigated our minds

  • We have investigated our bodies

Now we are finally investigating our emotions. The emotions are the most personal of all those things that we are as they are so very personal, so unique, and so specifi c that they cannot be duplicated. It is that hyperpersonal, can’t-be-duplicated aspect of emotions that is of great interest and utmost importance to those of us connected to the acting experience.


The fact is that our emotions are the most ultrapersonal aspect of who we are as individuals. We stain and decorate them by our life’s experiences with that emotion.

For example:

I meet a woman, she’s a horrible person but she’s drop dead gorgeous and she’s coming after me. I can’t help it. I get all involved. I fall in love. The money runs out and she runs out on me. BLAP, big ugly stain on my love emotion. Next I meet this really wonderful woman and she somehow likes me, we get married, BLAM, big golden decoration on my love Liemotion. It’s like a Christmas tree. It is yours and nobody else has one that is just the same. Your emotionsare the Fingerprints of your soul.

It struck me that if a character is allowed to stain and decorate his/ her own emotions as that character is being built, then there would be spontaneous honesty and absolute clarity of emotional expression.