Dr. Erik Nook
Language & Emotions
A new generation of emotion researchers are on the rise, and Dr. Erik Nook is one of them making significant strides with his work. Having just celebrated its first birthday, the Logic of Emotions Lab, spearheaded by Dr. Nook at Princeton, is focusing on the ways language play important roles in how people both "construct their own emotional experiences and also an impression of what someone else is feeling." Having studied at both Columbia and Harvard, with a post-doc fellowship completed at Yale, Dr. Nook commands a firm grasp on the current literature and has experience working with other major players who focus on such affective research. Thus, his ability to conjure creative theories is a natural tendency in his work. Cue: psychological distancing with linguistic signatures. Within his lab, one of his most supported hypotheses include one where psychological distancing can encourage emotion regulation. That is, the proficiency by which one is able to use third-person pronouns to "distance" themselves from the emotional effects of negative images, events, or memories, rather than using "I" statements, increases the likelihood of successfully regulating one's emotions.
Using third-person pronouns helps create a small but significant mental space between the individual and their emotional experience. This distancing can reduce the immediacy and intensity of feelings, allowing for a more objective, less biased perspective on personal experiences or challenges. It's akin to getting advice from a friend about one's own problems, providing clarity and potentially more rational responses. Dr. Nook's research also suggests that this linguistic shift can change how emotions are processed in the brain, leading to less emotional reactivity and, thus, improved emotion regulation. It can be suspected to be beneficial in stressful or emotionally charged situations, where immediate reactions can be less thoughtful or contructive.
"People spontaneously shifted away from themselves and the present moment when they were trying to manage their emotions."
Aside from his work on psychological or linguistic distancing, Dr. Nook shared what he and his graduate students have been working on and what their current research directions look like. The beauty of his team's work is the applicability and practicality of his research. It's clear through his shared wisdom throughout our conversation that he is fundamentally interested in producing work to increase psychological understanding and improve mental health for a wide range of people. You'll leave this conversation with numerous take-aways and a newfound zest for life, inspired by Dr. Nook's enthusiastic and passionate perspective on the way language and emotions collide.
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(Recorded July 2023.)