Dr. Tom Gilovich
Heuristics & Cognitive Biases
What are relationships mostly made up of, if not the emotions we feel? It's during these opportunities to express and interpret emotions where we find possibilities to build, or perhaps even disintegrate, the relationships we have around us. Dr. Margaret Clark, a psychology professor at Yale, has spent the majority of her tenure in the field investigating the ways emotions play a role in our interpersonal lives. Fascinatingly, her concept of emotions leans more in a constructivist direction, as opposed to the classical theory on emotions. This theory of constructed emotion suggests that at a given moment, the brain predicts and categorizes the present moment (of continuous affect) via interoceptive predictions and the "emotion concepts" from one's culture, to construct an instance of emotion. In contrast, the classical theory on emotions stipulates that we are all hard-wired and pre-packaged with specific emotions and they are uncovered throughout our development. With the constructivist view, we are experience having an emotion, as opposed to the emotion happening to us.
You might ask - well, what good are emotions in interpersonal relationships? Broadly, they help us perceive and interpret other people's emotions. By establishing a defined set of emotions, we can now understand how our significant others, for example, are feeling in that moment. Without emotions, we'd be deaf to the other person's internal state without even the slightest glimmer of comprehension. Moreover, expressing emotions is an integral part of relationship formation. Dr. Clark explains that by express our emotions, we provide an invitation for other people to be responsive to us and, thus, build relationships. We provide an opportunity for others to respond, or not, to our emotional state or mindset. This is one definitive, empirically-backed way to bond and grow closer interpersonally.
"You have to calibrate levels of emotion to the nature of
Can we go overboard with self-expression or self-disclosure? Dr. Clark posit indeed, too much self-disclosure can be detrimental in certain situations. Every person has a different idea of emotional expression. Some people think that it's a good thing whereas there are others who feel that it's mainly harmful. Being mindful of this and knowing what type of person your friend, family member, or significant other is will provide an insight into how to manage expectations for emotion expression between each individual. One major takeaway from my conversation with Dr. Clark was that we each have different needs for emotional exchanges and, thus, navigating each person's emotional expressions is a skill to be mastered. How does one do that? Listen to my conversation with Dr. Clark below to gain insight into this and more.
(Recorded July 2021.)
Books by Dr. Gilovich