Interactions between emotions and social context Basic, clinical and non-human evidence

Ruz M, Ibanez A, Kotz S, Barrett L, Moll J.(2014) Interactions between emotions and social context Basic, clinical and non-human evidence. Switzerland: Frontiers Media SA. ISBN: 978-2-88919-319-6

The emotions that we feel and also those that we perceive in others are crucial to the social functioning of both humans and non-human animals. Although the role of context has been extensively studied in basic sensory processing, its relevance for social cognition and emotional processing is little understood. In recent years, several lines of research at the behavioral and neural levels have highlighted the bidirectional interactions that take place between emotions and social context.

Experienced emotions, even when incidental, bias decision-making. Remarkably, even basic emotions can be strongly influenced by situational contexts – for example, hearing a loud shouting during in a competitive sports game or while walking in an empty, dark street. In addition, both humans and non-human animals can use emotional expressions strategically as a means of influencing and managing the behavioural response of others in relation to specific environmental situations. Accordingly, whereas sulking has been traditionally considered an expression of anger, it may be used strategically as an emotional “game of chicken” to secure a better deal in a relationship. Linguistic and paralinguistic cues as well as social situations also seem to modulate intrinsic emotion comprehension. Moreover, social emotions (e.g., engaged in moral judgment, empathic concern and social norms) seem to be context-dependent, which also questions a purely abstract account of emotion understanding and expression.

The present research topic of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience aims to highlight the need for a situated approach to emotion and social cognition. We call for theoretical and empirical work at the behavioural or neural levels that should contribute to our understanding of emotion within a highly contextualized social realm, or vice-versa. We encourage relevant contributions from diverse fields, including ethology, neurology, biology, cognitive neuroscience, and as well as psychology and neuropsychiatry. We hope that an integrated approach that entails the interaction between emotion and social context will provide important new insights into the growing field of social neuroscience.