Emotions are complex and powerful. They shape decisions and behavior relevant to our relationships, our work, and our health. But their influence on our ability to succeed in these domains has often been misunderstood. Jealousy will ruin your love life. Compassion in business is for the weak. Regulating your anger is a key to good health. These are popular notions to which recent data have not been particularly kind. A view of emotions as essential to achieving our personal and interpersonal goals has emerged. This is particularly true in our moral lives, where emotions such as gratitude, awe, and empathy motivate so much of our behavior. I study the influence of these emotional states on things like altruism, cooperation, moral permissibility, and forgiveness. By eliciting emotions in real time in my experiments, I test their influence on cognition and behavior and try to argue for their adaptive function.
Though we like to think of ourselves as people who do not compromise our values, the reality of how we apply our principles when judging others is quite a bit messier. Often these judgments depend on the identity of who we are judging (e.g., ingroup vs. outgroup), or our state of mind at the time of judgment (e.g., distracted, emotional). I study the many ways in which our moral judgments are flexible, and adhere to the dynamics of social interaction as opposed to any principles derived from any normative system of ethics.
Trust and Cooperation
Trust is essential to the development and maintenance of important relationships, but the entities with whom we interact, and to whom we must choose to give our trust, change constantly. New friends, new partners, new companies, and new services constantly ask for our trust. How do we choose? What predicts gain and loss of trust? What kinds of behaviors promote forgiveness and the restoration of trust following breaches? How does trust change depending on the kinds of entities with which we interact? Much of my ongoing research is devoted to exploring these questions.