Research being conducted by the
Queens Affective Sciences Laboratory

Emotion, Executive Function, and Psychological Resources

My current focus is testing the emotion and goal-compatibility model (Storbeck, 2012), which provides an ecological based account for how emotion regulates executive functions and psychological resources. We propose that emotion prioritizes specific executive functions when implementing goal-directed behavior, which interacts with situational goals. Specifically, emotions are functional (enhanced performance while minimizing psychological effort) when they correctly anticipate situational requirements creating goal integration, but are dysfunctional when they incorrectly anticipate such requirements creating goal competition. We have found initial support for the model (Storbeck, 2012; Storbeck & Watson, 2014; Storbeck et al., in press, 2014), and other questions I am seeking to answer include: 1) which emotions prioritize which executive functions, 2) the mechanisms that regulate psychological effort, and 3) examine individual difference factors that moderate emotion and executive function interactions.

Emotion and Processing

My broad research agenda examines whether emotion by promoting goal-driven behavior has systematic effects on processing including perception, cognition, and executive functions. We have investigated whether positive and negative affective states influence the accessibility of implicit associations as measured by semantic priming effects. Our research suggests that positive affect promotes accessibility to semantic and affective associates in memory producing robust semantic and affective priming effects. However, negative affect impairs accessibility to semantic and affective associates reducing both semantic and affective priming effects (Storbeck & Clore, 2007, 2008).

Because emotion influences how we process information, does that have consequences for memory? For example, are happy individuals more likely to recall fictitious events than sad individuals? I discovered that negative moods reduce the occurrence of false memories in the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) false memory task. We found that negative individuals focus more on the perceptual details of the presented words, which reduces semantic activation. The reduction in semantic activation limits activation and false recollection of the associated critical lure (Storbeck & Clore, 2005, 2011). This research suggests that positive affect promotes conceptual and semantic processing of information, whereas negative affect promotes perceptual and item-specific processing of information.

Arousal and Perception

Fifty years ago, work on the New Look in perception (Bruner, 1957) hypothesized that perception was influenced not only by objects and the conditions of their viewing, but also by the emotions and motivations of the viewer. The phenomena proved unreliable at the time, but more solid data and a more elaborated understanding of the visual system are renewing this idea. With Jeanine Stefanucci, we found that early stages of cognition, such as visual perception, can be biased by emotions. That is, when individuals were induced to feel aroused, they subsequently viewed a height as taller than individuals who were not aroused prior to estimating the same height (Stefanucci & Storbeck, 2009). Our more recent research has examined how motivation to withdrawal from the height interacts with induced states of arousal. We observed that a motivation to with has to be present for arousal to influence height estimations. Moreover, reducing or adjusting induced arousal levels has direct effects in reducing height estimations (Storbeck & Stefanucci, in prep). This research suggests that emotional arousal may influence how people view or perceive their surrounding environments, and this perceptual overestimation may be related to similar processes involved in phobias and anxiety-related disorders.

Affect and Cognition: Is one more basic?

One broad theoretical question arises: Are affect and cognition independent or are they integrated? Several prominent emotion theories suggest that the affective system may be independent from cognition (Bargh, 1997; Zajonc, 2001). However, we argued that affect and cognitive processes are highly interdependent (Storbeck, Robinson, & McCourt, 2006). In more recent research, I argue that emotion (or affect) and cognition are highly integrated and interact in ways to influence cognition and the expenditure of metabolic resources (Storbeck, 2012).

Deficits in Emotional Processing with individuals with Lupus

Follow this link to read more about our projects concerning Lupus.