This was a discussion between Kibby McMahon and M. Zachary Rosenthal who wrote on applying contextualism to the science of recognizing other people’s emotions, and evolutionists Lynn E. O’Connor and Jack W. Berry who focused on the social and contextual nature of emotion. After summarizing their chapters, the broad similarity was fairly evident, but in part, because of that, the discussion was able to focus dig into a more nuanced examination of basic issues.

The discussion included a wide-ranging examination of what is meant by emotion, how felt emotion overlaps with expressed emotion and its social functions, and the impact of empathy and reading the emotions of others. The context-dependent nature of emotion was emphasized by both teams. Lynn and Kirby emphasized how emotion is a “package” of biological, social, and psychological components. The role of awareness was examined and both teams agreed that emotions can occur with or without conscious knowledge .. but an argument was made that some degree of universality seems likely if an evolutionary perspective is taken since they evolved in part to solve problems linked to survival. A distinction was made between the capacity to feel and recognize emotions and the ways they are communicated or described.

Eventually, the discussion turned to the applied implication of these issues. Zach argued that practitioners need to be focused more on their own empathy and understanding and less on the literal truth of any given emotional interpretation. Lynn spoke of the importance of teaching clients to take a more contextual approach to their own emotional life – notice when things changed or what the person then did. Kibby talked about the importance of client self-validation – realizing that their own emotions made sense in certain contexts.

Published On: January 8, 2021

Steven C. Hayes

Steven C. Hayes

Steven C. Hayes is Nevada Foundation Professor in the Behavior Analysis program at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. An author of 46 books and over 650 scientific articles, his career has focused on an analysis of the nature of human language and cognition and the application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering. He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory, an account of human higher cognition, and has guided its extension to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a popular evidence-based form of psychotherapy that uses mindfulness, acceptance, and values-based methods. Dr. Hayes has been President of several scientific societies including Division 25 of the APA, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. He was the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Association for Psychological Science, which he helped form and has served a 5-year term on the National Advisory Council for Drug Abuse in the National Institutes of Health. In 1992 he was listed by the Institute for Scientific Information as the 30th “highest impact” psychologist in the world and Google Scholar data ranks him among the top ~1,100 most cited scholars in all areas of study, living and dead ( Dr. Hayes is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in addition to several other scientific societies. His work has been recognized by several awards including the Exemplary Contributions to Basic Behavioral Research and Its Applications from Division 25 of APA, the Impact of Science on Application award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy. 

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