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The Pulse: Range of Emotion

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Emotions are fleeting — they can bubble up seemingly out of nowhere and change quickly. Studying them is challenging, but it’s also important. Emotions not only shape our day-to-day lives, they also influence our behavior, the decisions we make, and the relationships that sustain us. Sometimes, they can be overwhelming — so knowing what fuels them offers us a better chance of getting a handle on them. Increasingly, understanding emotions is also a big business — it can make the difference in how an election swings, or the direction of the stock market, which means lots of people want to understand how to tap into them. On this episode: what researchers are learning about emotions — why it’s so challenging and what we can gain from it. We hear stories about what makes studying emotions so difficult, new theories of where they come from, and the future of emotion-sensing AI.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

Researchers who study emotions face a whole host of challenges, from ethical restrictions, to a lack of shared understanding of how emotions are expressed. Reporter Jad Sleiman finds out what makes studying emotions so slippery, and how scientists are forging ahead. Where do emotions come from? We have long thought of them as reactions that are universal, and hardwired into our brains. We hear from neuroscientist, psychologist, and leading emotions researcher Lisa Feldman Barrett who is challenging those ideas with her “theory of constructed emotion.” Emotions are big business, shaping everything from elections to the economy — which is why a growing number of companies are developing artificial intelligence capable of “reading” the public’s emotions.

We talk with Cognovi Labs CEO Beni Gradwohl and their Chief Psychology Officer Nirit Pisano about how they’re using machine learning to mine people’s written communications and social media posts for emotions. We talk with AI expert Kate Crawford about the limitations of emotion-sensing AI that seeks to interpret facial expressions — and why it could be something to worry about. Her book is called “Atlas of AI.” We get a sneak peek at the upcoming Netflix movie “Spiderhead” which offers a terrifying take on manipulating emotions. Therapist Brittney Brownfield from the podcast “Popcorn Psychology” says the film brings up a lot of interesting themes.


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