Research Expertise and Interest

culture, conflict, behavior, love, psychology, emotion, social interaction, individual differences in emotion, negotiation, embarrassment, desire, juvenile delinquency, laughter, anger, social perception, negotiating morality

Research Description

Emotion and Social Interaction

Historically, researchers have concentrated on the intrapersonal characteristics and functions of emotion. My own studies have focused on the social functions of emotion, arguing that emotions enable individuals to respond adaptively to the problems and opportunities that define human social living. Based on this approach to emotion, I have documented the appeasement functions of embarrassment, the commitment enhancing properties of love and desire, and how awe motivates attachment to leaders and principles that transcend the self.

In related studies of emotional disorders, I have documented relations between anger and embarrassment and juvenile delinquency, laughter and anger and problematic outcomes during bereavement and sexual abuse, and deficits in self-conscious emotion and autism and patients with frontal lobe damage. In terms of personality, I have shown that individual differences in positive expressivity, captured from senior yearbook photographs, predict certain personality traits across time, well-being, and marital satisfaction up to 30 years later. We currently are looking at how individual differences in positive emotions, such as awe, compassion, desire, and pride, shape the individual’s relationships, physical environment, and sources of pleasure.

Power and Social Perception and Behavior

Power and status imbue almost every facet of social interaction, from linguistic convention to the economy of emotional expression. I have theorized that elevated power leads to behavioral disinhibition and reduced vigilance. I have found that ideological partisans with power construe their dispute in more stereotypical, polarized fashion, that elevated social status leads to disinhibited social behavior, and that power, whether derived from group status or experimental manipulation, relates to the experience of increased positive emotion and reduced negative emotion.

I am also exploring the determinants of power and status. Here we have found that certain personality traits, namely extraversion for women and men, and low neuroticism for men, related to attained status in social groups. We have developed a self-report measure of the experience and use of power, and are exploring how these two factors are distinct, and how they relate to ethnicity, social class, personality, and social outcome.

Negotiating Morality

My final research interest lies in the study of how humans negotiate moral concerns. Here I have examined how opposing partisans tend to assume that they alone see the issues objectively and in principled fashion, a tendency we call "naive realism". We have shown that opposing partisans attribute extremism and bias to their opponents.

In studies of moral judgment, I have shown how emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear influence judgments of causality, fairness, and risk. More recently, I have begun to study the contents of three moral domains — autonomy, community, and purity — and how these domains relate to emotion and prejudice.

Finally, I have looked more directly at the social practices by which we negotiate norms and morals, relationships, and interpersonal conflict. I have theorized that teasing is one process by which individuals socialize, moralize, negotiate status hierarchies and conflicts, and express potentially embarrassing affections. My studies of teasing have shown how teasing varies according to social status and romantic satisfaction, development, culture, and in children with autism. I have also begun studies of gossip and reputation amongst friends.

In the News

UC Berkeley launches new center for psychedelic science and education

Fifty years after political and cultural winds slammed shut the doors on psychedelic research, UC Berkeley is making up for lost time by launching the campus’s first center for psychedelic science and public education. With $1.25 million in seed funding from an anonymous donor, the new UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics will conduct research using psychedelics to investigate cognition, perception and emotion and their biological bases in the human brain.

Calm amid COVID-19: Gratitude

In the third in a series of short videos, UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner talks about the benefits of practicing gratitude. Expressing appreciation is a key component of Keltner’s Science of Happiness course, which he has taught to inmates at San Quentin State Prison, among thousands of other students.

Calm amid COVID-19: Compassion

In the second in a series of short videos, UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner discusses the benefits of compassion for others and ourselves.

Lower classes quicker to show compassion in the face of suffering

Emotional differences between the rich and poor, as depicted in such Charles Dickens classics as “A Christmas Carol” and “A Tale of Two Cities,” may have a scientific basis. Researchers at UC Berkeley have found that people in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts.

Is a stranger trustworthy? You'll know in 20 seconds

There’s definitely something to be said for first impressions. New research from UC Berkeley suggests it can take just 20 seconds to detect whether a stranger is genetically inclined to being trustworthy, kind or compassionate. See if you can guess which people shown in the video have the empathy gene.

Easily embarrassed? Study finds people will trust you more

If tripping in public or mistaking an overweight woman for a mother-to-be leaves you red-faced, don’t feel bad. A new UC Berkeley study suggests that people who are easily embarrassed are also more trustworthy, and more generous. In short, embarrassment can be a good thing.

UC Berkeley psychologists bring science of happiness to China

As the ranks of China's millionaires continue to grow, the pursuit of wealth in the nation is fast outpacing mental health and wellbeing, according to psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, who are seeking to correct that imbalance and spread the science of happiness in China.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
December 18, 2020
Emily Willingham
An analysis of more than 6 million YouTube videos by researchers at UC Berkeley and Google finds that people around the world make similar facial expressions in similar social contexts. The study brings data science to the debate about the universality of emotion categories. The lead authors, UC Berkeley professor Dacher Keltner and researcher Alan Cowen, used a type of machine learning to investigate whether people adopt the same facial expressions in similar contexts across cultures. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in several sources, including Mind Matters News, Cosmos, SciTech Daily, The Daily Mail, the East Lothian Courier, Radio Canada, and Nature.
April 7, 2020
Psychology professor Dacher Keltner, co-director of Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, is sharing science-based strategies to cope with stress and uncertainty during the COVID-19 crisis in a series of short videos to be offered over the coming weeks. His first video, released Tuesday, offers an introduction to mindful breathing. Link to video. This story originated at Berkeley News.
January 8, 2020
David Noonan
Exploring emotional responses to a wide range of both Western and Eastern music, a team of Berkeley researchers has found "evidence of universality" in the feelings evoked by different musical styles. In a series of experiments led by doctoral neuroscience student Alan Cowen and psychology professor Dacher Keltner, the researchers had more than 2,800 participants from the U.S. and China listen to more than 2,000 samples of instrumental music and then report on how each piece made them feel. Analyzing the data, they identified 13 common emotions, from anxiety, fear, and sadness to eroticism, joy, and serenity. They then transferred the data to an interactive, color-coded map that can be explored online. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources around the world, including Psychology Today, MindBodyGreen, IFL Science, Music Ally, Economic Times (India), Medical Daily, Irish Sun, Study Finds, The Entrepreneur Fund.
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