Interdisciplinary Research on Emotions in Neuroscience and Philosophy

Subproject 3: Evolutionary Theory and Basic Emotions

In our third subproject, we consider evolutionary explanations of emotional states. The theory of evolution stands at the beginning of the scientific study of emotions (cf. Darwin 1872) and it caused, in the context of Ekman's research on facial expressions of emotions, the emergence of a completely new area of empirical research. However, the status of evolutionary explanations is controversial. Evolutionary explanations of mental phenomena have been criticized as being untestable, because they build on a past which is hard to verify. It is the goal of this subproject to resolve this conflict by developing a set of criteria, with which it will be possible to decide under which circumstances evolutionary explanations can be fruitful, despite their restricted empirical accessibility. In a second step, this set of critera should be applied to affective phenomena. In addition to that, we will conduct a case study to analyze two basic emotions with all their disorder in detail: (1) Fear, because it is a paradigm example of an affective state, which seems to have a straightforward evolutionary explanation, and (2) disgust as an example of an affective state for which it is much harder to offer evolutionary explanations than is often assumed.


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