PROFILE: Emotions Drive This Researcher

You may have never thought of the science behind emotion.  After all, the two seem at odds.  Science seeks unclouded objectivity while emotion embraces the subjective.  If they were people, science and emotion would be as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet.

But that contradiction and the ensuing challenges inherent in the scientific study of emotion are just what attracts University of Cincinnati psychologist Gerald Matthews to this specialized field of study where he places emotions under a metaphorical microscope.

"I've always been interested in how emotions affect thoughts and thoughts affect emotions.  They're very difficult to separate out.  Really, emotion is a two-edged sword.  It can stimulate thought and creativity, or it can get in the way," he explained.

For instance, Gerry is conducting several studies on anger, stress, anxiety and fatigue, one of which looks at how having colds and infections may affect task-related stress.  A second effort is examining the biological basis for emotion.  Another examines the "personality" of driving, such as the anger associated with "road rage." 

He explained, "If you're anxiety- or anger-prone, how do you cope with driving and what's your mood afterward?  That's what the driving studies are looking at.  I'm always interested in how stress influences performance in everyday settings."  Using a driving simulator, Gerry varies environmental conditions - like simulated winter weather - and other pressures that routinely put people at risk on the roads.

Gerry, a native of Scotland and educated at Britain's Cambridge University, is conducting his ongoing research in cooperation with colleagues at the University of Kurume in Japan; University of Heidelberg in Germany, the University of Haifa in Israel, and Banaras Hindu University in India.  And last year, with colleagues from the University of Haifa and the University of Sydney in Australia, Gerry co-authored the book "Emotional Intelligence: Science & Myth" published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  It examines the science behind all the buzz surrounding emotional intelligence, popularized by Daniel Goleman's widely read book of the same name. 

"Given my interest in how people manage their emotions and how personality interacts with emotion, I wanted to investigate these claims put forth about the existence and nature of emotional intelligence," said Gerry.

The scholars concluded that while there's a lot of hype about emotional intelligence, there's really no proof as yet that it actually exists, nor is there even a clear definition among researchers as to what it is.  According to Gerry, the means for measuring emotional intelligence are flawed, as is much of the popular understanding surrounding the concept.   

On the plus side, Gerry sees the popularity surrounding emotional intelligence as a positive good.  "I think one of the reasons it's so popular is that we're more accepting of emotion than we were 20 or 30 years ago.  There's less suppression.  And that's certainly good," he stated, adding that psychologists will, likely, still be debating and testing the concept 20 years from now.  At least, he plans to be.

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