Psychology of Emotion (Psychology 4500)

Fall 2019, Monday & Wednesday 2:00-3:15
Classroom: Gilmer Hall B001
Professor: Adrienne Wood
Office hours: Wednesdays 3:15-4:30 in Gilmer Hall 109D or by appointment

Course Description

Emotions fuel and direct goal-relevant behavior. They prioritize what we pay attention to, how we learn, and what we remember. They regulate our relationships, binding us to some people and repelling us from others. Mental disorders result when emotions become disregulated. In short, emotions are integral to every aspect of our psychology. This course will examine contemporary issues in affective science, or the study of emotion. We will read a combination of empirical articles, review and theory papers, and book chapters that address affective processes in both humans and non-human animals.

We will begin by establishing a working definition of emotions. We will then familiarize ourselves with the dominant and emerging theories in affective science, all of which attempt to answer the question, "what is emotion?" Next we will explore the core features of emotion: subjective experience, expression, interaction with other cognitive processes, manifestation in the body and brain, and social regulation. We will then dive deeper, spending time with specific affective states: fear, playfulness, happiness, anger, sadness, and love. We will end by asking how our environment--in particular, our culture--shapes our experience of emotion.

Learning Goals

Through the readings, writing assignments, and in-class discussion you should learn to:

1. Relate affective science to other areas of inquiry in psychology.

  • Explain the key questions in contemporary affective science and why they are important.
  • Understand how affect influences behavior, cognition, relationships, and health, and vice-versa.

2. Think critically about research in affective science.

  • Critically evaluate and compare theoretical perspectives in light of new evidence.
  • Understand and critically evaluate emotion research. You should be able to answer the following questions about a scientific study: What question is the study addressing? Why do the authors think this is important? What prior theory/evidence motivates the present question? How did the study address it? What did they find? Did the authors' interpret their findings appropriately or is their a flaw in their study design/interpretation? What questions are still unanswered?

3. Improve your scientific communication.

  • Become more comfortable discussing the strengths and weaknesses of theories and research using evidence-based reasoning.
  • Master key terminology from affective science.
  • Improve your ability to write for a psychology audience through weekly online posts and a final paper.

Class Structure

Typical week:

Weekly Online Writing due at 12 noon2 students lead classProf. Wood leads class

Each week you will have ~3 articles or chapters to read and write about. The readings are listed below. You will write a brief post in that week's Collab forum (see Weekly Online Writing below; note the weeks with a Reading Day and Thanksgiving have no Weekly Online Writing due).

This is an upper-level seminar so the 75 minute class will be largely discussion-based. As such, your weekly participation will contribute to your final grade. Beginning Week 3, two students will help lead each Monday discussion. They will come prepared with discussion questions and/or activities. Prof. Wood will lead the discussions on Wednesdays, extending the Monday conversation and connecting it to the larger emotion literature.

You will write a final paper at the end of the semester (see below for details; max 10 pages). An outline and a bibliography with at least 10 relevant references will be due November 18. I will provide feedback before Thanksgiving break that you will use as you write your final paper, which is due by December 15. If you turn a draft in by December 4, I will provide feedback you can incorporate to improve your grade.

Grade Components

1. Attendance and class participation, 30%

Each class you will receive 1 point for attendance and 2 points for participation.* You get 2 freebie classes without any missed points--these are for sick days, travel days, or days where you come to class but your brain decided not to join.

What does it mean to participate?

  • Doing the reading every week
  • Contributing to the discussion
  • Asking questions (remember, if you're confused by something, that means other students are as well)
  • Contributing to small group discussions
  • Being ready to respond if I call on you (you will never lose points for being wrong, so give it a shot).
  • Being present: I trust you to use your laptops wisely and not get distracted by them. I can tell the difference between note taking and scrolling the 'gram. It will distract your classmates if you're using your computer for things unrelated to the class. Please respect them and be fully engaged. We'll all have more fun that way.

Not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of the entire class, which I respect. If this is you, feel free to let me know and we can come up with a way for you to to show you are engaged and paying attention.

MATH!! 3 points * 27 classes = 81 possible attendance and participation points. Let's say you missed 3 classes (2 were your freebies so you're docked for 1 day). You get 78/81 points (96%), which we can multiply by 30 to see how many total class percentage points out of 30 you're earning from attendance and participation. 28.9--not too shabby!

2. Weekly Online Writing, 24%

You will post to the weekly forum by SUNDAY AT NOON. There are 12 opportunities to post throughout the semester (each worth 2% of your total grade). You can skip or mess up one post without losing any points. A few tips:

  • Posts should be around a paragraph (~150 words max).
  • You may either reply to a classmate's existing post for that week (creating a conversation) or post on something new. If you respond to a classmate's post, it is crucial that you build on what they said. Tell us why you agree or disagree.
  • You can dedicate a sentence or two to summarizing the reading(s), but most of your post should go beyond summary. How does this reading connect to other things you've learned? What did you like/dislike about the reading and why? What are the next important questions in this research area? What's a cool follow-up study?
  • You are encouraged to ask questions if you didn't understand something from the readings. This should not be your entire post, however.

How are posts graded?

  • You will get 0 points if you miss the deadline or your post is off topic, too brief or superficial, or completely echoes a classmate's post.
  • You will get 1 point if I can tell you did the readings (and aren't just echoing your classmates' posts).
  • You will get 2 points if your writing makes an original and substantive contribution to the week's conversation. A good post might connect the readings to other things we've read in class or other concepts you've encountered in your studies. It might ask thought-provoking questions, suggest new research ideas, or critique the method or logic of a study.

After the first few weeks I will give you feedback so you'll know that you're on the right track.

3. Co-leading a Class, 16%

You and a classmate will lead one Monday discussion this semester.

Rank your preferences here by September 11! Hint: I will probably grade the first few discussion leaders more leniently, so it pays to put early classes at the top of your list! Once discussion leaders have been assigned, they are final (tell me immediately if the algorithm assigned you a day when you are out of town).

How to lead class:

  • You are responsible for leading 60 minutes of the 75 minute class. I'll start and end the class.
  • At least 40 minutes should be actual discussion, although you can get creative with the format (stage a debate, mixture of small/large group, etc). You and your partner will prepare open-ended and thought-provoking questions about the readings to stimulate discussion, but if the class goes down an interesting tangent, let it happen! Don't worry about getting through all your questions. A great source of inspiration will be your classmates' forum posts--the more you can integrate the online writing into the discussion, the better.
  • Make it active and engaging! You have up to 20 minutes to use for activities besides discussion, if you want. Feel free to incorporate games, culture, media, powerpoint slides, outside readings on the week's topic, videos of your long as it connects to the topic of the week in a thoughtful way and helps your classmates connect to the ideas in the readings. Use common sense and avoid disturbing/inappropriate content (email me beforehand if you are unsure). Let me know if you're going to need to connect your computer to the overhead projector so we make sure we have the right cables in advance.
  • You will need to meet with your partner in advance to prepare. I suggest meeting for a few hours Sunday afternoon or Monday morning so you can incorporate your classmates' online forum posts into your discussion plan, but you can also meet earlier than that and weave relevant issues from the forum into the discussion spontaneously.

You and your partner will earn full points if it is evident that you both did all the readings, read ALL of your classmates' forum posts, and worked together to create a thoughtful, engaging, and well-prepared class. It's ok if you don't understand every aspect of your week's readings. Ask the class to help you understand!

4. Final Paper, 30%

Your final paper is an opportunity to dig deeper into a topic within affective science. It should be 8-10 pages long. It may be directly inspired by something we read, or you can use it as an opportunity to explore another topic. The first portion of the paper will be a literature review, and the final few pages will be used to propose a new research direction. Use APA style and, accordingly, make sure each evidence-based claim is follwed by the relevant citation. Go to Library Resources, below for info on how to get help building your bibliography.

  • Literature review portion: This section will introduce the reader to the topic and answer the following questions: Why is this topic important? What do we know about this topic already? What do we not know/where are points of disagreement among experts? A weak literature review is a series of disconnected paragraphs, each of which summarizes a different study on the topic. A strong literature review has narrative structure and builds a logical argument using empirical evidence. Describe prior work as a means to an end--the end being your research proposal.
  • Research proposal portion: Having identified a currently-unanswered question in the field of affective science, you will now propose a study to answer (part of) that question. This does not need to be structured like a Methods section in a research article, but it should be specific in describing your design, key variables, experimental manipulations, and what type of participants you would recruit.

Key Dates

  1. Nov. 18: Outline and list of 10+ references due. The outline should consist of ~1 sentence per eventual paragraph (those sentences can even become the topic sentences of your eventual paragraphs!). It should read like an abstract.
  2. Nov. 27: I will provide feedback on your outlines by this date.
  3. Dec. 4: I will read any completed drafts received by this date and provide feedback in time for you to make revisions and potentially improve your grade. I strongly suggest you take advantage of this opportunity!

Converting points to letter grades

A93% and above

Schedule and Readings

Your Weekly Online Writings are due SUNDAY before class at NOON, at which point the forum closes. This is so class leaders have time to read your posts.
Note: I may modify the reading assignments throughout the semester, so watch for announcements.

Wednesday, 8/28: Organization

Monday, 9/2: What is an emotion? (Day 1)

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Niedenthal, P. M., & Ric, F. (2017). Chapter 1: Theories of Emotion. Psychology of emotion. Psychology Press. (29 pages)

Wednesday, 9/4: What is an emotion? (Day 2)

Monday, 9/9: Theories of emotion (Day 1)

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Levenson, R. W. (2011). Basic Emotion Questions. Emotion Review, 3(4), 379–386. doi:10.1177/1754073911410743 (6 pages)
  • Moors, A., Ellsworth, P. C., Scherer, K. R., & Frijda, N. H. (2013). Appraisal Theories of Emotion: State of the Art and Future Development. Emotion Review, 5(2), 119–124. doi:10.1177/1754073912468165 (5 pages)
  • Scarantino, A. (2012). How to Define Emotions Scientifically. Emotion Review, 4(4), 358–368. doi:10.1177/1754073912445810 (10 pages)

Wednesday, 9/11: Theories of emotion (Day 2)

Monday, 9/16: Feelings (Day 1)

Class leaders: Carrington Mueller & MinJoo Kang

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • LeDoux, J. E., & Hofmann, S. G. (2018). The subjective experience of emotion: A fearful view. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 19, 67–72. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2017.09.011 (4 pages)
  • Kron, A., Pilkiw, M., Banaei, J., Goldstein, A., & Anderson, A. K. (2015). Are valence and arousal separable in emotional experience? Emotion, 15(1), 35–44. (7 pages)

Wednesday, 9/18: Feelings (Day 2)

Monday, 9/23: Communicating emotion (Day 1)

Class leaders: Rebecca Shay Breneman & Jenna Marzougui

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Scarantino, A. (2018). Emotional Expressions as Speech Act Analogs. Philosophy of Science, 85(5), 1038-1053. (14 pages)
  • Sievers, B., Lee, C., Haslett, W., & Wheatley, T. (2019). A multi-sensory code for emotional arousal. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 286(1906), 20190513. (9 pages)

Wednesday, 9/25: Communicating emotion (Day 2)

Monday, 9/30: Emotion, attention, learning, and memory (Day 1)

Class leaders: Emily Angelotti & Nathaly Santos

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Eldar, E., & Niv, Y. (2015). Interaction between emotional state and learning underlies mood instability. Nature Communications, 6, 6149. (read until Methods section) (5 pages)
  • Brunyé, T. T., Gagnon, S. A., Paczynski, M., Shenhav, A., Mahoney, C. R., & Taylor, H. A. (2013). Happiness by association: Breadth of free association influences affective states. Cognition, 127(1), 93–98. (5 pages)

Wednesday, 10/2: Emotion, attention, learning, and memory (Day 2)

Monday, 10/7, NO CLASS: Reading Day

Wednesday, 10/9: Emotion and the body

Due today: Mid-semester course feedback

  • Shenhav, A., & Mendes, W. B. (2014). Aiming for the stomach and hitting the heart: Dissociable triggers and sources for disgust reactions. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 14(2), 301–309. (11 pages)

Monday, 10/14: Emotion and the brain (Day 1)

Class leaders: Dave Gutierrez & Stephanie Kaiser

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Touroutoglou, A., Lindquist, K. A., Dickerson, B. C., & Barrett, L. F. (2015). Intrinsic connectivity in the human brain does not reveal networks for ‘basic’ emotions. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(9), 1257–1265. (8 pages)
  • Panksepp, J. (2011). Cross-Species Affective Neuroscience Decoding of the Primal Affective Experiences of Humans and Related Animals. PLOS ONE, 6(9), e21236. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021236 (13 pages)
  • Berridge, K. C., & Kringelbach, M. L. (2013). Neuroscience of affect: brain mechanisms of pleasure and displeasure. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 23(3), 294–303. (8 pages)

Wednesday, 10/16: Emotion and the brain (Day 2)

Monday, 10/21: Interpersonal emotions (Day 1)

Class leaders: Andrea Fowkes & Annie Dodd

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • West, T. V., Koslov, K., Page-Gould, E., Major, B., & Mendes, W. B. (2017). Contagious Anxiety: Anxious European Americans Can Transmit Their Physiological Reactivity to African Americans. Psychological Science, 28(12), 1796–1806. (9 pages)
  • Aragón, O. R., & Bargh, J. A. (2018). “So Happy I Could Shout!” and “So Happy I Could Cry!” Dimorphous expressions represent and communicate motivational aspects of positive emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 32(2), 286–302. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2017.1301388 (16 pages)

Wednesday, 10/23: Interpersonal emotions (Day 2)

Monday, 10/28: Fear (Day 1)

Class leaders: Gabrielle Gramont & Han Yao

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Dunsmoor, J. E., Kroes, M. C. W., Murty, V. P., Braren, S. H., & Phelps, E. A. (2019). Emotional enhancement of memory for neutral information: The complex interplay between arousal, attention, and anticipation. Biological Psychology, 145, 134–141. (8 pages)
  • Löw, A., Weymar, M., & Hamm, A. O. (2015). When Threat Is Near, Get Out of Here: Dynamics of Defensive Behavior During Freezing and Active Avoidance. Psychological Science, 26(11), 1706–1716. (9 pages)
  • Spielberg, J. M., Olino, T. M., Forbes, E. E., & Dahl, R. E. (2014). Exciting fear in adolescence: does pubertal development alter threat processing?. Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 8, 86-95. (9 pages)

Wednesday, 10/30: Fear (Day 2)

Monday, 11/4: Play and humor (Day 1)

Class leaders: Maddie Fleischmann & Amelia Wilt

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Buchsbaum D, Bridgers S, Skolnick Weisberg D, Gopnik A (2012) The power of possibility: causal learning, counterfactual reasoning, and pretend play. Phil Trans R Soc B 367(1599):2202–2212. (9 pages)
  • McGraw, A. P., Warren, C., Williams, L. E., & Leonard, B. (2012). Too Close for Comfort, or Too Far to Care? Finding Humor in Distant Tragedies and Close Mishaps. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1215–1223. (8 pages)
  • Wood, A., & Niedenthal, P. (2018). Developing a social functional account of laughter. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 12(4). (9 pages)

Wednesday, 11/6: Play and humor (Day 2)

Monday, 11/11: Happiness and well-being (Day 1)

Class leaders: Taelor Davis & Maria Peters

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Taquet, M., Quoidbach, J., De Montjoye, Y. A., Desseilles, M., & Gross, J. J. (2016). Hedonism and the choice of everyday activities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(35), 9769-9773. (5 pages)
  • Guevarra, D.A., & Howell, R.T. (2015). To have in order to do: Exploring the effects of consuming experiential products on well-being. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1), 28-41. (13 pages)
  • Kushlev, K., Drummond, D. M., Heintzelman, S. J., & Diener, E. (2019). Do happy people care about society’s problems?. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-11. (10 pages)

Wednesday, 11/13: Happiness and well-being (Day 2)

Monday, 11/18: Anger and sadness (Day 1)

Class leaders: Jonathan Sean & Drake Wagner

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.; outline and references for final paper due Monday, Nov 18!

  • Milovchevich D, Howells K, Drew N, Day A (2001) Sex and gender role differences in anger: an Australian community study. Personality and Individual Differences 31(2):117–127. (9 pages)
  • Boxer, P., Huesmann, L. R., Dubow, E. F., Landau, S. F., Gvirsman, S. D., Shikaki, K., & Ginges, J. (2013). Exposure to Violence Across the Social Ecosystem and the Development of Aggression: A Test of Ecological Theory in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict. Child Development, 84(1), 163–177. (13 pages)
  • Sbarra, D. A. (2006). Predicting the Onset of Emotional Recovery Following Nonmarital Relationship Dissolution: Survival Analyses of Sadness and Anger. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(3), 298–312. doi: 10.1177/0146167205280913 (13 pages)

Wednesday, 11/20: Anger and sadness (Day 2)

Monday, 11/25: Love

  • Algoe, S. B., Kurtz, L. E., & Grewen, K. (2017). Oxytocin and Social Bonds: The Role of Oxytocin in Perceptions of Romantic Partners’ Bonding Behavior. Psychological Science, 28(12), 1763–1772. (8 pages)
  • Sherman, G. D., & Haidt, J. (2011). Cuteness and disgust: the humanizing and dehumanizing effects of emotion. Emotion Review, 3(3), 245–251. (6 pages)

Wednesday, 11/27, NO CLASS: Thanksgiving

Monday, 12/2: Emotions across cultures (Day 1)

Weekly Online Writing due Sunday 12 p.m.

  • Niedenthal, P. M., Rychlowska, M., Zhao, F., & Wood, A. (2019). Historical migration patterns shape contemporary cultures of emotion. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1745691619849591. (11 pages)
  • Razavi, P., Zhang, J. W., Hekiert, D., Yoo, S. H., & Howell, R. T. (2016). Cross-cultural similarities and differences in the experience of awe. Emotion, 16(8), 1097-1101. (4 pages)
  • Gendron, M., Roberson, D., van der Vyver, J. M., & Barrett, L. F (2014). Cultural relativity in perceiving emotion from vocalizations. Psychological Science, 25, 911-920. (8 pages)

Wednesday, 12/4: Emotions across cultures (Day 2)

Final paper due December 15!!

Course Policies and Additional Resources

Contacting Prof. Wood: Email me ( or see me after class to set up a meeting outside of office hours. Before emailing with questions about the course, first check if the answer is in this syllabus on in the General Forum on Collab; if it isn't, and you think it's a question lots of people will have, feel free to post a question in the forum. During the week I will typically respond to email within 24 hours; I may not respond as quickly over the weekend.

Checking your email: Students are expected to activate and then check their official UVa email addresses on a frequent and consistent basis to remain informed of University communications, as certain communications may be time sensitive. Students who fail to check their email on a regular basis are responsible for any resulting consequences.

Classroom climate: It is essential that our classroom is a place where people feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without fear of critical or judgmental responses. I expect all students to be respectful of the widely varied experiences and backgrounds presented by classroom members. You may expect the same level of respect from me. Disrespect or discrimination on any basis, including but not limited to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, or religion will not be tolerated.

University of Virginia Honor System: All work should be pledged in the spirit of the Honor System of the University of Virginia. The instructor will indicate which assignments and activities are to be done individually and which permit collaboration. The following pledge should be written out at the end of all quizzes, examinations, individual assignments and papers: “I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this examination (quiz, assignment, etc.)”. The pledge must be signed by the student. For more information please visit

Special Accommodations: This course is designed to be welcoming to, accessible to, and usable by everyone, including students who are English-language learners or have disabilities. Be sure to let me know immediately if you encounter a required element or resource in the course that is not accessible to you. Also, let me know of changes I can make to the course so that it is more welcoming to, accessible to, or usable by students who take this course in the future.

It is the policy of the University of Virginia to accommodate students with disabilities in accordance with federal and state laws. Any student with a disability who needs accommodation (e.g., in arrangements for seating, extended time for examinations, or note-taking, etc.), should contact the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center (LNEC) and provide them with appropriate medical or psychological documentation of his/her condition. Once accommodations are approved, it is the student’s responsibility to follow up with the instructor about logistics and implementation of accommodations.

If students have difficulty accessing any part of the course materials or activities for this class, they should contact the instructor immediately. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the LNEC: 434-243-5180/Voice, 434-465-6579/Video Phone, 434-243-5188/Fax. For more information, visit the U.Va. Special Needs website at

Basic Needs: Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live and believes this may affect their performance in the course is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable her to provide any resources that she may possess.

Library Resources: Christine Slaughter is the Social Science Research Librarian. She maintains a research guide for Psychology that points to many relevant library resources and services. She is always looking to support Psychology students any way she can. You can book an appointment with her via this link. You can also email her ( to discuss your final paper or to set up a face-to-face or Zoom appointment if the listed appointment times don’t work for you.