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Emotion and Identity: Medical, Social Sciences and Cultural Perspectives

How are medical concepts of emotion reflected in movies and TV films? How do they travel and transform in social science research? And which concepts of emotion and cultural identity did audio-visual productions propagate since the 1950s?
Emotion and Identity: Medical, Social Sciences and Cultural Perspectives
The EU-funded SCECI (Scientific Concepts of Emotion and Cultural Identities) project argues that a transdisciplinary approach is needed to understand contemporary concepts of self, emotional identity, and societal change. Starting from the assumption that (a) medical and psychological concepts of emotions profoundly inform our concepts of self and identity, that (b) movies and TV films have become the dominant media through which cultural concepts are expressed and spread, and that (c) the social sciences conceptualize cultural change on a theoretical plane, the project combines the perspectives of three disciplines. First, it studies how emotions are conceptualized in medical research. Second, it traces the transformation of these concepts in the social sciences literature. And, third, it analyses the reflection of scientific concepts of emotions in audio-visual productions.

Taking a first stab, the project clarified emotion terminology and focused on the three key concepts most frequently used in medical and psychological research to frame emotions, namely, basic emotions, stress and fear. These concepts proved fruitful for addressing emotions from transdisciplinary perspectives shedding light on emotional orders and cultural change. For example, as the concept of stress moved between disciplines, from physiology in the 1950s to psychology and sociology later on, it shifted meaning and became a catch-all phrase to designate every emotional discomfort related to society’s ills. Stress, stress related illness, and its shifting etiological attributions served to characterize the emotional make-up of a person, which was reflected back to us, in movies and films, both mirroring and informing societal change.

Tracing the evolution, expression and the use of both, the concepts of basic emotions and of fear in the medico-psychological context and in audio-visual media, brings into evidence controversial approaches to the notion of universality of emotions, which is silently assumed in audio-visual productions but contested in the social sciences. Fear, finally, foregrounds the multifaceted nature of emotions in their individual and their social aspects in different contexts. Furthermore, fear is useful in turning the gaze to TV films and movies read as an indicator and a promoter of shifting emotional values and emotional regimes. Crime fiction is a key genre in this respect, which is also well theorized, and will be studied further.

Surprisingly, the project concludes that while the consumption of movies and television films is part and parcel of contemporary practices that constitute cultural identity and provide emotional role models to which we may relate empathically, direct social interaction and religious beliefs seem to have more impact on individual behaviour and emotions than movies. More research is needed on the impact of audio-visual media in shaping cultural convictions, identity and emotional values.

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Emotion, cultural identity, medicine, psychology, social science, movies, television
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