Co-Director of the Greater Good Science Center
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.
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.
Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (1999). Social functions of emotions at multiple levels of analysis. Cognition and Emotion, 13 (5), 505-522.
Gonzaga, G.C., Keltner, D., Londahl, E.A., & Smith, M.D. (2001). Love and the commitment problem in romantic relations and friendship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 247-262.
Harker, L.A., & Keltner, D. (2001). Expressions of positive emotion in women's college yearbook pictures and their relationship to personality and life outcomes across adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 112-124.
Keltner, D., Capps, L.M., Kring, A.M., Young, R.C., & Heerey, E.A. (2001). Just Teasing: A conceptual analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 229-248.
Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D., & Anderson, C.P. (In press). Power, Approach, and Inhibition. Psychological Review.