SF State News {University Communications}

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Psychologist's study of emotion attracts Pentagon support

January 22, 2009 -- How emotion can transform angry groups into organizations of violence and hostility is the subject of a new study that has attracted Pentagon funding.

SF State Professor David Matsumoto, a psychologist who researches emotion, culture and social interaction, has been awarded a $1.9 million grant to examine the role of emotions in ideologically-based groups. Matsumoto is one of the first seven recipients of the U.S. Department of Defense's new Minerva Research Initiative Awards.

Photograph of Professor of Psychology David Matsumoto who has been awarded a Minerva grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Professor of Psychology David Matsumoto, who has been awarded a Minerva grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

"This research will fill a void in psychologists' understanding of the role of specific emotions in groups," Matsumoto said. "Group emotions are incredibly important in the creation and maintenance of group identity, solidarity and overall functioning."

The five-year project will include seven studies including psychological experiments and historical analysis of written and video records.

One of the first projects to start this year will involve analysis of videotaped speeches given by high-profile leaders. "We'll be analyzing the emotional language and metaphors used by leaders to refer to their own groups and outside groups," Matsumoto said. "We are particularly interested in how the priming of emotions such as anger, contempt and disgust can propel group members to hostile actions against others."

Matsumoto will also be recruiting participants from organizations such as religious, political or activist groups to take part in lab-based experiments that will measure behaviors driven by specific emotions.

Matsumoto's research proposal was selected from among 211 white papers submitted to the Department of Defense. The Minerva Initiative was established by the Secretary of Defense in 2008 to bolster the department's intellectual capital in the social sciences and build collaboration with the academic community.

"This grant is about enabling basic scientific research," Matsumoto said. "We'll do the research, and the Department of Defense will apply it to their needs."

In addition to national defense, Matsumoto's groundbreaking research on emotion, facial expressions and bodily gestures is being applied in fields as diverse as immigration, athletics and business.

-- Elaine Bible


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