Health, Emotions, & Altruism Laboratory (HEAL)

Understanding how individuals and social groups thrive is a central goal of the Health, Emotions, & Altruism Laboratory (HEAL). In our lab we focus on how emotions such as compassion, awe, and gratitude (to name a few) promote group functioning by encouraging prosociality and morality and how they contribute to an individual’s well-being and physical health. To explore these research questions we often employ biological measures such as psychophysiology and saliva sample collection of cortisol and inflammatory markers in conjunction with observational coding in our experiments. We conduct our studies in the lab and in the field to ensure our results are generalizable.

Specifically, our work tackles foundational questions like:

How do our emotions facilitate empathy, cooperation, and altruism?

What compels us to help another in need or to sacrifice our own desires for the greater good of the group? In our lab we explore the emotions that underlie moral behavior. Specifically, we examine how emotions like compassion, gratitude, and awe encourage cooperation and altruism. We explore how these emotions activate autonomic and hormonal changes to promote prosocial behavior. We examine the moderating factors that influence the experience of these emotions such as the characteristics of the observer (e.g., social class) and the target (e.g., egoism). We also target contexts that are notoriously poor elicitors of prosociality like international crises to examine how emotions can be used to encourage altruism in these instances.

How do we make moral judgments about others and ourselves?

Our moral beliefs are some of the most strongly held beliefs that we have. When individuals violate the way we believe people ought to act it has negative repercussions for our judgments of them in a variety of domains. Wet investigate how an individual’s deviant behavior can affect judgments of that person in different, unrelated domains such as competence. We also explore moral judgment in the context of close relationships like friends, romantic partners, or family. We extend this work to examine how individuals respond to morally tainted objects such as money, which can also take on moral associations through the process of moral contagion. Finally we study how individual discuss morally charged issues in which they hold opposing views to better understand why moral arguments feel so intractable.

What are the benefits of feeling prosocial emotions for physical health and well-being?

Health and well-being are markers of a fulfilling life and a thriving society. Efforts to better understand how to achieve these ends have revealed the importance of positive emotions. We argue that prosocial emotions like compassion, awe, and gratitude, which bind us to others may be the most powerful generators of health and well being. We find that awe makes individuals more humble, more satisfied with their lives, and predicts lower levels of damaging inflammatory markers. We also find compassion is particularly good at reducing stress about one’s own problems, by shifting an individuals focus outward.