Big Picture Science – Happily Confused

by Gary Niederhoff on April 21, 2014


Big Picture Science – Happily Confused

Do you feel happy today? How about happily disgusted? Maybe sadly surprised, or sadly disgusted? Human emotions are complex. But at least they’re the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment. And people with autism don’t feel the emotions that others do.

So if you’re now delightfully but curiously perplexed, tune in and discover the evolutionary reason for laughter … how a computer can diagnose emotional disorders that doctors miss … and why the world’s most famous autistic animal behaviorist has insight into the emotional needs of cattle.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Scott Weems – Why We Laugh
Part 2: Brian Malow – Science comedian
Part 3: Aleix Martinez – Emotion Recognition Software
Part 4: Maria Gendron – Perceiving Emotion
Part 5: Temple Grandin – Animal Emotion

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Adrian Morgan April 25, 2014 at 2:59 am

It’s important not to assume that Temple Grandin represents people with autism in some general sense. I’m sure Grandin never claims to represent autistic people generally — she speaks for herself — but I couldn’t help feeling that Molly fell into this trap a little when asking questions about “the autistic brain”.

In particular, thinking in pictures — as Grandin so famously does — is not a trait that people on the autistic spectrum generally share (though there may be many interesting things to say about the subset who do). Also, Grandin’s claim to experience a simpler set of emotions mustn’t be generalised either; certainly people with autism process emotion differently, but the differences are more complex than can be understood from a single case study.

For myself, diagnosed with asperger’s when I was 11 (back when most people hadn’t even heard of autism), I would venture to suggest that emotions are like food. Some people can taste food and readily identify the individual ingredients, while the rest of us can enjoy the food (or not) just as much, but would be hard pressed to tell you what’s in it. Similarly, some people can experience a complex emotion and readily identify its components, whereas others experience exactly the same complex emotion but would struggle to analyse it. People on the autistic spectrum, it’s probably safe to say, tend to be in the latter camp.

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