Emotion researchers come from many different corners of the academic universe, including social psychology, neuroscience and even economics, says Elizabeth Phelps, PhD. As the new editor of the quarterly journal Emotion, she hopes to bring them all together.
"To have one journal for people who are interested in emotion and how it affects human behavior is a little different than the approach that has been used previously, where we defined emotion as occurring within a single context," she says.
Only recently have emotion researchers begun to think of themselves as a unified field, says Phelps. The journal, too, is young-it launched in March 2001, and Phelps will serve as its third editor. (The journal's first two editors worked as a team.) Phelps currently also serves as associate editor for the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience and Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience.
In the past five years, Emotion has made a name for itself as a premier journal for emotion research, especially among psychologists, Phelps says. She hopes to build on that success by bringing in more publications from researchers who may not think of the journal as their first choice for publication, including personality psychologists and neuroscientists.
"Affective neuroscience is a rapidly growing field, and I do affective neuroscience myself," says Phelps, a psychology professor at New York University. "I want to make sure that the journal is set up in such a way that it is a good place for these researchers to publish and learn more about the psychological aspects of emotion."
Phelps hopes to attract fellow neuroscientists to the journal by shortening the time from submission to publication-perhaps by curbing the time that reviewers have to comment, she says. Neuroscience journals tend to move papers from submission to publication more quickly than psychology journals, and that can make them a first choice among researchers concerned about being scooped, Phelps notes.
In her own research, Phelps brings psychological and neuroscience perspectives to the question of how emotion can affect memory. In a recent study, using behavioral and brain-imaging measures, she found that people activate different areas of their brains when making judgments about the veracity of emotional and nonemotional memories. In particular, people use their parahippocampus-used for detail memory-when recalling the features of nonemotional memories, while they activate their amygdala-a brain area associated with emotion-when recalling details of an emotional memory. The finding dovetails with previous research showing that emotional memories, often called "flashbulb" memories, can feel more accurate than they are, says Phelps.
In addition to attracting neuroscientists to the journal, Emotion's new editor also will publish special sections to bring researchers from disciplines such as economics and social psychology. For instance, she is considering one on behavioral economics. Another special section may explore how culture affects emotional regulation.
By raising the journal's profile, Phelps aims to inform psychologists and other researchers about the importance of studying emotion.
"Most of the things we do that are important to our survival and success are done in an emotional context," says Phelps. "Emotions are a critical part of almost any behavior."