Page 180 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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make the point that this wide use of cloistered academic output has only really become
possible in the Age of the Wiki.
Finally, I want to mention a small part of a large research project on emotions and
narrative at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, where I teach. Language – the raw
material of narrative – is markedly different from our other senses of vision, hearing, touch,
smell, and taste as far as the process of acquisition goes. Most of our senses are “cooked”
within a year of birth, but language simmers for a long time. It takes at least four full years
for a human child to acquire the full structures of language. My question in this particular
project is: Do language and emotion grow hand in hand in humans, so that narrative, as an
empathy machine, can draw on both these cognitive resources as children learn about their
social world?
In asking this difficult question, I have to say that I was initially inspired by a work of
Charles Darwin (1872/1968) called
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
,
which I first came across in Cambridge as a graduate student. Darwin based this book on a
questionnaire he circulated in 1867 in about 30 countries across all 5 continents asking how
various emotions like shame, anger, sadness, happiness, surprise, and so on were expressed in
different cultures. His hypothesis was that that there was likely to be invariance across
cultures in emotional expressions; there were likely to be some basic emotions that were
common to all humans. Given his evolutionary stance, Darwin also postulated that there
would be some features, like aggression, that might be common even across species.
In our turn, we conducted a large cross-sectional study in which we looked at a
population of 1,000 people (500 men and 500 women) and collected 500 qualitative
narratives as well as administering very complicated schedules of questionnaires and picture
identification tasks for over 20 emotions. Our data indicates quite definitively that all adults,
men as well as women, are
excellent
at immediately picking up an emotional response from a
photograph, with an overall success rate of over 85 percent. This seems to go against the
theory that certain emotions are necessarily more basic than others.
We also held long conversations with the 500 women in our study, who were all
mothers, and we have more than 500 hours of talk and narrative on tape as a result. We are
still analyzing the data, but we have found what seems to be incontrovertible evidence that
mothers’ memories and their narrative introspection are robust sources of learning about the
order of emotional acquisition in children. It is impossible to go into the details of our
protocols here, but they were rigorous. For instance, we gave all our mothers age bands, 1–3
months, 3–6 months, and so forth all the way up to 10 years, to fill in concerning when they
noticed a particular emotion in their children. Our data reveals that hardly any mother chose
any of the age bands over 4 years and that, by and large, they also agreed on the order of
acquisition of the emotions. Lastly, and most significantly, the mothers’ free choice of ages
of acquisition of the emotions seems to provide strong evidence that language and emotion
do indeed grow side by side and that both arrive at their full-blown forms around 4 years.
This is a major insight and we have many others, proving my point that narrative analysis is
rewarding in multiple ways.
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