Interpersonal Competences and Social Skills

Emotions play a major role in our social interactions. Part of what makes us emotionally competent in society is being able to infer how others are feeling and getting our emotions across. Our Center investigates the nonverbal channels people use – consciously or not – to communicate emotions. These channels include the face, the voice, and body movements, each with a language of its own that we are learning to decode. For example, in one of the projects, we developed the Body Action and Posture system (BAP), one of the first and most detailed scientifically validated instruments to describe gestures, actions, and postures to assess emotions from body movements.

We also regularly use brain imaging techniques to investigate emotion perception, showing, for instance, that key regions in the brain such as the amygdala are important to perceive facial and vocal expressions of emotion in others.

Social context matters, too: sex, age, and power status influence the way we react to others. For example, we found that context can differentially affect how children perceive emotions at different ages.

Among other topics, we study how emotion contagion works and how people’s affective expressions influence our perceptions. For example, our researchers have shown that, presented with ambiguous situations, we use the emotions of others to infer what to feel.

Much of our research is concerned with how the brain processes information, which hormones affect our feelings and how, and what can go wrong, resulting in an impairment in feeling or perceiving emotions.

We strive to apply our accumulated knowledge of how emotions work in social settings, for example, to train emotional competences, to empower women’s leadership behavior, to facilitate computer-mediated collaborations, and to improve practice in negotiation and conflict resolution.

One recent achievement of our Center was the development, scientific validation, and public release of an ability test to measure emotional competences in the context of work activities. This instrument is currently used in both academic research and professional services for personnel assessment and other human resources activities.