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A grid of faces showing a white blond woman with shoulder length hair depicting different emotions

Affective Experience Lab

The Affective Experience Lab will experiment with innovative methodologies from across the arts and humanities and social sciences to generate new insights about the relationship between emotion and health. The lab is led by Corinne Saunders and Fraser Riddell from the Department of English Studies at Durham University, alongside an interdisciplinary team from the Institute of Medical Humanities, including Charles Fernyhough and Adam Powell. 

Health and wellbeing is profoundly shaped by our feelings and emotions. For many people, going to the dentist fills them with a sense of dread. Some are too embarrassed to renew their long-lapsed gym membership, or to get back in the swimming pool after many years away. For others, the ‘buzz’ of sport, music, dance and other activities are vital for keeping them feeling healthy. 

Feelings and emotions shape our sense of health in all sorts of ways, yet these experiences can often be very difficult to articulate. It’s easy to measure your pulse or take your temperature. Modern technology even allows us to monitor people’s brain activity from moment to moment. Yet we still struggle to understand the complexity of people’s emotional worlds and the transformative impact that they have on our day-to-day wellbeing. 

The Affective Experience Lab brings together scholars from disciplines including English literature, psychology, music, history, theology, sport science, and anthropology. Working across disciplines allows us to develop fresh perspectives on problems that cannot be solved by working alone. Our work will explore questions about the connection between emotion and memory, the sensory aspects of our affective experience, and the ways in which the arts can help us understand difficult or traumatic events.  

The arts and humanities provide vital evidence about different sorts of human emotional flourishing. Such evidence comes from across art forms and genres—from opera and ballet to performance poetry and techno music. It also comes from a wide range of historical periods—from Medieval religious mysticism to contemporary life writing. As a group of specialist scholars, we bring our knowledge of how these forms of evidence represent, stimulate and articulate people’s emotional worlds. Our shared aim is to use this knowledge to inform and shape our wider understanding of the significance of emotion in health. 

There is a wealth of scholarly research on the psychological, social and cultural dimensions of emotion. However, researchers from different disciplines often struggle to understand the perspectives of scholars who work on these topics using different methods. The Affective Experience Lab will bridge these gaps through a series of interdisciplinary workshops focused on key concepts in our work, such as 'Feeling', 'Sense' and the 'Self'. 

Our research will be shaped through our work with a number of key partners and collaborators. These include the ‘Deep End (North East/North Cumbria)’, a network of GP surgeries based in communities with challenging health inequalities, and ‘ReCoCo’, a peer-led collective focused on community building activities for mental health service users. We also plan to work with a range of museums and heritage organisations in the North East of England, including Durham University’s Oriental Museum. 

If you have any questions about the work of the Lab, or are interested in getting involved, please get in touch with Corinne Saunders or Fraser Riddell.