The Body as a Powerful Internal Context
Social psychology has long championed the idea that situations are powerful and that contexts guide our attitudes, experiences, and behaviors. I am fundamentally interested in how the body's ongoing states and sensations (or allostasis) can serve as powerful "internal situations" or heuristic cues that shape emotions, impact social perceptions, and inform our everyday decisions and behaviors. This includes not just what the body and brain are doing to maintain allostasis and respond to perceived challenges, but also the degree to which we can access or pay attention to that bodily information (i.e., interoception) and what we believe and know about our bodies.
As such, my research program broadly investigates the links between allostasis (e.g., gut-brain axis, inflammation, interoception, stress) and social affective processes across the lifespan. I'm particularly fascinated by how the brain and body work together to generate and represent subjective arousal or bodily sensations like your heart racing or feeling hungry. In turn, how do these central and peripheral bodily signals inform and help contribute to our emotions, social cognitions, and real-world behaviors? To get at how the brain and mind represent the body, some of my work examines interoceptive ability (the ability to accurately disambiguate bodily sensations) and what people know and believe about their bodies (sometimes called interoceptive sensibility and interoceptive knowledge).
Because bodies change with age and because we must develop these bodily representations in the context of caregivers, culture, and different life experiences, I also investigate the developmental dimensions of the above processes--such as how children's interoceptive knowledge might scaffold their emotions or how older adults' aging peripheral nervous systems and declining interoception might predict differences in older adults' interoceptive knowledge and how the aging brain represents emotions.
Ultimately, I work at the intersection of psychological science, psychophysiology and psychoneuroimmunology, developmental science, and social affective neuroscience. See also Theoretical Inspirations.
Areas of Research
I study all sorts of questions about the mind-body connection like how peripheral physiology and interoceptive awareness impact different features of emotion and social cognition, how feeling hungry transforms into feeling hangry, why our beliefs about our bodies matter, and how the aging body and brain might impact everyday feelings.
What is the body's role in emotional experience?
How do peripheral and central (brain) representations of the body play a role in shaping our emotions? My research examines why some people have a more "embodied" experience of their emotions and what this means for the time course, intensity, and regulation of emotions and other affective states. I'm also interested in the nature of interoceptive (inner bodily) awareness and how such bodily individual differences impact affect-based decisions, social perceptions, and health behaviors. Understanding individual differences in autonomic reactivity, arousal, interoception, and bodily sensations could improve our scientific models linking the mind and body, while also generating new insights that benefit clinical and healthcare treatments.
MacCormack, J.K., & Lindquist, K.A. (2017). The constitutive role of the body in emotion: Schachter’s legacy for a psychological constructionist view of emotion. Emotion Review.
MacCormack, J. K., Armstrong-Carter, E. L., Gaudier-Diaz, M., Meltzer-Brody, S., Lindquist, K. A., & Muscatell, K. A. (under review). Sympathetic blockade effects on psychological and physiological responses to acute stress.
How can physical states impact our feelings?
Have you ever found yourself angry, grumpy, or lashing out at a loved one - only to realize you're hungry? We've all had moments when our body's state - be that hunger, fatigue, or illness - has impacted our feelings and how we react to the world around us. My research seeks to clarify the neurobiological and psychological mechanisms underpinning why homeostatic fluctuations matter so much for our emotional and social lives. Less work examines metabolic and inflammatory processes as "affect inductions." As such, I'm increasingly fascinated by the gut-brain axis and how this axis, along with hunger / satiety hormones ghrelin and leptin interact with inflammation and other dimensions of psychophysiology to impact social affective outcomes.
MacCormack, J.K., & Lindquist, K.A. (2018). Feeling hangry? How hunger is conceptualized as emotion. Emotion.
MacCormack, J. K., & Muscatell, K. A. (invited). The metabolic mind: A role for leptin and ghrelin in affect and social cognition. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.
Do beliefs and knowledge about the body matter for social affective skills & wellbeing?
Through personal experiences, upbringing, culture, and language, we learn to organize our feelings into different emotion categories, building a rich cache of knowledge and beliefs about emotions. My research focuses on the interoceptive domains of emotion knowledge - what we know about how the body feels during different emotions. For example, do people who are more skilled at interoception also think more about their bodily signals than other people? Do highly interoceptive people hold different beliefs about whether their bodily signals are valuable (vs. misleading), controllable (vs. difficult to regulate), or intense? How do caregivers and culture perhaps direct our attention to different interoceptive aspects of emotions and health?
MacCormack, J. K., Castro, V. L., Halberstadt, A. G., & Rogers, M. L. (under review). Mothers’ interoceptive knowledge predicts third-grade children’s emotion regulation and social skills.
MacCormack, J.K., Bonar, A.S., & Lindquist, K.A. (in prep). Believing your body: Beliefs about the value, regulation, and intensity of bodily signals matter for interoceptive and emotional awareness.
Does healthy Physical aging change how the brain & Body shape social affective experiences & behaviors?
Relative to younger adults, many older adults experience changes in emotions such as improved wellbeing and emotion regulation. These emotional changes could be due to functional or structural changes in the autonomic nervous system and brain, leading older adults to experience less robust or intrusive bodily reactions during emotions and reduced interoceptive awareness of those bodily changes. My research compares age differences between older and younger adults' peripheral psychophysiology, interoceptive ability, and emotional experience. I'm also interested in what impact these physiological declines have on older adults' affect-based decisions, social perceptions, and health behaviors in the real world.
MacCormack, J.K., Henry, T.R., Davis, B.M., Oosterwijk, S., & Lindquist, K.A. (submitted). Aging bodies, aging emotions: Interoceptive differences in emotion representation and report across adulthood.
MacCormack, J. K., Stein, A. G., Satpute, A., Kang, J., & Lindquist, K. A. (in prep). Emotion in the aging brain: A neuroimaging meta-analysis of functional activation and connectivity differences in older vs. younger adult emotion.