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University of Iowa News Release

June 29, 2006

UI Professor Authors Book On The Social Side Of Emotion

Daniel Gross, associate professor of rhetoric in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the author of "The Secret History of Emotion: From Aristotle's Rhetoric to Modern Brain Science," published in May.

In his book, Gross renews the debate among scholars concerning emotion and whether feelings can be explained in purely scientific terms. He agrees that biology is part of emotion, but contends that how people feel and their reactions are influenced by many things, for example, social position, self-perception or world events.

"The emotions generated by terrorism, for example, can't be explained well by science," said Gross. "Instead we have to understand how fear is mobilized through the imagination -- how words and images create what we call terrorism." 

The feeling of fear is just one example. Gross goes on to cite the death of Princess Diana in comparison to the passing of a homeless person. The world mourned the princess' death, while the death of a homeless person probably doesn't elicit the same feelings, and is rarely mentioned in the media.

"The media ensures that celebrities become a part of our emotional lives while the socially underprivileged don't register on our emotional radar," said Gross. "Rhetoric helps us understand how emotions are unevenly distributed across populations, and contrasts the biological model."

His writing references the work of Aristotle, Seneca, Thomas Hobbes, Sarah Fielding and Judith Butler, as well as others, to strengthen his premise that emotion is a psychosocial phenomenon.

"Maybe I've touched a nerve. This book makes people think again how emotions work, it's exciting," said Gross. "I've been surprised by the degree of interest in the topic."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Lesly Huffman, 319-384-0077, or Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,