In English, the word “affect” means “to produce a change.” Modern psychology has adopted the word “affect” to refer, generally speaking, to any mental process or phenomenon having to do with emotional states – states that by definition are emergent and change or constrain what comes next.

From perceiving, to learning, to deciding, to acting, affect is a key feature of everything we do. It provides a common metric for comparing qualitatively different events. Understanding how affect changes what the mind does next is central to understanding how and why humans make the decisions they do that impact the three global challenges of health, security, and sustainability. From altering immune responses and motivation to adopting healthy dietary choices, to impacting what soldiers see on surveillance video, to altering decisions people make on recycling, numerous research studies have documented the central role played by affect in the human experience.


Given the importance of further illuminating the role of affect in shaping human behavior, the College of Science at Northeastern University has created the Affective Science Initiative. Under this initiative, faculty will conduct research from disparate disciplines (ranging from economics to neuroscience to education to business) on the critically important topic of affect. The Affective Science Initiative will draw scholars from psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, ethology, philosophy, economics, computer science, robotics, health science, chemistry, and education. This will allow us to have a sustained focus on multidisciplinary collaborations with a coordinated affective science research agenda with the goal of producing innovative and high impact scientific work that begins to dissolve disciplinary boundaries.

This initiative will push affective science research beyond the borders of Northeastern with the formation of an Affective Science Institute. This institute will act as a nexus for collaboration, training, and the exchange of ideas for researchers, clinicians, and other professionals in and around New England. This institute will be the first of its kind and will draw scholars and researchers from around the world to study and better understand affective science.


The Affective Science Initiative will shape an emerging field of inquiry through the collaborative use of both old and new theories and technologies. The initiative has and will continue to create a scholarly environment that will impact regional, national, and international research on emotion. It will continue to push the boundaries of affective science, leading to a consistent accumulation of knowledge about basic affective processes across disciplines, and it will facilitate transfer of this knowledge to non-academic settings.

The Affective Science Initiative will also provide an enriched educational environment for our undergraduate and graduate students, and establish a strong postdoctoral fellowship presence. The environment will enhance students’ desire and opportunity to engage in science and scholarship, and it will model the important impact that such scholarship can have in non-academic settings.

The initiative also involves explicit partnerships with science consumers who will help to shape the scientific questions asked, and use the results for a range of social benefits.

The team/institute has been disseminating work to the public in several mass media outlets: The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, and talks at corporate headquarters: Google, Fidelity.

We expect to have many new faculty hires to complement the interdisciplinary nature of the initiative. Here are some of the key faculty members currently involved with the affective science initiative:

David DeSteno
Lisa Feldman Barrett
Derek Isaacowitz
Stacy Marsella