Mind & Society

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 57–78 | Cite as

Affective problem solving: emotion in research practice



This paper presents an analysis of emotional and affectively toned discourse in biomedical engineering researchers’ accounts of their problem solving practices. Drawing from our interviews with scientists in two laboratories, we examine three classes of expression: explicit, figurative and metaphorical, and attributions of emotion to objects and artifacts important to laboratory practice. We consider the overall function of expressions in the particular problem solving contexts described. We argue that affective processes are engaged in problem solving, not as simply tacked onto reasoning but as integral to it. The examples we present illustrate the close relation of emotion to problem solving and experimentation; they also implicate social and cultural dimensions of emotion expression. The analysis underscores a need to consider emotional expression to be intimately and importantly tied to the cognitive achievements and social negotiations of laboratory practices.


Emotion Affect Cognition Science practice Motivation Metaphor Problem solving 



We gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation ROLE Grants REC0106773 and DRL0411825 to Nancy Nersessian and Wendy Newstetter in conducting the research on the laboratories. This analysis was completed while the first author was a senior research scientist on the latter. The data derive from ethnographic research conducted with the assistance of Wendy Newstetter and our research group, especially Ellie Harmon, Elke Kurz-Milcke, Christopher Patton, and Sanjay Chandrasekharan. We thank the members of the research labs for allowing us into their work environment, letting us observe them, and granting us numerous interviews.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of West GeorgiaCarrolltonUSA
  2. 2.School of Interactive ComputingGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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