Rocco Mennella is a psychologist and researcher in the domain of affective neurosciences, with a particular interest in the relation between emotion, motivation and action. He obtained his PhD in Psychological Sciences (2017) at the Department of General Psychology of the University of Padua, publishing several papers on the psychophysiological responses to emotional stimuli in both healthy and clinical populations. After a research period at the Department of Diagnostic Imaging of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto during his PhD, he got a post-doctoral fellowship at the Département d'études cognitives à l’Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris (2017), to investigate the neurocognitive correlates of decision making in socio-emotional contexts. In 2019 he has worked as a part-time lecturer at SciencesPo, before being assigned the “Gretty Mirdal Junior Chair in Brain, Culture, and Society” at the Institut d'études avancées.
Emotion, motivation and action; psychophysiology of emotion; clinical psychology.
The emotional unconscious mind of intentional agents
My project will focus on the hypothesis that most of our unconscious responses to affectively-laden situations – for instance our behavioral adjustments when we encounter another person – reflect our inner goals and are based on the implicit anticipation of future consequences. In other words, such responses might be, counterintuitively, unconscious and intentional at the same time. Such position contrasts with a long tradition in modern psychology, which goes back at least to William James and postulates that intentionality is the defining characteristic of a conscious mind, while unconscious responses would mostly consist of innate reflexes and learned habits. Such tradition has permeated the scientific study of emotional responses, which are often considered automated stimulus-driven reactions. On the other hand, the idea that our emotional behavior can tell us something concerning our unconscious affective goals is not new in the domain of clinical psychology and psychiatry. Nonetheless, these different disciplines often fail to communicate, rendering more difficult a comprehensive view of humans’ affectivity. The main objective of my project is to find a synthesis of different theoretical positions concerning unconscious emotional responses and intentionality. Second, I will seek to elaborate new experimental paradigms to test how responses to emotional stimuli can vary as a function of different unconscious goals and how such goals can interact or interfere with conscious ones.