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Jason P. Martens

University of Birmingham

My research interests include nonverbal emotion expressions (why they look the way they do, and what their influence on others is). I also study the interesting things that happen when people are threatened with thoughts of death and meaninglessness.

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Origins and Functions of the Nonverbal Pride Expression

This line of research examines the evolutionary origins and functions of the self-conscious emotion of pride. One aspect I am currently investigating is why the nonverbal pride expression looks the way it does. For instance, why does the pride display include an expanded chest? From an evolutionary perspective, emotion expressions did not originate as purely communicative. Instead, they served some original physiological function and only later become a signal. In collaboration with others, I’ve been examining what physiological benefits pride might have originally served. If this behavior is evolved as I suggest, then we might expect similar displays in species closely phylogenetically related to us. With others, I’ve been looking for homologous displays with our closest living non-human relatives: chimpanzees. In addition, I’ve been examining the message that the pride display communicates to others. Since pride is typically displayed after a success, the displayer is likely to communicate that he/she has valuable skills or knowledge. If this is the case, then the pride display might cue learning opportunities and bias social learning. Recent research I’ve done with Jess Tracy suggests that this is indeed the case.

Terror Management Theory and Science

This line of research examines the underlying psychological motives that influence beliefs in science. More specifically, is antagonism toward evolution (a well supported scientific theory with an abundance of evidence in support of it) and support for intelligent design (a pseudoscientific belief with absolutely no empirical evidence) partly explained by underlying existential anxieties? Drawing on Terror Management Theory, research I’ve done with Jess Tracy and Josh Hart suggests that this is indeed the case—work which was recently published in the open access journal PLoS ONE. Some other related areas I am investigating include how different samples of individuals (e.g., scientists) differ in the effect existential anxiety has on them, and whether there are individual differences in experiencing death anxiety.