Claudia Wassmann

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline History
Marie Curie Fellow (IEF), Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra, Pamplona

Research project

Scientific Concepts of Emotion and Cultural Identities in Medicine, Social Science, and Film


The project investigates the scientific concepts of emotion that psychological and medical research has produced between 1950 and 2000, and assesses the impact of these concepts on emotional culture and identity in post-industrial societies in Western Europe, through cultural productions such as film. Theories on emotion are still missing a comprehensive approach that brings together the biological in connection with the social and cultural context. The innovative character of the project lies in the transdisciplinary approach that integrates expertise in psycho-medical research into current historical and cultural debate. Research in emotion is a vibrant field both in the bio-psycho-medical sciences and in the social sciences and humanities. The dominant approach in the history of emotion presumes that emotions are either biological and, as such, not interesting to historical analysis or that they are social and the biologically based theories of emotion get it wrong, because they ignore historical complexities. Overall, few studies put these two approaches in dialogue with each other. Either the cultural embeddedness of emotions is studied or emotion is studied on the level of the individual, as a liminal phenomenon or on a systems level in neuroscience. However, a scientific understanding of emotion and an analysis of cultural concepts of emotional identities are mutually dependent upon each other and need to be studied together. The project studies scientific concepts of emotion and cultural analysis of societal change and of processes and dynamics of identity formation as mutually dependent variables. It addresses interdisciplinarity: neuroscience, history of science, cultural anthropology, cinema studies, and multicultural methodology. Methodologically, the project has two components: (a) Quantitative and qualitative content analysis of: scientific communications (journal articles and conference proceedings) in the psycho-medical, social sciences and humanities discourses as well as a number of advertising texts with regard to the main trope frequencies; (b) comparing this analysis with the representation of emotion and identity in audio-visual media production.




Holding a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in medicine (Free University of Berlin, Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf) Claudia Wassmann, conducted post-doctoral research as Dewitt Stetten, Jr., Memorial Fellow in the History of Biomedical Sciences and Technology at the National Institutes of Health (2005-2006), where she expanded upon her research on the conception of emotions in the natural sciences.

She is the author of numerous documentary features covering scientific research for German Public Television and ARTE. Several of her films earned international awards. The most important works concerning brain research are Schizophrenia – The biochemistry of madness, School was fished – On the neurophysiology of language, Fear – Reason and emotion, Happiness – The roots of emotions, Disgust – History of an emotion, Anger – A problem of children with Attention deficit disorder. She was nominated Knight-Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1998-1999.

Her longstanding interests are in the history of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience; an interest that she deepened in her Ph.D. work in history. Her thesis “Science of Emotion” – Studying Emotions in Germany, France, and the United States, 1860-1920” traced the history of affective sciences in the nineteenth century at the moment when the emotions became the object of study in experimental psychology but a genuine “science of emotions” did not yet emerge. Her research deals with questions of scientific practices, techniques of visualization, and epistemology in research on emotions. She recently published a collective volume at the crossroads of history of science, cultural anthropology, and media studies, Therapy and Emotions in Film and Television. The Pulse of Our Times (2015). She is currently working on the publication of a monograph on scientific concepts of emotions and cultural identities.

Selected publications


‘’Picturesque Incisiveness’: Explaining the Celebrity of James’ Theory of Emotion’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, vol. 50, no. 2, 2014, pp. 166-88.


‘Evaluating Threat, Solving Mazes, Having the Blues: Gender Differences in Brain Imaging Studies’, in J. Fisher (ed.), Gender and the Science of Difference: Cultural Politics of Contemporary Science and Medicine, Ruttger University Press, 2011.


Die Macht der Emotionen: Wie Gefühle unser Denken und Handeln beeinflussen, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt & Prisma Verlag, Gütersloh, Darmstat, 2002. 2nd edition: Zweite überarbeitete Auflage, Darmstat, 2010.


‘Reflections on the 'Body Loop': Carl Georg Lange’s theory of Emotion’, Cognition & Emotion, vol. 24, no. 6, 2010, pp. 974-990.


‘On Emotion and the Emotions: A Commentary to Dixon, Mulligan & Scherer, and Scarantino’, Emotion Review, vol. 4, no. 4, 2012, pp. 1–2.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Public Health
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Philosophy
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Music
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Linguistics