Nathália de Avila MA

September 1, 2023 until February 27, 2024

Affiliation: University of Cologne

Research for a study about:

Enacting emotional inertia: collective PTSD and Panic Disorder

My doctoral thesis admits that our regular way of relating to time and affectivity are deeply changed when fear is fomented in diverse contexts. Though political science and sociology discuss some of these mechanisms, memory studies are also a means of putting that into evidence. I approach this general claim through the severity of the emotional responses that rely on memory and sometimes imagination to re-elicit/anticipate an event.  
In previous steps of my doctoral thesis, I have applied the theoretical possibilities of conceptual engineering to prescribe a new genus concept of affective memory that fits the paradigms of enactivism/embodied cognition. Presupposing this concept, I have constructed an hypothesis, which is more detailed in the next section, explaining how emotionally-charged reactions in PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder could be a form of mental time travel as a result of emotional and bodily re-enactment by affective mnemonic association. During a six-month research stay, I wish to write two original papers that shall be later submitted for publication. They discuss two new possibilities of using this initial concept (affective memory) in the following discussions: a) investigating how collective transgenerational trauma can be a type of vicarious memory phenomenon in which  emotional contagion and bodily extended emotions can trigger PTSD in communities; b) explaining in which ways Panic Disorder could be a type of déjà-vu, i.e. a literal experience of the past in the present.


The extended body: vicarious memories and mimetic capacities in transgenerational PTSD

Philosophy of Science Colloquium

Date: 2023 November 23,

Time: 3-4.30 pm CET

Venue: NIG, Universitätsstraße 7, 1010 Wien, SR 2H


The extended body: vicarious memories and mimetic capacities in transgenerational PTSD
The present communication claims that cases of vicarious memories do not represent a challenge to embodied causation, but rather logically allow a notion of extended body according to which a past experience need not be my own in order to trigger a memory, but as it happened indeed, that still serves as a cause for remembering. This is observable in cases of transgenerational PTSD. The core idea is that the body is not one’s own entirely but a sort of bridge to the world in which the environment and different bodies are brought together in a sort of unity (Cf. Trigg, 2019).
First, I detail how bodily extended emotions rely on the enactivist account of the lived body as a meaning carrier, for expressions and gestures fully and effectively communicate in our encounter with other subjects (Cole and Spalding, 2009; Krueger, 2014; Marzoli et. al., 2013). In addition, other studies showed that when someone is induced to adopt a specific facial expression and posture there is a tendency to actually feel such an emotion (Cf. Laird 2007’s review). The literature indicates that an emotional experience is directly related to behavioral expression as guided by embodied appraisals. Contagious emotions started to be seriously studied by Rapson and Hatfield in the 90’s. The body at once facilitates affectivity and it is a meaning carrier while it perceives and acts. For instance, as an enactivist body holds communicable meaning, it is perfectly plausible that the gestures of someone or their facial expressions directly influences my own if we are nearly placed. Here affectivity is conceived as what passes through the subject. Notice that in an internalist view the emotion is just located in the body. The extended emotion behaves as a sort of condensed expression of the environment, and it is initially depersonalized. While the subject acts, this expression is replicated in bodily gestures, guided by wonder, delight, fury or sadness. The environment in this case is what produces ourselves as emotional agents: it gets the emotion out of us, and not in: an affective transmission
Then, I show how naturalizing the idea of an extended body seems plausible if distributed and enactive remembering explore how intersubjectivity leads to new identities or rather blurs a clear border between who I am and who you are if both are in constant exchange. A dyadic personal relationship is translated into intercorporeal autonomous systems, as what is at stake here are not two individuals containing individual memories, but rather a collective shape of those by emotional attunement. Indeed, neural processes of sensorimotor and emotional dispositions overlap with perceptual emotional processes (Werning, 2020), which goes hand in hand with phenomenology’s account of embodied resonance (Gallese and Siniglagia, 2018; Geniusas, 2022). Based on simulation studies from the 80’s, embodied views of simulation explain not only how we mirror actions, but also emotion and sensation. This could be claimed to trigger reenactment in collective remembering.
I then show how mimetic capacities are a gain from evolution that allows perfectioning skills and living in a society not through what is genetically inherited but through what is learned in interaction (Donald, 2001). Emotional synchronization and imitation are normally studied through the relation between children and their parents in a
similar direction than that of Fuchs (2012) when he claims the habitual progression of such a contact leads to internalized bodily postures and knowledge in the child. This leads to a structure of shared emotions that has an identity which will enhance memory mutually (Cf. Teves, 2016). Applying the idea to memory and cognitive systems, I finally construct the possibility that this makes a subject simulate another person’s personal memories as one’s own through mimicked embodied appraisals and narration. If this is plausible, that explains how sociological cases of transgenerational collective trauma make descendants of disaster survivors - such as the Chernobyl accident - undergo the same traumatic psychopathologies as their elderly family members through sharing experiences and being close to each other.

Research Stay Report

I had the privilege of staying at the Institut Vienna Circle from September 2023 to February 2024, selected by Prof. Dr. Georg Schiemer. During this period, I attended numerous memory conferences at nearby universities such as LMU Munich and engaged with talks on the philosophy of mathematics. These experiences broadened my academic horizons and deepened my understanding of these fields.
The stay was pivotal for my own research. It facilitated the completion of my essay on transgenerational PTSD, which is currently a contender for an essay award. The other essay I worked on, discussing the dèjá vu experience, will soon be submitted to Q1 journals.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to connect with researchers who share my interests, such as Dr. Dylan Trigg from the philosophy department, whose insights greatly enriched my work.
I am deeply grateful for the inclusive and stimulating environment at the Institut Vienna Circle.
The support and intellectual engagement I encountered there were instrumental to my academic progress and professional development.
I extend my heartfelt thanks to Prof. Dr. Georg Schiemer and the entire institute for providing such a welcoming and productive atmosphere.