Flaubert’s Brain LightningPresentation Questions

Please answer in the comments!

On Sasha’s presentation: While Flaubert likely suffered from epileptic seizures, to what extent could researchers try to explore his assumed depression and anxiety as a result of his seizures as equal parts of his “nervous disease?” What would that methodology look like?

On Ella’s presentation: Since the Greek philosopher Hippocrates’ initial differentiation of the compulsive movements of epilepsy, which he described as a disorder of the brain, from “hysteria,” which he believed to be caused in women by abnormal movements of the uterus in the body, the hysteria/epilepsy diagnosis, even in Flaubert’s and Jean Martin-Charcot’s time of emerging neuroscience in France, was largely divided by sex despite current figures indicating both sexes experience epilepsy at nearly equal rates. In what way was Flaubert’s specification of Emma’s affiliation as “brain fever” rather than perhaps “uterus fever,” when most would diagnose her with “hysteria” at the time, progressive? In what ways was it still reductive, as hysteria was speculated for millennia to be caused by women’s unfulfilled sexual desires, and Emma’s brain fever occurs after being left by Rodolphe?

For Maggie: In considering Neuro economics via Lheureux and Emma, have you incorporated a look at the decision making heuristics of temporal discounting and maybe how Emma provides a phenomenological proof of how we value items in immediacy higher than at a delay, and how she was able to prioritize attention on immediate acquisition rather than long term economic stability?

For Meghna: A great expert at Duke in NDE’s comes from a history of exploration at the Rhine Institute and Duke’s rich history in parapsychology, but also a physician: Dr. Larry Burk who writes “The Spiritual Alphabet Soup of Death and Dying”. Anyway, my question is: when we read about the neurophenomenology of illness, there were many accounts of modified temporal experience in illness, and this is something regarded in the face of death as well, do you notice in your close reading changes in pacing feel or temporal experience by Emma and is that worth including, what is the basis for that neurologically? Could it be related to even like Circadian Rhythms?

How did Flaubert develop sophisticated arguments around nerves, what
was his method of research or exploration? -Sasha’s Presentation
2. What brought doctors to consider the legitimacy of brain fever? -Ella’s

Morgan: Eye tracking seems to reveal a lot about how an individual is processing what they are reading and even someone’s thoughts but is only one method to understand brain processing. Are there other methods, that could be used in further studies to explore other areas of processing and perhaps reveal something eye tracking cannot?

Sabreen: Emma is far from the gold standard as a fictional character and person. She has many flaws that are put on display since from the page we meet her until after her death. So, why has Emma stayed such a prominent figure in pop culture? Is it because she has those flaws?

Millie – how do you plan to explain your findings and make your process more clear for those who have no scientific / neuroscience background (such as myself)?
Amelia and Sydney – how do you plan to incorporate and argue for people who have not read Madam Bovary? Will you require reading excerpts / have included a summary?
Question for Millie: Why did you decide to frame your final project in an essay-video format? How does this add richness to your work, your agreement?

Question for Maggie: Does the issue of gender come up in your discussion of neuroeconomics? I imagine that Emma faced more economic constraints than women in more modern times, the latter of which are used in part to construct the field of neuroeconomics. Do you investigate this at all in your project?

For Sabreen: Are there any signs of monomania present in the correspondences of Flaubert? Could his fixation on finding the perfect words and phrasings have influenced his writing of characters to have similar conditions?

For Kate: In what ways do factors such as social status and gender affect the eating patterns of characters? Will you analyze the prevalence of disordered eating within the time period for historical context? Is there transparency on the issue in literature or is it something you will draw more inferentially and implicitly?

1 – (For Taylor) Does the heterodiegetic narration in Madame Bovary minimize or enhance the readers’ reactions to moral transgressions?

2 – (For Kassie) How does gender dysphoria or transgenderism affect the gender-trauma relationship?

Why is brain fever described for primarily female characters or with a feminine tone? Do you think that Flaubert can agree with an argument that Charles Bovary experienced brain fever after Emma’s death and his realization of her adultery?

Why do you think that Flaubert finds it necessary to show the perspective of both the transgressor and the victim? Could it reflect his own personal experiences?

For Morgan, what do you expect to see in the results of the eye tracking study? Do you think that the pictures they are potentially painting with their minds will reflect in their eye movement?

For Kassie, have you considered looking into other texts such as The Yellow Wallpaper or The Awakening (Kate Chopin)? They also address similar topics of PTSD, hysteria, and gender in a similar way to Madame Bovary?

Gwyneth: Sartre was more or less obsessed with Gustave Flaubert’s work Madam Bovary, and yet didn’t have a very fond view of the man himself one of the reasons being he thought he wasn’t involved enough in political discourse. what was Sartre’s opinion of the political and scientific evolution of la tentation de saint Antoine? Was he a fan of this work?

Morgan: what is the reasoning behind conceptualizing the space in which children explore the story world as a 2D “blank space”? Are there limitations to considering this question within this metaphor/construct? Are there other dimensions that aren’t accounted for?

Sasha: considering the “nerves as strings” concept, if you had to associate this with one of the first two categories (mental states or physical suffering) which would you choose? Also can you assume that even though the literature existed at the time, flaubert actually read it?

Ella: How are you intending to research whether doctors in the Victorian era considered brain fever to be a legitimate illness? Will you look at medical literature from the time?

Kate: How can we understand Flaubert’s body image/conception of body/eating? How do you plan to explain whether or not this was intentional? How do you plan to draw connections between our current understanding of eating disorder/body and the understanding then? Or was there understanding then?

(For Morgan) How would you expect mental simulation to vary in children with behavioral / neurologic conditions, such as autism?
(For Sasha) If Flaubert had a modern understanding of the nervous system, do you think he would continue his use of the trope of nerves in the way that he did? Does modern scientific knowledge expand on or limit our definition of nerves?

Millie: How is autopoeisis experienced by cells, seeing as though they are not live creatures but have their own life cycle? Do they still have a “self”?

Sasha: How is manipulation a factor in Emma’s decision-making strategies related to her finances?

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My views on Madame Bovary and the empathy of different readers

My blog post is to further build on Amelia’s blog post regarding empathy, and how she believes that Flaubert writes in such a way to make us feel empathy for Emma. Upon reading Madame Bovary, I too found that I consistently felt that Emma was the victim. A victim of a sexist, classist society; a victim of men such as Rodolphe acting like she is their property and a victim of simply not having things go her way. However, it has dawned on me that upon hearing a summary of the story of the book Madame Bovary, one might see Charles as the victim. There are countless examples of Emma taking him as a fool, with a particularly notable example of this being the case of him mindlessly eating the apricots which Rodolphe gave to Emma along with his letter. For me, though, I can confidently say that I do not consider Charles to be a victim and did not empathise with him in the same way as I do with Emma. Instead, when reading, I found myself wanting him to provide Emma with more satisfaction, and feeling disappointed with him when he did not.

This leads me to question, why were my feelings of empathy so targeted towards Emma, with so little empathy for Charles, despite him clearly being also in a bad situation? Was this indeed Flaubert’s writing technique? Is he attempting to make the reader empathise in particular with Emma? I especially questioned this since based on class discussion it seemed to me as if the majority of the class had more empathy for Emma. Is Flaubert writing in a way so as to promote Emma’s interests and her struggles, similarly to the way in which the directors of the Netflix series ‘You’ has us both empathising and rooting for Joe, who is a stalker and a murderer?

This question was close to being answered for me when I found out that most critics actually consider Emma Bovary to be entirely self-serving and ill-intentioned, and certainly do not empathise with her[1]. This therefore shows that whilst we can see in Amelia’s blog post that Flaubert writes in a way to evoke empathy for Emma in his readers, not all readers latch onto this in the same way as the majority of our class. To try to understand this difference in views, I found myself asking if this empathy for Charles rather than Emma, or lack of empathy altogether, is just the view of a very specific demographic? Or was I missing something? Why is it that my empathy, and that of the majority of our class, was so targeted towards Emma, when that of others being targeted in the opposite way? Was this a pre-conception that I came into the book with? Therefore meaning that I saw everything relating to Emma with rose-tinted glasses? Or, instead, is there something different between myself and the critics that would make us feel empathy towards different people?

A study carried out by Stansfield and Bunce found that the empathy that we feel towards certain characters when reading fiction can be closely linked to how much fiction we have read in their life-time along with how much the reader feel ’transported’ by the narrative. I certainly have not read as much fiction in my life-time as critics have, nor, I imagine, do I feel quite as transported by it as they do, given that they have chosen it as a career-path. Furthermore, Stansfield and Bunce found that reading fiction as a child and feeling empathy towards certain characters helps increase feelings of empathy in later life[2]. These could all factor into the empathy that each reader themselves feels towards Emma Bovary, therefore. However, in addition to this I feel that part of feeling empathy towards Emma must be rooted in our place in society and whether we feel that this can be related to that of Emma. I by no means want to generalise, but I feel that as a 21 year old college student my experiences thus far in life may be different to those of many critics.

To add onto this, I think that factors such as the fact that Emma is clearly grappling for a sense of inner peace are important in our understanding of her, and therefore the empathy that we feel towards her. Emma wants the love of others, and, though we may not always admit it, this is something that we can all relate to on some level, though, definitely some more than others; and some are also certainly more able to admit that to themselves and to accept it than others. To help with understanding this, I found a study which was carried out by Sinon-Thomas, in which they questioned participants on what factors affect their empathy. They found that across the board empathy is closely tied with one’s place in their family. They found that middle children tend to have more empathy than only children and that women in the family tend to have more empathy than men[3]. Additionally, a study carried out by Kim found that the level of nursing student’s self-esteem, self-efficacy and interpersonal relationships affected the level of empathy that they felt towards a patient. Moreover, they found that actually improving the level of students’ self-esteem, self-efficacy and interpersonal relationships made them more able to empathise with their patients[4].

Therefore, to conclude, this blog post certainly does not claim to answer all of the questions that it poses, but provides a beginning to trying to understand the differing levels of empathy that readers feel towards different characters in Madame Bovary. I have learnt that not everyone reads Madame Bovary with this same sense of empathy towards Emma, and that this is to be expected, given the sheer number of  different factors that come into the empathy that each individual experiences in different circumstances. Finally, also, I feel that questioning why we feel a certain way about a fictional character, and why we may feel differently than others, can tell us a lot about our own life experiences and our own position (event those that we are not very aware of) – as well as it being a direct result of the writing style of the author.



[1] Reading, “Flaubert’s Madame Bovary the Story of a Tragic Victim.” Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: The Story of a Tragic Victim, https://www.stepbystep.com/Flauberts-Madame-Bovary-The-Story-of-a-Tragic-Victim-151257/.


[2] Stansfield, John. (PDF) the Relationship between Empathy and Reading Fiction …https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283072920_The_Relationship_Between_Empathy_and_Reading_Fiction_Separate_Roles_for_Cognitive_and_Affective_Components.

[3] Simon-Thomas, Emiliana. “Which Factors Shape Our Empathy?” Greater Good, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/which_factors_shape_our_empathy.

[4] Kim, Jihyun. “Factors Influencing Nursing Students’ Empathy.” Korean Journal of Medical Education, Korean Society of Medical Education, Sept. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6127609/.


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Proust, Memory, and Nostalgia

It is only human nature to be drawn to the past. Regardless of how often one is reminded to ‘live in the moment’ or by whom, it is a difficult endeavor attuning oneself wholeheartedly to the present; time slips so delicately through our fingers that we cannot help but look behind us frequently and wonder where it has gone. Such is the case made by French novelist Marcel Proust in his most famous work, In Search of Lost Time. Indeed, every person—whether they care to be or not—is constantly in search of moments that have passed them by too quickly and cleverly to remember. As a writer, Proust was particularly adept not only at describing human memory, but also at crafting the reality of scenarios that should prompt memory retrieval. That is, he understood the bizarre complexity of human memory functioning which hinders us from remembering simple facts upon questioning (for example, “What did you eat for dinner last night?”) but somehow allows vivid “gusts of memory” (Proust 3) if even the smallest sensation (a smell or a touch, for instance) should trigger it. 

Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the phenomenon induced by Proust’s madeleine: enjoying a madeleine and some tea on a dull day, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time narrator immediately experiences a “shudder [running] through [his] body” and “an exquisite pleasure running through his senses” (Proust 1) and is involuntarily transported back to the Sunday mornings of his childhood, when he would often indulge in a madeleine. Here, Proust is combining the experiences of memory and of perception—understood as “integrating information across senses, across time, [and] across space” (Draper)—to describe the narrator’s encounter with the emotion of nostalgia. 

When something that is mentally or physically encountered cues autobiographical memory retrieval, we can sometimes enter the emotional state of nostalgia. Although nostalgia in the modern day is viewed as a generally warm and positive feeling, the term itself was introduced by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer as a Greek compound consisting of nostos (return) and algia (pain). He conceptualized the feeling as a “neurological disease characterized by adverse psychological symptoms” (Oba 2016) such as intense anxiety, persistent thoughts of home, and irregular sleeping patterns, as displayed by Swiss mercenaries who went on foreign expeditions. Nowadays, the definition of nostalgic experience has been refined so that it predominantly refers to a pleasurable state of wistful and bittersweet longing for the past. In the field of neuroscience, it remains largely unexplored; however, it is believed to be an important factor in psychological resilience, or the “ability to cope with adversity and adapt to stressful life events” (Afek 2021). 

In previous neuroimaging studies, it has been revealed that the foundation of nostalgic emotions lies in the cooperative activation of the memory and reward systems within the brain, which induces several positive experiences in humans (Oba 2016). In conjunction with this, recent behavioral studies have found that undergoing nostalgia “bolsters social bonds, increases positive self-regard,” and decreases feelings of loneliness and depression as well as rumination about death (Wildschut 2006). Other studies have focused particularly on odor-evoked autobiographic memories, revealing that they are more emotionally charged than those induced by other stimuli—perhaps due to the “direct neural communication between the olfactory system and the amygdala-hippocampal complex” (Matsunaga 2013), which is directly involved in basic-level emotion and memory processing. When accompanied by positive emotions (which is often the case when experiencing nostalgia), odor-evoked autobiographic memory can even have an “inhibitory effect” on peripheral cytokines, which are immune-signaling molecules responsible for modulating systemic inflammation. 

So while “the past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect,” as Proust writes, I find it difficult to believe that the search for lost time is an entirely futile effort. Dredging up memories from times gone by is valuable in the warmth produced by nostalgic wistfulness, and if not that, it is valuable to experience our past as a function of growing our health and developing our psyche. The past should be relived in the present, otherwise memory exists for no reason at all. 



Oba, K., Noriuchi, M., Atomi, T., Moriguchi, Y., & Kikuchi, Y. (2016). Memory and reward systems coproduce ‘nostalgic’ experiences in the brain. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(7), 1069–1077. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv073

Afek, A., Ben-Avraham, R., Davidov, A., Berezin Cohen, N., Ben Yehuda, A., Gilboa, Y., & Nahum, M. (2021). Psychological resilience, mental health, and inhibitory control among youth and young adults under stress. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 1624. 

Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2006). Nostalgia: content, triggers, functions. Journal of personality and social psychology, 91(5), 975. 

Proust, Marcel. (1913).  Excerpts from In Search of Lost Time. 

Draper, Steven. (2011). How many senses do humans have? University of Glasgow. https://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/best/senses.html

Matsunaga, M., Bai, Y., Yamakawa, K., Toyama, A., Kashiwagi, M., Fukuda, K., … & Ohira, H. (2013). Brain–immune interaction accompanying odor-evoked autobiographic memory. PLoS One, 8(8), e72523.

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Memory in and of a Narrative

We’ve reached the last chapter of the life of Emma in Madame Bovary, but her character is still at the forefront of our minds. It seems that Charles is forgetting Emma more quickly than we are; he begins to feel her “image fading from his memory in spite of all efforts to retain it” (Flaubert 272) soon after her death. Rooted in his grief, Charles reconstructs Emma from his memory and subsequently “re-lives” his experiences with her. Suzanne Nalbantian perfectly describes this sort of vivid memory: “this type of long-term episodic memory is characterized by a richness of phenomenological detail, a sense of reliving the experience, a sense of a travel through time, and a feeling of exact reproduction of the past” (Nalbantian 137). We are quick to recognize this type of experience of memory, as we are knowledgeable of our own experiences re-living our personal memories. However, how do we perceive memories that are not ours? Moreso, how is our memory of fictional events different from our memory of our personal experiences? We as readers can go back to any event in the novel to re-interpret the events that transpired – something that we cannot do with our own memories.

Perhaps the strength of fiction’s longevity lies in its physical pages, or more likely, in the emotions we pluck from the words we revisit. Steve Draper writes, “sensing doesn’t cause perception.” We must integrate sensory input (both consciously and subconsciously) in order to form a percept of the world around us. There is no perfect division between our modes of sensation, which adds to the ambiguity of our perception. Further, we sense and perceive fictional worlds in a much narrower way than we do our actual world. We do not physically smell the cigar case that Emma finds, and we do not physically feel the fabric of her clothes. Yet our perceptions of fictional events can result in memories of equal strength to our personal memories, as Brenda Yang outlines in her study comparing fiction and autobiographical memories. Yang et al posit that our memories of fictional events and autobiographical events are alike in construction, yet may differ in intensity. Further, fictional memories are intertwined with autobiographical memories – we are simultaneously perceiving a fictional world and our actual world as we read Madame Bovary. While more research is needed to clarify the relationship between differing memory from the same period of time, it is clear that we deeply integrate fictional events into our memories.

If and when we are to return to previous chapters, we will re-integrate the information we had gathered from the text in order to solidify our perceptions of the fictional events. Memory is commonly recalled by a certain place or object; for example, Charles is thrown back into his memories (and forward into his grief) upon seeing Emma’s dress at her death. If we embody this experience as we read, is it possible to recall a memory solely from embodiment of the text, from an image we have never seen? It is more likely that we will recall memories from an emotional source, as emotion plays a significant role in memory encoding. Memories influence present perceptions and vice versa, enhancing the ever-shifting perception of memory. Proust writes, “each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognize and to which we listen” (Proust 6). We take the outlines of external sources and fill them in with our own perceptions and previous knowledge, and that is what we remember. As we fill in the gaps of our memory by re-reading Madame Bovary, we change our memory of the narrative and the characters’ memory in the narrative.


Draper, Steven. “How many senses do humans have?” University of Glasgow, June 2011, https://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/best/senses.html

Flaubert, Gustave, et al. Madame Bovary: Contexts, Critical Reception. W.W. Norton, 2005.

Nalbantian, Suzanne. “The Almond and the Seahorse: Neuroscientific Perspectives.” Memory in Literature, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2003.

Proust, Marcel. Excerpts from In Search of Lost Time. 1913

Schubert, T. Characterizing memories of fictional events. Nat Rev Psychol 1, 11 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44159-021-00018-8

Yang, Brenda W, et al. “A Comparison of Memories of Fiction and Autobiographical Memories.” Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34735187/.

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The Neurological basis of PTSD

The study PTSD Following Bereavement (Chentasova-Dutton, 1998) explores how the criteria for stressors that induce PTSD should be expanded to include experiences of ‘normal’ bereavement. The researchers found that spouses who experienced the death of their partner from a chronic illness or unexpected accident or suicide were more likely to develop PTSD symptoms than if it were an anticipated death from natural causes. Chentasova-Dutton stated that, “there is no rule that timeliness or expectedness of the death of a loved one cannot be as traumatic for some individuals as a more unexpected or unnatural death for other bereaved individuals.” While this study explores the variety in the experience of loss that can induce PTSD symptoms, I was more intrigued by why two individuals who experience similar forms of loss might have wildly different outcomes. Do comorbid factors influence the development of PTSD? Are there possible neurological predisposing factors? This will be the focus of my investigation.

According to the DSM V (published in 2013), the diagnosis of PTSD requires the experience of a trauma genic event such as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation. The criteria for PTSD also include symptoms such as the reexperiencing, avoidance of people events or situations that trigger reexperiencing, and hyperarousal. The symptoms must last for more than a month (Kemp, 2019).

From a brief literature review, I have found no studies that explore the neurological basis of PTSD following bereavement. Yet, it is logical to postulate that individuals who develop PTSD from stressors other than the traumatic loss of a loved one, may undergo similar neurophysiological changes. A 2013 longitudinal prospective study of Israeli defense force soldiers surprisingly found that soldiers with hyperactive amygdala in response to threatening situations pre-deployment is associated with a greater likelihood of reporting PTSD symptoms post-deployment (Admon et al., 2013). Amygdala hyperactivity may serve as a predictor of sensitivity to combat related stress. Additionally, researchers found that the soldiers that developed PTSD symptoms also developed hypoconnectivity between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the hippocampal formation (HF). The figure below illustrates the various changes in brain structure in the development of PTSD symptoms. These findings provide interesting insight into the neurological changes involved in the development of PTSD. Neuroanatomical markers such as these are invaluable in being able to predict who may or may not develop mental illness over time.

Studies that investigate the neurological factors that predispose people to the development of mental illness are incredibly hard to conduct and literature on the subject remains limited. In the Chentasova-Dutton study, it was reported that at 2 months after the spouse’s death, 10% of those whose spouses died after a chronic illness met criteria for PTSD. It would be feasible to conduct a study, similar to that of Admon et al., investigating the development of PTSD symptoms post bereavement. This would shed light on the neurological changes that people who develop PTSD due to bereavement undergo.

 Admon, R., Leykin, D., Lubin, G., Engert, V., Andrews, J., Pruessner, J., & Hendler, T. (2012). Stress-induced reduction in hippocampal volume and connectivity with the ventromedial prefrontal cortex are related to maladaptive responses to stressful military service. Human Brain Mapping, 34(11), 2808–2816. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.22100

Hariri, A. R. (2015). Looking inside the disordered brain: An introduction to the functional neuroanatomy of psychopathology. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Publishers.

Kemp, A. R. (2019). Death, dying, and bereavement in a Changing World. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Zisook, S., Chentsova-Dutton, Y., & Shuchter, S. (1998). PTSD following bereavement. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 10(4), 157–163. https://doi.org/10.3109/10401239809147032

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No One is Looking: Moral Judgment, Emma, and I

In March of 2020, I wrote an email to my philosophy instructor titled “I Have Become a Giant Unidentified Vermin.” In it, I wrote about how our conversations about Hegel and Kierkegaard’s self and Baudrillard’s simulacra led to the realization that nothing felt real and nothing could ever be the same. I described what it was like to exist on Zoom, a panopticon where everyone is looking and no one is. 

Throughout this class, we constructed a panopticon of sorts around Emma Bovary. She became the object of our moral judgment—our compassion and contempt in equal part. As Vittorio Gallese wrote in “The Manifold Nature of Interpersonal Relations: The Quest for a Common Mechanism,” our “understanding of interpersonal relations relies on the basic capacity to model the behaviour of other individuals by employing the same resources used to model our own behaviour” (Gallese, 2003). Does this change depending on whether their behavior holds moral weight? How does this impact our reading of Emma? 

While reading, we engage in a special type of theory-of-mind (ToM) associated with moral judgment. Greene et al. (2020) conducted an fMRI study comparing the neural correlates of judgment of moral-personal, moral-impersonal, and non-moral situations. They found that “the increased emotional responses generated by the moral-personal dilemmas have an influence on and are not merely incidental to moral judgment” (Greene et al., 2020). When we read about Emma’s transgressions, we form a connection between our emotions and her actions; however, our ability to relate to the morality of her actions determines our capacity for ToM and empathy. 

Furthermore, the morality of Emma’s choices does not exist in a vacuum. In class, we discussed who Emma is if we don’t look upon her. My answer employs Hegel’s notion of the self. Hegel suggests that knowledge of the self can’t be achieved by simply peering into the self (e.g. the feelings, habits, likes and dislikes of the individual.) The individual is unable to examine the singular self and reach any conclusions about the self because they don’t live in isolation from other-selves. Rather, the self must come in contact with the other in order to develop. Introspection is a necessity based on the examination of the individual’s relationship with others: “Self consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is it exists only in being acknowledged” (Hegel, 111). To put it in other words, an individual can only see themselves through the eyes of another. Likewise, we can not construct Emma by only looking at her own beliefs, but to look into the attitudes of others towards Emma. Flaubert biases our perspective of Emma based on the character that he focalizes on and their own moral transgressions. 

As time went on, it grew more difficult to empathize with Emma, especially as we watched the effects of her actions on others; however, it was easiest to be empathetic towards her situations when Flaubert focalizes on the transgressor’s motivations (e.g. Rodolphe, Lheureux). In another fMRI study, Young et al. (2008) found that “moral judgment in the mature state depends on the capacity to attribute beliefs to agents.” They distinguished between the cognitive processes of encoding and integrating a character’s beliefs using distinct activation patterns in the right temporo-parietal junction, the same region implicated in ToM. The study goes on to detail that activation in the RTPJ, LTPJ, and parietal cortex decreased when a negative belief is presented before the information about the outcome of the immoral act, the neural response was reduced for negative outcomes. In other words, if the participants knew that the actions of the transgressor aligned their beliefs, there was less activation in the areas associated with ToM. 

Therefore, our characterization of Emma is based on how engaged our ToM is with her actions and emotions. In moments such as her affair with Rodolphe, we are initially empathetic towards her, as Flaubert provides us with Rodolphe’s negative perspective, first: “Yes; but how get rid of her afterwards?” (Flaubert, 106). We empathize with Emma because Rodolphe’s negative belief doesn’t engage our ToM as much as her misplaced love and guilt over the affair. His transgression is worse because it aligns with his beliefs, while Emma resists. Later, as Emma embraces her moral depravity, we become less engaged in empathizing with her and more engaged in empathy towards Charles and Berthe. Like Emma in the beginning of the affair, Charles and Berthe are unaware that they are the victims of another’s purposeful moral transgression. These interactions with other characters define the boundaries of Emma in a novel so often focused on her perspective. 

We, too, define the boundaries of Emma. We feel contempt for “Emma the transgressor,” compassion for “Emma the victim,” and we coalesce these emotions to shape Emma’s character. At the same time, Emma looks upon us. As Gallese writes: “The observer and the observed are part of a dynamic system governed by reversible rules” (Gallese, 2003). We, too, are subject to judgment. We are capable of placing ourselves into Emma, and in turn, we see and despise the things we despise in ourselves. We feel compassion for the feelings we share with her. 


Works Cited

Flaubert, Gustave, et al. Madame Bovary. 2nd ed, W.W. Norton, 2005.

Gallese, Vittorio. “The roots of empathy: the shared manifold hypothesis and the neural basis of intersubjectivity.” Psychopathology vol. 36,4 (2003): 171-80. doi:10.1159/000072786

Greene J. D., Sommerville R. B., Nystrom L. E., Darley J. M., Cohen J. D., An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science 293, 2105–2108 (2001).

Friedrich, H. G. W. (1977). Phenomenology of spirit. Clarendon Press.

Young, Liane L. & Saxe, Rebecca. Reading Minds for Moral Judgement: A Cognitive Neuroscience Approach to Theory of Mind in Moral Judgement, Harvard University, Ann Arbor, (2008).

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Morgan – The Empathy Paradox and The Pursuit of Good Science

(As a note: I use the term “Autistic People” throughout this blog post as an identity, and because it was the structure used most frequently in the sources I read sharing autistic experiences, but I recognize this language is variable and different people have different stances on this.)


Doctor Larivière, Monsieur Canivet, Monsieur Homais, and Charles Bovary: the established range of expertise in the medical field, creating the power gradient of respected sources of truth, all stand over a dying Emma with nothing to do. Even as Flaubert clearly creates a sense of how each man who enters that room is increasingly confident and well-regarded in their work, they all fail, none of their knowledge they are proud to flaunt can save her. Flaubert has this juxtaposition develop over the course of Madame Bovary, earlier when Hippolyte had his operation and infection, Monsieur Homais had said, “Is it not time to cry that the blind shall see, the deaf hear, the lame walk? But that which fanaticism formerly promised to its elect, science now accomplishes for all men” only for the surgery to dramatically fail (145). It seems Flaubert tries to drive a point of noting the scientific progress mindset, particularly in the commentary from Homais, and to acknowledge that this power isn’t a given as much as he perceives it to be. Rather, it is volatile, and it appears often more of an attempt than a success. 


What exactly makes good science, and what is the goal with it? For basic science, it may be epistemic, while clinical science should ideally have beneficial applications like for medicine, but what do we do if science grants a sense of objective truth or betterment, when it really isn’t? The scientific method, statistical analysis, and systems of publication are all carefully developed and fine-tuned processes to make sure that only the “good science” gets dispersed and added to the literature. However, while this may appear the case as the logic is discussed by those academics who both make and contribute to it, the experiences that motivate the scientific pursuits are sometimes at odds with the scientific explanation that is determined. This problem first appeared in this course with Chalmers’ Hard Problem and the disconnect between the cognitivist functionalism and the recorded experiences of cognition and consciousness. Only in validating the value of the phenomenological did the 4E cognition that felt more in tune with that which is experienced become a valuable explanation. If there is a gap between the felt truth and the truth found through the structured research process, should we assume our experience is subjective and therefore not as epistemically valuable? This division is extremely present in this week’s readings about empathy. 


While empathy is often turned to as a means of exploring intersubjectivity, inter mentality, connection, and commonality, there is an immense paradox in that empathy has led to a profound “othering” of the autistic community. The Encyclopedia of Neuropsychological Disorders writes, “Those with autism can be thought of as mindblind in that they cannot imagine what others might be thinking, or even that others are thinking.” Worth noting as well, is that these sentiments, when paired with evolutionary research, like in the Shamay-Tsoory paper, which explains that rodents have the more basic affective functions for empathy but only Theory of Mind is granted to the most complex human-related species, in effect dehumanizes having difficulty with theory of mind. As a result, the pursuit of understanding empathy has rendered the autistic community fundamentally unempathized with and dehumanized. Throughout empathy research can also be found the juxtaposition of “autistic participants” and “healthy controls” which only goes to further perpetuate how neurotypical thinking confines the knowledge and isn’t in line with experienced truth, where they aren’t controls, and everyone involved is equally as likely to be “healthy”. 


Work by Simon Baron-Cohen tends to spearhead this notion, because his working definitions of Theory of Mind and Empathy are extremely frequently cited for their contributions to basic science and epistemic pursuits, but he also consistently uses, in relationship to the research, claims that Autistic people do not possess it and analyze them with a pathological lens in order to make sense of what Theory of Mind looks like. He makes claims like “Results from both conditions thus provided converging evidence for an autism specific deficit in inferring when a person is thinking” (Gernsbacher). The conclusions from these studies conclude that autistic people don’t possess cognitive empathy, but that is where the rift with experience comes in, in which autistic people and often their parents, express anecdotes now known as the “double empathy” problem as coined by autistic researcher Damien Milton. The idea is that “both autistic and nonautistic individuals may have difficulty understanding and feeling for one another because of their differing outlooks and experiences with the world” (DeThorne) and Autistic Advocate Dawn Prince-Hughes explains it: “My world is a place where people are too beautiful and too terrible to look at, where their mouths speak words that sometimes fall silent on my ears, while their hearts break audibly.” Essentially, the research is saying it is universally improbably for autistic people to have cognitive empathy, and yet, it is experienced, and noted. 


It appears that the rift can be traced back to this idea of the Double Empathy problem as well, in that neurotypical researchers tend to be creating the very research paradigms that will frame what is encompassed by empathy, and therefore the lens of what empathy looks like is confined to that which can be encompassed by a neurotypical approach. Glas explains, “Recent philosophical work argues that empathy needs a definition which includes both processes in the empathizing subject and in the person with whom the subject empathizes.” Baron-Cohen developed many claims of the Autistic person’s lack of theory of mind from the False-Belief Task, in which a character moves an object from one hidden location to another, without them knowing, and then when the participant is asked where that object would be believed to be, they either recognize that the character wouldn’t realize it had been moved, or would claim they would know because the participant themselves watched it get moved. Might this be too niche of a situation to draw such a generalized conclusion? While it is the work of science to make a specific controllable paradigm, isn’t this too simple to determine whether someone has a capacity for empathy? Especially when some autistic people have different sensory preferences, amounts of spoken language use, and several criteria that are only neurotypical givens? The Strange Stories Task and Faux Pas task almost directly ask for the flaw in the social norms of a story to be pointed out, asking the participant to explain why someone would say something they shouldn’t have. Another task scores participants on whether they humanize animations of various triangular shapes, and there is a notable paradigm where participants are expected to make eye gazes and/or determine an emotion from a facial expression (Gernsbacher). For example, much of the research relies on eye contact and tracking, but research has shown that autistic people tend to avert their eyes from others’ and have more distributed focus on facial features, so if a paradigm is dependent on facial analysis with attention to eyes, it would not accommodate the different approach to it by autistic participants. 


In doing an fMRI study to explore empathy in autistic participants, Schulte-Ruther describes: 

“Activations in brain regions related to theory of mind were observed in both groups. Activations of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) were located in dorsal subregions in ASD subjects and in ventral areas in control subjects. During the self-task, ASD subjects activated an additional network of frontal and inferior temporal areas. Frontal areas previously associated with the human mirror system were activated in both tasks in control subjects, while ASD subjects recruited these areas during the self-task only. Activations in the ventral MPFC may provide the basis for one’s “emotional bond” with other persons’ emotions. Such atypical patterns of activation may underlie disturbed empathy in individuals with ASD. Subjects with ASD may use an atypical cognitive strategy to gain access to their own emotional state in response to other people’s emotions.” (Schulte-Ruther) 


This quote may further explain not a lack of empathy but rather different strategies, and perhaps the double empathy problem as well? Even so, words like “disturbed” empathy can be very damaging here, particularly when one explanation may simply be a disconnect between the neurotypical experimental design and autistic participation. 

(Neumann) In this paper by Neumann, the abstract begins: “People with autism are impaired in their social behavior, including their eye contact with others, but the processes that underlie this impairment remain elusive. We combined high-resolution eye tracking with computational modeling in a group of 10 high-functioning individuals with autism to address this issue. The group fixated the location of the mouth in facial expressions more than did matched controls, even when the mouth was not shown, even in faces that were inverted and most noticeably at latencies of 200–400 ms.” This appears to be a perfect demonstration of the double empathy problem— where it appears there is a lack of empathy or “impaired” social behavior because there are different approaches but the neurotypical one is the one considered the objective, which is then how this paradigm demonstrates the differences in eye contact between neurotypical and autistic participants. 



Below is a YouTube video in which Dylan Dailor chronicles his firsthand experience being dehumanized and pathologized for being viewed as not possessing the possibility for empathy: https://youtu.be/TajItoz3ftI 


Crompton, C. J., DeBrabander, K., Heasman, B., Milton, D., & Sasson, N. J. (2021). Double empathy: Why autistic people are often misunderstood. Frontiers for Young Minds, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/frym.2021.554875 


DeThorne, L. S. (2020). Revealing the double empathy problem. The ASHA Leader, 25(3), 58–65. https://doi.org/10.1044/leader.ftr2.25042020.58


Gernsbacher, Morton Ann; G. M. A. Y. (n.d.). Empirical failures of the claim that autistic people lack a theory of mind. Archives of scientific psychology. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31938672/


Glas, G. (2019). Conceptual issues in neuroscientific research on empathy. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 65, 101358. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2018.05.006 


Neumann, D., Spezio, M. L., Piven, J., & Adolphs, R. (2006). Looking you in the mouth: Abnormal gaze in autism resulting from impaired top-down modulation of visual attention. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 1(3), 194–202. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsl030 


Schulte-Rüther, M., Greimel, E., Markowitsch, H. J., Kamp-Becker, I., Remschmidt, H., Fink, G. R., & Piefke, M. (2011). Dysfunctions in brain networks supporting empathy: an fMRI study in adults with autism spectrum disorders. Social neuroscience, 6(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470911003708032 


Shamay-Tsoory, S. G. (2010). The neural bases for empathy. The Neuroscientist, 17(1), 18–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858410379268 

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Post Stimulus Elaboration – Expectations and Emotions

This week’s texts delved into the central role of memories in literature, as well as their illusionary effect of altering one’s identity and version of past events. For emotional events, memory is often enhanced to a greater degree than it is for neutral events. In Troscianko’s text, “The Cognitive Realism of Memory in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary”, he claims that Madame Bovary is cognitively realistic due to Emma’s unrealistic, often delusional, recollection of events that become heightened by her emotional states and perception of self. Flaubert believed himself to possess a memory “impervious to modification” as if he can “capture his impressions and preserve them for ever,” but ironically, the characters he writes about fail to remember things. For example, Emma cannot recall the ball at Vaubyessard as clearly as before and Rodolphe can hardly remember the names of or distinguish between his past mistresses. This led me to wonder, how exactly does the brain choose what events to remember, and to what extent is this based on the emotional arousal of the situation? Troscianko mentions the post stimulus elaboration hypothesis which proposes that retrospective, in depth reflection along with current emotional states induce memories that expand and modify past realities. How can our brains process information in a way that builds off of previously stored information (elaboration) and what happens as a result of this accumulation? 

It makes sense that higher emotional arousal in situations cements memories more clearly in the mind, but to better understand what cognitive factors influences this, I wanted to look into the post stimulus elaboration hypothesis. Upon further inquiry into the subject, I found that much of the research provides evidence that this effect plays an important role in the emotion induced memory trade off, which states that central emotional items are “often remembered at the expense of their peripheral backgrounds.” Behavioral aspects such as the increased visual attention during the encoding processes of emotional events lead to better memory of the emotional stimuli, along with other cognitive factors. In a study conducted by Shu and colleagues examining memory trade off, it was found that post stimulus elaboration contributes to selective memory enhancement for backgrounds. Further, it enhances memory in the long term for central stimulus and “memory deficits in recalling peripheral” ones. In Madame Bovary, Emma uses this “post stimulus elaboration” after the ball to revel in the luxurious, romanticized version of her life that ceases to exist. Thus, cognitive factors such as enhanced visual attention and increased elaboration improve the processing and storage of emotional memories. 

Still, despite the influence of these cognitive factors, there must be neural mechanisms present that drive the process of memory and cause someone like Emma to modify events and manipulate them cohere to a nonexistent reality. From this perspective, it is known that emotion is mediated by the amygdala at the time of encoding, as well as post-encoding when stress hormones are released. Without the amygdala, emotions would not be able to impact memories because they are what modulate and enhance the activity of brain regions involved in memory. Neuroimaging studies have found the amygdala play a role in both the encoding and retrieval of emotional memory for negative emotional stimuli and for positive stimuli, though it is less. This made me reflect on the tendency of Emma to experience “regret” as her lasting emotional response to memories and blame Charles as her source of unhappiness. Events are remembered differently for her due to her emotional state at the time, rather than the original experience, as her mind attempts to improve on past realities and remember certain aspects rather than others.  

Moving forward, the finding that encoding and retrieval for positive stimuli is less frequent than that of negative stimuli raises interesting pathways for future investigation. Flaubert often emphasized the “physically overwhelming” and “terrifying, involuntary and destructive power” of memory in his correspondences and character struggles, suggesting that memory is a necessary evil. This makes me wonder if there is a direct relationship between the negative effects and emotions from experiencing memory and the possibility that negative emotional stimuli are more often encoded. If so, is this why Flaubert depicts the failures to integrate memory into a coherent story and how does it relate to his nervous condition that afflicted him throughout his life? Conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder point to the prominence and effects of stimuli from negative experience and its triggers from similar events and items following it. Further research into the workings of memory and its relations to emotion, sense of self, and consciousness can be done to better understand the complexities of identity and reality according to memory. With this, we would better be able to understand how Emma is so vehemently and confidently able to believe false notions of herself and her surroundings. 

Works Cited 

An, Shu, et al. “The Effects of Post-Stimulus Elaboration, Background Valence, and Item Salience on the Emotion-Induced Memory Trade-Off.” Cognition and Emotion, vol. 34, no. 8, Nov. 2020, pp. 1676–89. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2020.1797639.

Anne Green. “Flaubert: Remembering, Forgetting, Creating.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies, vol. 39, no. 1–2, 2010, pp. 119–30. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1353/ncf.2010.0019.

Emily T. Troscianko. “The Cognitive Realism of Memory in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.” The Modern Language Review, vol. 107, no. 3, 2012, p. 772. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.5699/modelangrevi.107.3.0772.

Flaubert, Gustave, et al. Madame Bovary. 2nd ed, W.W. Norton, 2005.

Hamann, Stephan. “Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms of Emotional Memory.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 5, no. 9, Sept. 2001, pp. 394–400. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01707-1.


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Pain in the Brain

After reading Amelia’s blog post about empathy I was curious about pain itself and how it works on a neuronal level. I was specifically interested in the relationship between emotion and pain. There seems to always be an emotional aspect to pain. I was also curious if reading about pain itself would elicit a similar response to the experience of pain in our brains.

Pain is complex and subjective. What may be painful for one person may not be so painful for another. Our brains are also capable of modulating our perception of our pain. For example, placebo and situations of high stress or pressure we are capable of changing how we perceive it. It can also be affected by our expectations and experience. There are also two different kinds of pain, emotional and physical. Not only are there differences between emotional and physical pain but levels of emotional and physical. For example, we use very different words and terms to describe types of physical pain. Throbbing pain is very different from a sharp pain or aching pain, even though all of the terms are used to describe physical pain. So I wondered, if we look at the brain through imaging could a difference be seen between emotional and physical pain? What about throbbing pain and aching pain? More largely, is there a signature for pain in the brain? 

In a study called An fMRI-Based Neurologic Signature of Physical Pain, researchers identified two different pathways in the brain that correspond to pain. These pathways explain the physical and emotional sides of pain. When we feel pain it is because receptors are sending signals to our brain and two pathways are taken. Once which goes directly to the somatic sensory cortex. This is the direct immediate response we have to pain, the physical pain. The response is very quick because the neurons are myelinated. The other goes through different regions that are involved with emotion, such as the amygdala or hypothalamus. They then travel to the cortex. This pathway of unmyelinated neurons is responsible for the emotional response we have to pain. 

In Amelia’s blog post she discussed how we feel empathy due to our mirroring system in response to auditory and visual stimuli.  I was curious about what our responses to pain would be when reading. In How We Know It Hurts: Item Analysis of Written Narratives Reveals Distinct Neural Responses to Others’ Physical Pain and Emotional Suffering, research shows that we also recognize and feel others’ physical and emotional suffering when reading. When we watch or read about suffering it activates brain regions that would be active if we were experiencing that suffering. This is our ‘Shared Pain Network’. The bilateral anterior insula (AI) and the anterior middle cingulate cortex (AMCC) are considered the primary regions involved in witnessing other’s emotional and physical pain. They are both active when experiencing physical pain and seeing that of others. The intensity of physical experience and observing it is correlated with the activity in the brain regions. These two regions are also active when reading ‘social’ suffering of others. However, another region connected to witnessing emotional suffering is the medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC). It is active when reading stories of emotional loss. So different regions are active depending on if the pain witnessed is physical or emotional and there is little overlap between the two areas. This is specific to reading stories. So when we read about Emma’s suffering in Madame Bovary the brain regions that are active are the same that would be active if we were experiencing her suffering.

  • ​​Bruneau, Emile, Nicholas Dufour and Rebecca Saxe. “How We Know It Hurts: Item Analysis of Written Narratives Reveals Distinct Neural Responses to Others’ Physical Pain and Emotional Suffering.” PLOS one (2013).
  • Wager, Tor D., et al. “An fMRI-Based Neurologic Signature of Physical Pain.” The New England Journal of Medicine (2013).
  • Image: taken from my professor’s lecture slides
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The Implications of Emma and Charles’ Relationship for Berthe: A Neuroscientific Approach

At this point in the novel, Emma and Charles maintain a monogamous relationship. They appear to be like most married couples to much of the community of Yonville. The nature of their relationship makes it so that the two of them can be considered a “pair bond.” As defined by Fisher, a “pair bond” is “… a social/economic relationship that entails sexual rights and prvileges with only one [individual] at a time,” (333). Pair bonds evolved via natural selection as females, burdened with reproductive duties, became dependent upon paternal figures for raising offspring. A pair bond is a relationship in which the man is assumed to provide support for the women and their children. 

A pair bond is oftentimes referred to as “romantic love.” (Wlodarski & Dunbar 2015). This qualification of the pair bond brings to question whether or not Emma and Charles are actually a true pair bond. Emma struggles to form a real, meaningful romantic relationship with Charles. Although it appears that she was interested in him when the pair first met, it quickly becomes obvious that Emma feels little attachment or affection for her husband. Instead she feels extreme disgust. In Emma’s mind, her marriage is an utmost failure marked by the one-sided love radiating from Charles.  It’s clear that Emma does not experience romantic love with Charles, so can their relationship be considered a pair bond? And, considering the importance of a pair bond for child rearing, does the lack of a pair bond help explain Emma’s lack of maternal behavior?

These questions can be further examined by looking at Wlodarski and Dunbar’s study about the relationship amongst pair bonds, mentalization, neuropeptides and hormones, and child rearing. Research has shown that oxytocin and vasopressin are critical for the formation of pair bonds. Monogamous moles were found to have more oxytocin receptors in dopaminergic areas of the brain, while vasopressin receptors were found in higher concentrations in the lateral amygdala, as compared to a different, polygamous breed of mole. The monogamous moles formed pair bonds while the polygamous moles did not. However, when researchers blocked oxytocin and vasopressin in the monogamous moles, they failed to form pair bonds. Alternatively, when the researchers gave the “promiscuous” moles more vasopressin, they were able to form stable pair bonds. 

In humans, oxytocin and vasopressin are associated with dopamine. Dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, as well as other neuromodulators have been found to be important for forming close relations in which individuals are focused on one another, have little interest in pursuing other partners, and crave emotional intimacy and closeness; this sort of relationship can be considered a pair bond. Emma does not exhibit any of these qualities or behaviors, which further supports claims that Emma and Charles are not a pair bond. Since arriving in Yonville, Emma’s been captured by the affections of both Léon and Rodolphe, and has had little patience for Charles. Although Charles tries to show his affection and care for his wife, she remains uninterested in any attempts of love and intimacy between the two of them. 

The lack of a pair bond is important to consider when looking at Emma’s relationship with Berthe because scientists believe that the closeness and intimacy of pair bonds are implicated in successful child rearing. Successful child rearing in part relies on the ability to mentalize others. Co-parenting makes for more successful child rearing, and in order to effectively raise a child, parents need to effectively coordinate their behavior with one another. This coordination takes place through verbal communication, but it also comes about through mentalization processes. When one parent is able to think about the mental state of the other parent, they can more successfully shape their behavior to benefit their child and their own relationship with their partner. 

Although plenty of studies have shown that mentalization/ToM develops in children around ages 3-4 years old, there are other mechanisms by which the skill can be sharpened. One is through love. Wlodarski and Dunbar’s study found that when those who are in love with their partners are shown a picture of their loved one, their performance in ToM tasks improve. Love helps individuals think more effectively about their partners’ own mind and mental state. The ability to accurately and effectively mentalize the state of another only helps establish and maintain a pair bond, which then assists child rearing practices. 

This research is interesting to think about in conjunction with Emma and her relationship with Charles and Berthe. Flaubert’s writing suggests that Emma’s lack of care for her daughter in part stems from her own desires for a life of grandeur and passion. Neuroscientific studies can extend explanations for why Emma fails as a loving and nurturing mother; perhaps she is not a great co-parent because she struggles to mentalize Charles because the two of them are not a pair bond. Perhaps part of the reason that she does not appropriately care for her own daughter is because she doesn’t have the level of intimacy with Charles that is necessary for her to co-parent Berthe well. She and Charles aren’t able to communicate what needs to be done for Berthe because Emma cannot mentalize Charles’ mind well; this leads to instances in which Charles does much of the caring and doting, (for example when Berthe cut her head because Emma was being a negligent mother) while Emma sits on the sideline.

Although the sort of knowledge provided by Wlodarski and Dunbar was not available for Flaubert at the time in which he wrote Madame Bovary, their findings assist readers as they try to unpack the intricacies of Emma and her behavior. 


Works Cited

Fisher, H. E. (1989). Evolution of human serial pairbonding. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 78(3), 331–354. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.1330780303 

Wlodarski, R.,; Dunbar, R. I. (2014). The effects of romantic love on mentalizing abilities. Review of General Psychology, 18(4), 313–321. https://doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000020