FWF Research project

A Phenomenological Investigation Into Shared Anxiety

Austrian Research Project 2017 - 2019 funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)

Principal investigator:                  Dylan Trigg

Co-applicant:                                 Hans Bernhard Schmid


Anxiety is a widespread problem in contemporary society. In 2013, 8.2 million cases of anxiety were reported in the UK.  In the US, 40 million adults are affected by anxiety disorders (18% of the population).  Despite its prevalence, anxiety remains poorly understood and conceptualized. The project’s innovative and ground-breaking claim is that to understand anxiety we need to comprehend not only the individual experience of anxiety but also its shared dimensions. To date, there has been no sustained analysis of the relationship between individual and shared experiences of anxiety. The project responds to this lacuna by creating a new theoretical model that can explain the relation between individual and shared instances of anxiety through schematizing anxiety’s affective, embodied, and cultural dimensions. Clarifying the relationship between individual and shared anxiety has potentially vital implications, especially when it comes to understanding the dynamics surrounding key social and political events.

The overarching objectives of the project are:

1: To establish a philosophically sophisticated account of shared anxiety.

2: To explain the relationship between individual and shared anxiety, through addressing anxiety’s affective, embodied, and cultural dimensions.

The project will clarify how anxiety can be a shared emotion through employing a phenomenological methodology. The involvement of phenomenology is in sharp distinction to how anxiety is ordinarily understood. From the 20th century onwards, anxiety has tended to be understood as (i) a condition that can be studied through observing behavior, (ii) a state that can be understood in terms of analysing cognitive processes, (iii) an experience that is best understood as a system of neurological responses taking place in the brain. Yet anxiety involves not only a conceptual approach but also an experiential focus, and without attending to this dimension our understanding of anxiety is limited. Phenomenology is a methodology employed to analyse aspects of human experience and, more specifically, to understand how these aspects are situated against a much wider background context involving cultural, social, political, and gendered dimensions. The proposed research argues that by employing phenomenology as a method, we can clarify how anxiety is not only an individual emotion but also a shared one.

The project will achieve the following results:

1. Provide a cross-theoretical model of shared anxiety, applicable to different affective states, thus opening up new avenues of research.

2. Advance the field of research in philosophy on collective intentionality and shared emotion, drawing attention to the multi-layered complexity of shared emotion.

3. Advance the field of research on anxiety. To date, there has been no sustained analysis of anxiety as a shared emotion. This lacuna is not only academic; it is practical and timely given the societal status of anxiety as a cultural phenomenon.