The Intersection of Social And Computational Sciences

White Paper Series Part 1

Social or behavioural sciences use qualitative and quantitative approaches to study human behaviour and its relationship with different psychological processes such as personality, emotion, motivation, and social perception.

Human behaviour can be studied at different levels of interaction and contexts. For instance, at the micro-level, we can observe how a person’s emotional experience is triggered by a particular event and how it evolves over time. Or, at the macro-level, we can measure the impact of cultural norms on organizational practices.

Today, behavioural research profits from advancements in the field of computational theory and software design, offering new ways to measure and study human interactions. Engineers and psychologists work together to develop and use techniques based on automatic behaviour extraction and systems for behaviour-based inferences about psychological processes such as personality, emotion, skills etc.

As a result, intelligent behavioural systems offer standardized, scalable and adaptable ways to investigate psychological processes. Below, we define and explain the psychological phenomena that lie at the core of many computational methods in Behavioural Intelligence, including VIMA’s.



Formally, an emotion (e.g. joy) is an episode of bodily and mental changes in response to the subjective evaluation of an external or internal event (e.g. receiving a gift, remembering a birthday party).

In contrast to other affective phenomena such as moods (e.g. cheerfulness) or preferences (liking), an emotional experience is short but relatively intense, triggered by and causally linked to a specific event. An emotion arises when the person evaluates the event as relevant for his or her wellbeing.

Individual differences in emotion arise exactly at this point of subjective evaluation, called “cognitive appraisal”, of the situation. Hence, cognitive and motivational processes such as attention and the pursuit of goals cannot be separated from emotion.

Emotional responses can be detected at all subsystems of the human body: not only at the conscious level of subjective feeling but also at the level of physiological, motor-expressive and mental changes that can operate outside of common awareness. Best practice in measuring emotion is thus to detect and integrate changes at all these different levels.

Examples are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise (the so-called “basic 6”), but also other common emotions such as distress, boredom, contempt, pride, or relief.



A skill is also a personal characteristic but refers to an ability to perform a specific physical or mental act, acquired through training and practice.

Skills can be specific to a particular task or activity (e.g. programming for an engineer) or they can be transversal to a wide variety of jobs (e.g. organizational skills, teamwork).

Interpersonal skills are a subgroup of transversal skills (also called soft skills or essential skills) that encompass both the appropriate expression of one’s own thoughts and feelings (depending on the social context), and the accurate perception of others’ thoughts and feelings based on verbal and nonverbal behaviour.

Interpersonal skills have been shown to predict job success and lead to more positive social interactions at the workplace, such as a higher salary, better supervisor evaluations, higher customer and client satisfaction ratings.

For example, communication skills encompass the ability to concisely convey a message in a way that is easy to understand and persuade. This is a skill because people differ in how good they are at communicating and they can learn to improve. The appendix lists the three major skill groups as defined by Vima.





Compared to emotions, moods are more diffuse affect states that are not clearly linked to a specific event.

Moods are characterized by a relative enduring presence of certain types of subjective feelings that are generally of low intensity but may last over hours or even days. As such, they have a less noticeable impact on behaviour and mental states.

For example, the emotion of anger can be aroused by an insult, but an angry mood may arise when one does not know what one is angry about or what elicited the anger. Other examples of moods are being cheerful, listless or gloomy.

Personality Trait


A trait is an entirely different animal than emotions or moods. A trait is an enduring, stable personal characteristic that determines an individual’s behaviour across a range of situations.

Yet, many personality traits have an “affective core”, in the sense that they describe dispositional tendencies to act in certain ways and experience certain types of moods and emotions more frequently than others.

The five primary personality dimensions (“Big Five”, see also Appendix for how these are defined at Vima) are (1) openness to experience, (2) conscientiousness, (3) extraversion, (4) agreeableness, and (5) neuroticism (also known as emotional stability). This five-factor structure is stable across many cultures and represents personality at the broadest level. Each dimension consists of several (sub)traits that describe one’s personality more specifically.

Personality traits can be inferred from a pattern of behaviours, attitudes, feelings, and habits of individuals. For example, arriving early at appointments and leaving the office only after one’s work is complete are visible manifestations of the characteristic of conscientiousness.