Category: Emotion

“A Sad Kind Of Happiness”: The Role Of Mixed Emotions In Our Lives

By Emma Young

Sometimes, our emotions are one-dimensional. This morning, for example, when both my kids and my dog jumped into bed, I felt happy. During the Halloween party that my husband and I organised for our boys, though, happiness at their pleasure was definitely tinged with anxiety/stress at managing a houseful of rampaging kids. And here we get into murkier emotional territory. While so much research has been done on individual, “basic” emotions, more complex emotional experiences have been neglected. But recent studies have revealed some surprising and special roles for mixed emotions in our lives.

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We’ve Neglected The Role Of “Psychological Richness” When Considering What Makes A Good Life, Study Argues

By Emma Young

What is it that makes someone feel that theirs is a “good life”? Of all the ideas put forward over the past few millennia, two are most often extolled and researched today. The first is hedonistic wellbeing, often called simply “happiness”, which is characterised by plenty of positive emotions and general life satisfaction. The other is “eudaimonia” — feeling that your life has meaning and that you are realising your potential. Now in a new paper in Psychological Review, Shigehiro Oishi at the University of Virginia and Erin Westgate at the University of Florida suggest that we’ve been missing something: “psychological richness”.

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We Find It Hard To Identify The Emotions Of Intense Screams And Moans

By Emily Reynolds

Facial expressions can be hard to read — and not just when someone is experiencing a mild emotion or feels ambivalent. Research has suggested that when we witness someone in the throes of a particularly acute emotional state, like intense joy or pain, we find it hard to pinpoint exactly what they’re feeling.

A new study looks at a similar phenomenon, this time focusing on vocalisations such as laughter, cries, screams and moans. Writing in Scientific Reports, Natalie Holz and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics find that our ability to identify emotions increases as vocalisations become more intense — but only to a point. When these sounds reach peak intensity, we find it surprisingly hard to classify them.

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Revenge Is Sweet – But Also Bitter

By Matthew Warren

Psychology is great at confirming — or challenging — all the old sayings. We’ve previously looked at studies examining whether it’s true that “you shouldn’t go to bed on an argument”, that “time flies when you’re having fun”, and that “ignorance is bliss”.

Now a paper in Social Psychological and Personality Science has investigated whether “revenge is sweet”. Andreas B. Eder and colleagues at Julius-Maximilians-University of Würzburg find that people do seem to get something positive out of exacting revenge — but it can leave a bitter aftertaste too.

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Want To Know Whether A Movie Or Book Will Be A Hit? Look At How Emotional The Reviews Are

By Emma Young

You want to choose a new vacuum cleaner, or book, or hotel, or kids’ toy, or movie to watch — so what do you do? No doubt, you go online and check the star ratings for various options on sites such as Amazon or TripAdvisor, and so benefit from the wisdom of crowds.

However, there are problems with this star-based system, as a new paper in Nature Human Behaviour makes clear. Firstly, most ratings are positive — so how do you choose between two, or potentially many more, products with high ratings, or even the same top rating? Secondly, star ratings aren’t a great predictor of the success (and so actual general appeal and approval) of a movie, book, and so on, note Matthew D. Rocklage at the University of Massachusetts and his colleagues. The team presents an alternative method for picking the best product and also predicting success, which focuses on the emotional responses of the reviewers.

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Humans Aren’t The Only Animals To Experience Jealousy — Dogs Do, Too

By Emily Reynolds

Jealousy is a fairly common human emotion — and for a long time, it was presumed it truly was only human. Some have argued that jealousy, with its focus on social threat, requires a concept of “self” and a theory of mind — being jealous of someone flirting with your partner, for example, requires a level of threat (real or imagined) to your relationship. This element of jealousy has been used to argue that animals, without such a sense of self, are therefore unable to experience it.

However a new study, published in Psychological Science, suggests this might not be the case. Amalia P. M. Bastos and team from the University of Auckland find evidence that dogs may, in fact, be able to mentally represent the threatening social interactions that give rise to jealousy.

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Resolving Arguments Can Prevent Bad Feelings From Lingering — And We Get Better At It As We Age

By Emily Reynolds

“Don’t go to bed on an argument” is an adage we’ve all heard and, at some point, probably ignored. Hackneyed as it is, the phrase does have some truth: resolving arguments, rather than letting them simmer away, can make us feel calmer and happier the next day (and also makes it easier to actually get to sleep).

Now a new study from Oregon State University’s Dakota D. Witzel and Robert S. Stawski has looked at the benefits of resolving arguments — and the team finds that not only can resolution almost erase the emotional stress associated with a big argument altogether, but that individual differences can affect how well we do it. The older we get, they find, the less we argue and the better we are at dealing with argument-related stress when it happens.

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Opinions Based On Feelings Are Surprisingly Stable

By Emily Reynolds

Emotional states can be fleeting and somewhat inexplicable — you can feel great one minute and down in the dumps the next, sometimes for no apparent reason. It follows, then, that opinions based on emotion are likely to be equally fleeting: if you’re in a bad mood when you take part in a survey or review a product, then surely the attitudes measured and recorded will be just as transient too.

But according to a series of studies by Matthew D. Rocklage from the University of Massachusetts Boston and Andrew Luttrell from Ball State University, this isn’t actually the case. Instead, they report in Psychological Science, attitudes based in emotion are actually more stable: the more emotional an opinion, the less it changes over time.

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We Have A Strong Urge To Find Out What Might Have Been — Even When This Leads To Feelings Of Regret

By guest blogger Anna Greenburgh

Regret seems to be a fundamental part of the human experience. As James Baldwin wrote, “Though we would like to live without regrets, and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, this is not really possible, if only because we are mortal.” Expressions of regret are easy to find throughout the history of thought, and, as indicated in the Old Testament, intrinsic to regret is a sense of emotional pain: “God regretted making humans on earth; God’s heart was saddened”.

Given the aversive experience of regret, traditional models of decision-making predict that people should to try to avoid it. But of course, the picture is more complex — we all have experienced the desire to know what might have been, even if it leads to regret. Now a study in Psychological Science, led by Lily FitzGibbon at the University of Reading, finds that the lure of finding out what might have been is surprisingly enticing.

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Autistic Children May Experience Less Variation In Their Bodily Emotional Responses

By guest blogger Dan Carney

Research into emotion processing in autistic people has mainly focused on how they understand others’ emotions. A more limited body of work into how autistic people process their own emotions has, however, suggested difficulties identifying and describing emotional experiences, and distinguishing between emotional states. The latter is potentially important, as it is associated with negative outcomes such as anxiety, depression, and self-injurious behavior, all of which have been suggested to occur more frequently in autism than in the general population.   

So far, studies of emotion differentiation in autism have tended to use language-based tasks. But now, a team led by Eleanor Palser from the University of California San Francisco has reported the first study looking at how autistic children map out where they feel emotions in their body. The team finds that compared to non-autistic children, the bodily emotion maps of autistic children are more similar across different emotions, suggesting less variability in the way they physically experience different emotional states. The research, published in the journal Autism, was partly based on a 2016 report from the charity Autistica, in which members of the autistic community identified sensory processing and affective difficulties as key research goals.

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