Category: Emotion

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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During Lockdown, Meaningful Activity Is More Fulfilling Than Simply Staying Busy

By Emily Reynolds

It’s not hard to find ways to stay busy during lockdown. Yes, many of us are spending lots of time at home and have evenings and weekends free from almost any kind of social activity — but we’re also juggling work, chores, childcare, life admin and the various emotional demands of living through a global pandemic.

For some, in fact, staying busy has been an appealing prospect; indeed, hundreds of articles have been written with ideas on how to stay busy and distracted during the boredom of lockdown. But a new study from a team at Australia’s RMIT University, published in PLOS ONE, suggests that meaningful activity, rather than simply busyness, may be the way to stay emotionally stable during this period.

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How Many Different Positive Emotions Do We Experience?

By Emma Young

Awe, compassion, love, gratitude… research papers and media stories about these emotions abound. Indeed, the past decade has seen an explosion in work on positive emotions — essentially, emotions that involve pleasant rather than unpleasant feelings. However, very little has been done to explore which distinct feelings, thoughts and motivations characterise each one, argue Aaron Weidman and Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia. In a new paper in Emotion, they report their detailed investigation into these subjective experiences — an investigation that has led them to drop some commonly accepted positive emotions from their master list.

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Adults Who Experienced More Positive Emotions Had Less Memory Decline Over The Next Decade

By Emily Reynolds

A huge variety of factors are related to memory, from mood to personality to what substances have been consumed. One recent study, for example, found that older adults with higher openness to experience also experienced fewer cognitive complaints each day; other work has found a relationship between self-reported memory and traits including neuroticism and extraversion.

Now, in a study published in Psychological Science, Emily F. Hittner from Northwestern University and team have looked at the relationship between memory and positive affect — the experience of pleasant emotional states like enthusiasm, pride or joy. And they found less memory decline over time in those participants with higher levels of positive affect.

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Grimacing Or Smiling Can Make An Injection Feel Less Painful

By Emma Young

If you’re preparing to receive a flu vaccine — or even a COVID-19 vaccine — this winter, you’ll be interested in the results of a new study that investigates whether it’s better to smile or grimace your way through the pain of an injection.

The idea that manipulating our facial expressions can affect our emotions has a long and storied history. There are many advocates of this “facial feedback hypothesis”, and many critics, too. Indeed, one of the classic findings in the field — that people find cartoons funnier if they hold a pen between their teeth, inducing a smile — recently failed to replicate. This mixed research background was well known to Sarah D. Pressman and Amanda M. Acevedo at the University of California, Irvine, who led the new work, published in Emotion.

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Here’s How The Brain Responds When We Feel Our Parents’ Joy

By Emma Young

You scrape off the panels on a lottery scratch card… and you’re a winner! Brain imaging would show a burst of activity in a region called the nucleus accumbens, in the ventral striatum, a region known to code the impact of reward-related stimuli, such as getting money. But how the brain handles so-called vicarious joy — the type you might feel if you scraped winning panels from a relative’s scratch card, or even a stranger’s — is not well understood. Now a new study, published in Cognitive, Affective & Behavioural Neuroscience, shows that while there are similarities, there are also some important differences. Notably, the participants’ brains responded differently when they won money for their mother versus their father.

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Study Finds People Who Played Video Games For Longer Had Greater Wellbeing (But Direction Of Causality Isn’t Yet Clear)

Photo: A user plays Animal Crossing, one of the games studied in the new research. William West/AFP via Getty Images

By Matthew Warren

Video games get blamed for a lot. There are long-standing debates about whether violence in video games leads to real-world aggression, or whether video game “addiction” is something we should worry about. And some people have broader fears that more time spent on screens negatively affects our mental health and wellbeing.

However, an increasing number of studies have failed to find much evidence to back up these kinds of concerns. But the field suffers from some pretty big limitations. In particular, studies often rely on people reporting their own time spent consuming media — and we’re notoriously unreliable at making those sorts of estimates.

Enter a new study from Niklas Johannes and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute, published as a preprint on PsyArxiv earlier this week. The researchers find that more time spent playing video games actually relates to greater wellbeing (though there are plenty of caveats to that finding — more on those later). But the most interesting part of the study is really its methodology: rather than relying on people reporting their own video game use, the researchers established a rare collaboration with games companies in order to get precise data.

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Not Too Scary, Not Too Tame: Horror Experiences Need To Hit A “Sweet Spot” To Be Enjoyable

By Matthew Warren

You’re walking through a dark, dingy house. Floorboards creak and you think you hear something moving in the shadows. Suddenly, an engine revs and a blood-splattered man wearing a pig’s head lunges towards you with a chainsaw. You scream and run away. Terrifying, perhaps — but it also sounds kind of fun, right?

We generally think of fear as a negative emotion — something that signals danger and which is unpleasant to experience. Yet so many of us seek out situations that make us scared: haunted fairground rides, scary video games, and horror movies and novels. And now researchers have looked at exactly how the experience of fear is related to our enjoyment of this kind of “recreational horror”. Writing in Psychological Science, the team finds that there’s a sweet spot when it comes to creating a scary but enjoyable experience: if you end up feeling too little fear — or too much — then it’s not quite as fun.

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Being More Authentic On Social Media Could Improve Your Wellbeing

By Emily Reynolds

It’s become somewhat of a truism that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on social media. Where someone’s life looks perfect, we’re often reminded, there are probably a handful of problems silently situated away from the camera. Nobody’s life is as shiny, flawless, or enviable as it might appear in their carefully curated feed.

But presenting ourselves more authentically on social media — ditching those things we want to believe are true about ourselves in favour of those that are — could be good for our wellbeing, according to a new paper in Nature Communications by Erica R. Bailey from Columbia University and colleagues.

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