The value of positive emotions

Positive psychology is an emerging science, focussing on positive emotions as opposed to negative emotions. Barbara Fredrickson (2003) proposes a model to approach positive emotions that explains why positive emotions are evolved and why they benefit human-beings.

The model of negative emotions suggests that negative emotions are of importance for the immediate survival. For example, fear urges individuals to flee. Negative emotions are therefore seen as being adaptive in evolution. Positive emotions on the other hand, do not urge individuals to act immediately to survive, so the purpose of positive emotions for survival were long unclear.

Barbara Fredrickson proposes an evolutionary model for positive emotions targeting personal growth and development – the broaden and built theory. She states that positive emotions lead to cognitions and behaviour that indirectly prepare an individual for hardship to come. The broadening part of the theory was experimentally tested. Participants watched videos that elicited negative emotions, positive emotions or no emotions. Subsequent, the participants were presented with a visual task to test whether they were focussing on details or on the big picture. Participants who saw the positive videos tended to focus on the big picture significantly more than participants who watched the negative or neutral videos. The building part of the theory was tested by surveying individuals before and after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Before the attacks, participants were asked about their resilience and optimism. Those participants who showed high resilience and optimism before the attacks, felt more positive emotions and were less depressed as opposed to participants low in resilience and optimism after the attacks.

Although positive emotions are momentary, their influence is long-lasting; They broaden the focus of individuals and lead to cognitive, psychological, physical, and social resources that increase the odds of survival in the future. These findings are important for future research to enhance the well-being and longevity of human-beings.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions. American Scientist, 91(4), 330-335.

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