Further Evidence for Mixed Emotions

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 100, pp. 1095-1110

17 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2011 Last revised: 4 Mar 2012

See all articles by Jeff T. Larsen

Jeff T. Larsen

Texas Tech University

A. Peter McGraw

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing

Date Written: February 11, 2011

Abstract

Emotion theorists have long debated whether valence, which ranges from pleasant to unpleasant states, is an irreducible aspect of the experience of emotion or whether positivity and negativity are separable in experience. If valence is irreducible, it follows that people cannot feel happy and sad at the same time. Conversely, if positivity and negativity are separable, people may be able to experience such mixed emotions. The authors tested several alternative interpretations for prior evidence that happiness and sadness can co-occur in bittersweet situations (i.e., those containing both pleasant and unpleasant aspects). One possibility is that subjects who reported mixed emotions merely vacillated between happiness and sadness. The authors tested this hypothesis in Studies 1-3 by asking subjects to complete online continuous measures of happiness and sadness. Subjects reported more simultaneously mixed emotions during a bittersweet film clip than during a control clip. Another possibility is that subjects in earlier studies reported mixed emotions only because they were explicitly asked whether they felt happy and sad. The authors tested this hypothesis in Studies 4-6 with open-ended measures of emotion. Subjects were more likely to report mixed emotions after the bittersweet clip than the control clip. Both patterns occurred even when subjects were told that they were not expected to report mixed emotions (Studies 2 and 5) and among subjects who did not previously believe that people could simultaneously feel happy and sad (Studies 3 and 6). These results provide further evidence that positivity and negativity are separable in experience.

Keywords: mixed emotions, mixed feelings, ambivalence, bittersweet, valence

Suggested Citation

Larsen, Jeff T. and McGraw, A. Peter, Further Evidence for Mixed Emotions (February 11, 2011). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 100, pp. 1095-1110, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1760193

Jeff T. Larsen

Texas Tech University ( email )

2500 Broadway
Lubbock, TX 79409
United States

A. Peter McGraw (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Marketing ( email )

United States

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