Chapter 13: Positive Emotions

Eliciting Events and Cognitive Appraisals

Next, let’s discuss the components that change with positive emotions and compare these changes to those that typically occur with negative, basic emotions. Keep in mind that the components that change vary according to the specific positive emotion. Whether a physical, external stimulus is required to elicit a positive emotion depends on the emotion. For instance, joy may be caused by hearing about good news and pride by a compliment, both events that are not physical changes in the environment. In comparison, negative emotions like disgust and fear are caused by a change in the external environment. Some emotions, such as awe, may be caused by a physical external stimulus, such as someone that is greater than the self. The major point to remember is that unlike with negative emotions, for a positive emotion to be elicited, a physical stimulus is not required.
In one study (Campos et al., 2013), participants recalled one experience of a positive emotion and wrote about the positive emotion experience. Participants’ descriptions were coded for themes. These themes could be viewed as cognitive appraisals or eliciting events.

Table 2
Themes Identified in Participants’ Descriptions of 8 Positive Emotions (Campos et al., 2013)

A table showing a positive emotion and the themes associated with it.
Positive Emotion Themes
Amusement
  • Positive Valence
  • Appreciation of present circumstances
  • Awareness of incongruity in situation
  • Playful with others in the environment
Awe
  • Positive Valence
  • Appreciation of present circumstances
  • Feeling small and insignificant
  • Cognitive worldview changed or challenged
Contentment
  • Positive Valence
  • Appreciation of present circumstances
  • Satisfied and secure
Gratitude
  • Positive Valence
  • Appreciation of present circumstances
  • Benefited by another’s actions
  • Desire to give back
  • Feeling vulnerable
  • Commitment
Interest
  • Positive Valence
  • Focused on novelty
  • Desire to explore environment
Joy
  • Positive Valence
  • Appreciation of present circumstances
  • Receiving resources
  • Increase in energy
  • Confidence to take on new challenges
Love
  • Positive Valence
  • Appreciation of present circumstances
  • Feeling vulnerable
  • Commitment
Pride
  • Positive Valence
  • Appreciation of present circumstances
  • Confidence to take on new challenges
  • Accomplishment

Adapted from “What Is Shared, What Is Different? Core Relational Themes and Expressive Displays of Eight Positive Emotions,” by B. Campos, M.N. Shiota, D. Keltner, G.C. Gonzaga, and J.L. Goetz, 2013, Cognition & Emotion27(1), p. 42, 44 (https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2012.683852) Copyright 2013 by Taylor & Francis.

 

 

In Table 2 above, make note of themes that are unique to each emotion and themes that are present in more than one emotion.  For instance, accomplishment is unique to pride, but confidence to take on new challenges in present in both joy and pride.  If two themes are present in one emotion, what might this suggest?

Below is a summary of themes that were found in more than one emotion.

  • Positive valence was a theme in all 8 positive emotions.
  • Except for interest, all emotions mentioned an appreciation for present circumstances suggesting positive emotions occur in environments that are safe, comfortable, and rewarding. Also note, this finding suggests that contentment was not necessarily unique from other emotions.
  • Both pride and joy resulted in the theme of confidence to take on new challenges
  • Both gratitude and love shared the common themes of vulnerability and commitment, which might suggest they are part of the same emotion family.

Other work (Keltner & Haidt, 2003; Shiota et al., 2007)) suggests that awe is defined by two unique cognitive appraisals.  These appraisals are vastness – feeling small in comparison to something larger in one’s environment and accommodation – changing one’s cognitive schemas to account for new information.

 

More Cognitive Appraisals

In line with eliciting events, cognitive appraisals depend on the emotion that is experienced. For instance, pride is caused by an internal attribution, but awe is caused by an external attribution. (We will discuss cognitive appraisals in more depth later when we discuss Tong’s (2014) study).

In Scherer’s (1997) study, he investigated the cognitive appraisal changes for one positive emotion – joy.  For a review of Scherer’s (1997) study, go to the modern theories section on cognitive appraisals.

Means (see Table 3), collapsed across all world regions, show that participants reported the following appraisals when recalling a joy experience: a little expectedness, pleasantness, goal conduciveness, not unfair, external causation: close others; coping: no action required; moral, and an increase self-esteem.  In Figure 1, we can see that the cognitive appraisal patterns for joy are universal across all world regions (Note: the presence of a circle around a datapoint indicates that the country with the circle showed means significantly different from the mean of the remainder of the sample; circles are not shown in this figure).  Recall that in Scherer (1997) the only emotion to show universality across the eight appraisal dimensions was joy!

 

Table 3
Mean Changes in Cognitive Appraisal Dimensions for Joy

Cognitive Appraisal Dimension Mean Question Response Scale
Expectedness / Novelty 2.07 Did you expect this situation to occur? 1 = not at all; 2 = a little; 3 = very much
Unpleasantness 1.02 Did you find the event itself pleasant or unpleasant? 1 = pleasant; 2 = neutral; 3 = unpleasant
Goal Obstruction 1.17 Did the event help or hinder you to follow your plans or achieve your aims? 1 = it helped; 2 = it didn’t matter;

3 = it hindered.

Unfairness 1.05 Was the situation unjust or unfair? 1 = not at all; 2 = a little; 3 = very much
External Causation 2.00 Who do you think was responsible for the event? 1 = self/internal;

2 = close persons/external;

3 = other persons/external;

4 = impersonal agency/external

Coping Ability 3.80 How did you evaluate your ability to act on or to cope with the event and its consequences? 1 = powerless;

2 = escape possible;

3 = pretend nothing happened;

4 = no action necessary;

5 = could positively influence event and change consequences

Immorality 1.10 Would this behavior itself be judged as improper or immoral by your acquaintances? 1 = not at all; 2 = a little; 3 = very much
Self-Esteem 2.90 How did this event affect your self-esteem? 1 = negatively; 2 = not at all; 3 = positively

Adapted from “The Role of Culture in Emotion-Antecedent Appraisal,” by K.R. Scherer, 1997, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(5), p. 905, 911 (https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.73.5.902). Copyright 1997 by the American Psychological Association.

 

Figure 1

Eight Cognitive Appraisal Ratings for Joy Across Six World Regions

Note. Presence of a circle around a datapoint indicates that the country with the circle showed means significantly different from the mean of the remainder of the sample.  Adapted from “The Role of Culture in Emotion-Antecedent Appraisal,” by K.R. Scherer, 1997, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(5), p. 912, (https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.73.5.902). Copyright 1997 by the American Psychological Association.

 

In a study by Tong (2014), American and Singaporean undergraduate students recalled and described a personal experience of one randomly selected emotion. Then, participants rated each emotion along the below 13 cognitive appraisals.

 

A table showing results from Tong’s study (2014) for recalling one randomly assigned emotion that correspond with the 13 rated cognitive appraisals featured in the table to the right.
Recalled One Randomly Assigned Emotion
Joy
Interest
Contentment
Gratitude
Awe
Amusement
Pride
Hope
Romantic Love
Challenge
Compassion
Interest
Relief
Serenity
A table of 13 rated cognitive appraisals
Rated 12 Cognitive Appraisals
(Un)Pleasantness
Relevance
Problems
Goal Attainment
Agency – Self
Agency – Others
Agency – Circumstances
Control – Self
Control – Others
Control – Circumstances
Certainty
Predictability
Effort

 

Because of the large number of cognitive appraisals, Tong used factor analysis to reduce the 13 appraisals to four broad cognitive appraisal dimensions (similar to the factor analysis completed for the circumplex models). Table 4 defines these four broad appraisal dimensions.

Table 4
Tong’s (2014) Four Broad Cognitive Appraisal Dimensions

A table showing Tong’s four broad cognitive appraisal dimensions, accompanied by High scores on cognitive appraisal dimension, and the definition of the dimension.
Broad Cognitive Appraisal Dimension High scores on cognitive appraisal dimension Definition
Achievement goal attainment, relevance, agency-self, control-self Important goal achieved by the self
External Influence control-others, agency-others, control-circumstances, agency-circumstances.
  • Other people or the general situation caused the emotion (i.e., external attribution)
  • Other/people or the situation controlled the emotion (i.e., low perceptions of control)
Difficulty effort, problems, unpleasantness Problems or obstacles that require effort to overcome and may initially elicit unpleasantness
Clarity certainty, predictability Good understanding of current situation and/or future events

Adapted from “Differentiation of 13 positive emotions by appraisals,” E.M.W. Tong, 2014, Cognition and Emotion, 29(3), p. 496 (https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2014.922056) Copyright 2014 by Taylor & Francis.

 

For each cognitive appraisal, select the positive emotion that would cause this specific appraisal and drag it into the corresponding cognitive appraisals drop box. Incorrect answers apply a penalty, and are shown when you submit to check your answers.

 

Table 5 below displays cognitive appraisals participants reported for each of the 13 emotions. It is important to note that these ratings did not significantly differ for Singaporean and American students – providing initial evidence of universality.

 

Table 5
Cognitive Appraisal Definitions (Tong, 2013)

A table showing broad cognitive appraisals, high scores on a cognitive appraisal dimension, the definition of the appraisal dimension, and high and low emotions for each of the dimensions.
Broad Cognitive Appraisal Dimension High Scores on cognitive appraisal dimension Definition High Low
Achievement goal attainment, relevance, agency-self, control-self Important goal achieved by self Pride

Challenge

Contentment

Joy

Compassion

Awe

Amusement

External Influence control-others, agency-others, control-circumstances, agency-circumstances Perceptions that events are caused by external forces such as other people or the general situation Compassion

Hope

Gratitude

Pride
Difficulty effort, problems, unpleasantness Less pleasant, high effort, problematic experiences Challenge

Compassion

Hope

Relief

Amusement

Serenity

Awe

Contentment

Clarity Certainty, predictability Good understanding of current situation and/or future events Contentment

Pride

Amusement

Joy

Serenity

Hope

Adapted from “Differentiation of 13 positive emotions by appraisals,” E.M.W. Tong, 2014, Cognition and Emotion, 29(3), p. 496-497 (https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2014.922056) Copyright 2014 by Taylor & Francis.

 

The conceptual maps below show how each of the 13 emotions were rated along the appraisals external influence and achievement (Figure 2) and difficulty and clarity (Figure 3). Based on the ratings, do you think any positive emotions might be the same emotions? Which ones? Keep in mind that there are more cognitive appraisals than those tested in this study, and we are only looking at one emotion component. We would have to investigate physiology, facial expressions, etc., to really determine whether two positive emotions represent the same construct.

 

Figures 2 and 3
Dimensional Mapping of Emotions Based on External Influence and Achievement (Figure 2) and Difficultly and Clarity (Figure 3)

An image of two graph figures. The first figure on the left shows Achievement (x-axis), versus External Influence (y-axis). The figure on the right shows Difficulty (x-axis), versus clarity (y-axis). Emotions are graphed on both of the figures.
For the achievement versus external influence graph the points are graphed as follows: Compassion (2.75, 5.25), Awe (3.50, 4.75), Amusement (3.90, 4.25), Serenity (5.00, 3.75), Interest (5.25, 3.60), Contentment (5.90, 3.40), Pride (7.10, 3.25), Challenge (6.50, 3.70), Joy (5.75, 4.20), Relief (5.00, 4.50), Romantic Love (5.10, 4.75), Gratitude (5.00, 4.95), Hope (4.95, 5.25). For the graph showing difficulty versus clarity the points shown are graphed as follows: Amusement (2.5, 5.55), Serenity (2.60, 5.55), Awe (2.80, 5.25), Romantic Love (3.20, 4.75), Relief (5.05, 4.40), Hope (5.35, 3.85), Compassion (5.40, 4.75), Challenge (7.10, 5.10), Gratitude (3.80, 5.00), interest (4.00, 5.25), Pride (3.90, 5.60), joy (3.20, 5.55), contentment (2.90, 5.70)

Reproduced from “Differentiation of 13 positive emotions by appraisals,” E.M.W. Tong, 2014, Cognition and Emotion, 29(3), p. 497 (https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2014.922056) Copyright 2014 by Taylor & Francis.

 

An earlier study (Smith & Ellsworth, 1985), similar to Tong, asked participants to recall 15 different positive and negative emotions.  For each emotion, participants rated their cognitive appraisals. The six appraisal dimensions identified in this study are defined in Table 6.

 

Table 6

Cognitive Appraisal Dimension Definitions for Smith and Ellsworth (1985) Study

A table showing cognitive appraisal dimensions, and their definitions according to Smith and Ellsworth’s 1985 study
Cognitive Appraisal Dimension Definition
Pleasantness Amount of pleasantness / unpleasantness felt
Anticipated Effort Amount of mental or physical effort
Certainty Clarity and understanding about the situation
Attentional Activity Paying attention to and thinking about the cause of the emotion
Self-other Responsibility / Control Whether self or other person was responsible for even that cause emotion
Situational-Human Control
  • Situational: Perception that situation was beyond anyone’s control
  • Human: perception that self/others could control situation

Adapted from “Patterns of cognitive appraisal in emotion” by C.A. Smith and P.C. Ellsworth, 1985, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology48(4), p. 822. Copyright 1985 by the American Psychological Association.

The three figures below show the location of positive and negative emotions for a combination of appraisal patterns.  Based on these figures, please note a few take-home points:

  1. Figure 4 – Effort and Pleasantness: This study found that all positive emotions were rated as moderate to highly pleasant, including challenge. This is in contrast to Tong’s (2014) study that found challenge was more unpleasant than pleasant (Table 5 and Figure 3).  Most negative emotions were rated as highly unpleasant and requiring high effort, whereas most positive emotions were rated as pleasant and requiring minimal effort.
  2. Figure 5 – Certainty and Attention: All positive emotions were rated as high in attention but varied in their uncertainty. For instance, hope was high attention-high uncertainty, whereas happiness, challenge, and pride were high attention-high certainty.
  3. Figure 6 – Situational/Human Control and Self/Other Control: The dimension situational control-human control is unrelated to perceptions of whether the self or other people caused the event. Except for interest, the positive emotions were perceived to be caused by the self. Contrast that with negative emotions – some of which were caused by others (e.g., anger and disgust) while some were caused by the self (e.g., shame and guilt).  People perceived most positive emotions to be under human control but hope and interest were viewed as under situational control, but not really caused by the self or others.

 

Figure 4

Location of Positive and Negative Emotions along Effort and Pleasantness Cognitive Appraisals

A graph with positive and negative emotions points placed on a scale of pleasant to unpleasant (x-axis), and low effort to high effort (y-axis).
A graph with four quadrants: Pleasant, High effort (top left). Unpleasant, High effort (top right). Pleasant, Low Effort (bottom left). And Unpleasant, Low Effort (bottom right). “Challenge” emotion places in the pleasant, high effort quadrant. Emotions “Shame”, “Fear”, “Frustration”, “Anger”, “Guilt”, “Sadness”, “Contempt”, and “Disgust” all placed in the unpleasant, high effort quadrant. Emotions “Hope”, “Interest”, “Pride”, “Surprise”, and “Happiness” are placedd in the pleasant, low effort quadrant. Emotion “Boredome” is placed in the unpleasant, low effort quadrant.

Figure 5

Location of Positive and Negative Emotions along Certainty and Attention Cognitive Appraisals

A graph with positive and negative emotions points placed on a scale of Low attention to High Attention (x-axis), and certain to UnCertain (y-axis).
A graph with four quadrants: Low Attention, Uncertain (top left). High Attention, Uncertain (top right). Low Attention, Certain (bottom left). And High Attention, Certain (bottom right). Emotions “Sadness”, and “Shame” are placed in the Low Attention, Uncertain quadrant. Emotions “Fear”, “Surprse”, “Hope”, andd “Frustration” are placed in the high attention, uncertain quadrant. Emotions “Disgust”, “Guilt”, “Contempt”, and “Boredome” are placed in the Low Attention, Certain Quadrant. Emotions “Anger”, “Happiness”, “Pride”, “Challenge”, and “Interest” are placedd in the High attention, certain quadrant.

 

Figure 6

Location of Positive and Negative Emotions along Situation-Human Control and Perceptions of Control – Self Vs. Other

A graph with positive and negative emotions points placed on a scale of Other - Response / Control, to Self - Response / Control (x-axis), and human control, to Situational control (y-axis).
A graph with four quadrants: Other – Response / Control, Situational Control (top left). Self – Response / Control, Situational Control (top right). Other – Response / Control, Human Control (bottom left). And Self – Response / Control (bottom right). Emotions “Sadness”, “fear”, “boredom”, and “frustration” are placed in the Other – Response / Control, Situational Control quadrant. Emotion “Hope” is placed in the Self – Response / Control, situational control quadrant. The Emotion “Interest” has no x value, is placed directly on the y axis line, and is placed toward the situational control side of the y-axis. Emotions “Surprise”, “Contempt”, “Disgust”, and “Anger” are placed in the Other – Response / Control, Human Control Quadrant. Emotions “Challenge”, “Happiness”, “Guilt”, “Shame”, and “Pride” are placed in the Self – Response / Control, Human Control Quadrant.

 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Psychology of Human Emotion by Michelle Yarwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book