Emodiversity: A Mix of Emotions Is Healthiest?

By Neuroskeptic | October 13, 2014 4:17 pm

“Emodiversity” – a life containing a balance of different emotions – is good for you. So say psychologists Jordi Quoidbach and colleagues in a rather cool new paper (pdf).

emotions

In two large surveys (with a total of over 37,000 responders), conducted in France and Belgium, Quoidbach et al. show that

emodiversity is an independent predictor of mental and physical health – such as decreased depression and doctor’s visits – over and above mean levels of positive and negative emotion.

They defined emodiversity as follows: the survey asked participants to rate how often they experienced each of 9 positive and 9 negative emotions (or 10 in the second study). Each emotion was rated on a 5 point scale of 0 = never and 4 = most of the time. Emodiversity was calculated using this formula

emodiversity

What this means is that someone who reported only ever feeling one positive emotion would have an emodiversity of 0, while someone who endorsed all 9 positive emotions equally would get the maximum score. Emodiversity for negative emotions was calculated a similar way, while ‘overall’ emodiversity considered all 18 emotions.

It turns out that emotional diversity was a good thing (in terms of being associated with less depression etc.) for both positive and for negative emotions. This seems a little counter-intuitive. You might have expected that feeling many negative emotions would be worse than only feeling one of them – but in fact, it’s better.

Why is this? The authors speculate that

[just as] biodiversity increases resilience to negative events because a single predator cannot wipe out an entire ecosystem, emodiversity may prevent specific emotions – in particular detrimental ones such as acute stress, anger or sadness – from dominating the emotional ecosystem.

For instance, the experience of prolonged sadness might lead to depression but the joint experience of sadness and anger – although unpleasant – might prevent individuals from completely withdrawing from their environment.

The same biodiversity analogy could be applied to positive emotion. Humans are notoriously quick to adapt to repeated exposure to a given positive emotional experience; positive experiences that are diverse may be more resistant to such extinction.

This makes sense – though it assumes that emodiversity is the cause of being healthy and not depressed. As this study was cross-sectional and correlational, it can’t tell us that. It might be that one of the effects of depression (say) is a reduced range of emotions.

Quoidbach et al. do note this possibility, but they clearly favor the idea that emodiversity is the cause of well-being, even claiming in the abstract to have shown “the benefits of emodiversity” which sounds rather like the (sub)title of an upmarket self-help book. Still, there’s no denying that this is a huge study and that the correlation – an interesting one – is real enough.

ResearchBlogging.orgQuoidbach J, Gruber J, Mikolajczak M, Kogan A, Kotsou I, & Norton MI (2014). Emodiversity and the Emotional Ecosystem. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General PMID: 25285428

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  • Bastiaan Spanjaard

    Very interesting! I do wonder how much of the measured effects are due to the specifics of the emodiversity formula. A similar formula but with p^2 replacing p, for example, would have the exact same qualitative behavior but (Pearson’s) correlations and regressions would be different.

  • MatthiasG

    Cool paper, although I agree with your skepticism about direction – isn’t emotional flatness an important aspect (consequence) of depression?

  • Pingback: Emodiversity: why a mix of emotions is good for you | neuroecology()

  • http://twitter.com/URBN_SCIENCE Gary Riccio

    If emotion is engagement with the world, as many scholars have argued, then diversity of emotion experience reflects deeper and broader awareness of interaction with the world. Different emotions also have different effects on cognition or the meaning one makes of interactions with the world. This can be a source of bias for an individual but it can be a valuable source of crystallization in groups. An interesting extension of this work would be to assess emotional diversity in groups and its effects on group decision making.

    • Nels Coleman

      I agree. A control would be needed. Next we will be discussing what religions can teach us about emodiversity, and that a mixed genetic society (such as the US) cannot have a harmonious emodiversity due to practice of religious preferences.

  • Pingback: Improve Brain Memory IQ Mind Brain News and Informative Articles | Brain Training / Emodiversity: A Mix of Emotions Is Healthiest?()

  • Lumixian

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least, after all, the only way to truly know happiness is to experience the opposite extreme. It’s like returning to normalcy after being sick for a week, it just feels great — that alone is a mood lifter.

  • http://dev.blogs.discovermagazine.com Taher Kattarwala

    In a laymen language I WOULD SAY:” On physical ground the various parts of one’s brain relates to vivid emotional reactions and so much better in terms of active participation of an individual being and his/her brain function.It’s like gym-exercise for brain to gain better mind.

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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