Which emotions last longest and why: The role of event importance and rumination

Abstract

Some emotions last longer than others. However, duration differences have only been explored for a small number of emotions and the observed differences have not been explained. The aim of the present study is to provide a detailed picture of variability in duration between emotions and to account for this variability. Participants were asked to recollect recent emotional episodes, report their duration, and answer questions regarding appraisals and regulation strategies. Out of 27 emotions, sadness lasted the longest, whereas shame, surprise, fear, disgust, boredom, being touched, irritation, and relief were the shortest emotions. One appraisal dimension and one regulation strategy accounted for almost half of the variability in duration between emotions. In particular, compared to short emotions, persistent emotions are typically elicited by events of high importance, and are associated with high levels of rumination. This conclusion holds across emotion duration definitions, and remains valid when taking emotion recency and intensity into account.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    An intermediate position has been taken as well by defining the emotion end point as the moment when emotion intensity returns to baseline for at least some time (Sbarra 2006).

  2. 2.

    Two raters verified independently whether the essays were compatible with the emotion participants were asked to recall (good interrater agreement: kappa = .74). In 2 % of the cases no essay was provided by the participant. In a similar percentage of cases (rater 1: 1 %, rater 2: 2 %) the essay did not seem to correspond with the emotion listed at the top of the page. However, removing these cases did not substantively alter any of the conclusions we reported.

  3. 3.

    This is also reflected by a high correlation between the mean [log (duration)] and median duration across emotions. In particular, when equating the end of an emotional episode with a first return to baseline, a correlation of .76 was observed between both duration measures, and when equating the end of an emotional episode with a permanent return to baseline a correlation of .77 was found.

  4. 4.

    This is confirmed when comparing the left and right panels of Fig. 1, as well as by the high correlation in duration between definitions across emotions. In particular, a correlation of .60 was observed when correlating the mean [log (durations)] between definitions and a correlation of .58 when correlating the median durations between definitions.

  5. 5.

    We did not limit this analysis to the episodes that happened during the preceding days only as duration averages would in that case be based on a very low number of episodes for some emotion categories. Moreover, within this time frame very long episodes would by definition be excluded which would shrink the duration variability between emotions.

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Acknowledgments

The research leading to the results reported in this paper was supported in part by the Research Fund of KU Leuven (GOA/15/003), by the Interuniversity Attraction Poles programme financed by the Belgian government (IAP/P7/06), and by a postdoctoral research fellowship to the first author from the Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders (FWO).

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Correspondence to Philippe Verduyn.

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Verduyn, P., Lavrijsen, S. Which emotions last longest and why: The role of event importance and rumination. Motiv Emot 39, 119–127 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-014-9445-y

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Keywords

  • Emotion dynamics
  • Emotion duration
  • Appraisals
  • Emotion regulation
  • Rumination