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Attuned to the positive? Awareness and responsiveness to others’ positive emotion experience and display

Abstract

Positive emotions are implicated in affiliation and cooperation processes that are central to human social life. For this reason, we hypothesized that people should be highly aware of and responsive to the positive emotions of others. Study 1 examined awareness by testing the accuracy with which perceivers tracked others’ positive emotions. Study 2 examined responsiveness by testing whether positive emotions were predictive of perceivers responding to new relationship opportunity. In Study 1, multilevel analyses of dating couples’ estimates of their partner’s emotions across four semi-structured interactions revealed that both women and men tracked partner positive emotions with considerable accuracy. Additional analyses indicated that tracking accuracy was most pronounced for positive emotions whose display is known to include the Duchenne smile. In Study 2, multilevel analyses of dyads who watched a set of positive and negative emotion-eliciting film clips with a stranger indicated that only positive emotion display predicted subsequent closeness. Together, these findings show that people are highly attuned to the positive emotions of others and can be more attuned to others’ positive emotions than negative emotions.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The experience of positive emotion is predominantly displayed by the Duchenne smile (e.g., Campos et al. 2013; Ekman 2003; Frank et al. 1993). This distinct smile involves the simultaneous movement of two facial muscles, orbicularis oculi pars lateralis and zygomaticus major, that respectively raise the cheeks and widen the lips.

  2. 2.

    We did not test whether accurate tracking would be associated with relationship satisfaction because the consequences of accuracy are complex; both accuracy and inaccuracy have been associated with relationship satisfaction (Hawkins et al. 2002; Simpson et al. 1995). Further, perceived empathic effort appears to be more strongly associated with couple relationship satisfaction than accuracy per se (Cohen et al. 2012).

  3. 3.

    This pattern held when all non-significant predictors were dropped from the model and only the actor’s and the partner’s positive emotion display were used as predictors.

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Acknowledgments

Portions of this work were completed while Belinda Campos was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and a Graduate Opportunity Fellowship at UC Berkeley; National Institute of Mental Health Training Grant T32MH15750-25 for the study of biobehavioral issues in physical and mental health at UCLA; and the UCLA Sloan Center on the Everyday Lives of Families. Dominik Schoebi’s work was supported by Grant PA001-10899 from the Swiss National Science Foundation. We are thankful to the team of Berkeley RAs who assisted with the Study 1 data collection. We are also thankful to Noah Fast, Ronit Menasche, Eileen Pitpitan, and Sid Tsai for their assistance in Study 2 data collection and to Ronit Menasche, Eileen Pitpitan, Sid Tsai, DaniMae Mundo, Mishell Hyun, and Kelvin O for their contribution as coders in Study 2.

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Campos, B., Schoebi, D., Gonzaga, G.C. et al. Attuned to the positive? Awareness and responsiveness to others’ positive emotion experience and display. Motiv Emot 39, 780–794 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-015-9494-x

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Keywords

  • Emotion
  • Positive emotion
  • Social interaction
  • Duchenne smiles