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Positive emotion to reduce negative emotion

It turns out that when people are sad, they choose more actions that cause pleasure, and when they feel shame, they choose more actions that cause pride

What happens at the meeting between thoughts and feelings? And how can emotions affect the achievement of goals and behavior? These are the main questions that occupy Prof. Tal Eyal from the social psychology major at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In her research, she examines mind reading (Mind Perception) - the way in which one can better understand what the other person feels / thinks / wants (in short: "what goes through his mind"). Another area of ​​research she focuses on is emotions - and their awakening according to the interpretation given to the situation. "For example", explains Prof. Eyal, "a social meeting can evoke a variety of emotions, positive and negative, it all depends on the elements that the person refers to (not always consciously). Thus, for example, the feeling of pride will arise when the emphasis is placed on elements that are beyond sensory perception ("here and now"), those that are related to self-representation ("how many good friends I have, I am loved"). The feeling of pleasure will arise when the emphasis is placed on their sensory component (such as music and alcohol)".

It is known that positive emotions (such as pride) can help us achieve long-term goals (such as peace and mental health). On the other hand, negative emotions (such as fear) can signal to us that we are failing to achieve a certain long-term goal (such as a sense of security). Prof. Eyal: "As a researcher, I am interested in the relationship that exists between emotions and goals, through which behavior can be influenced. For example, when you make children want to feel pride (for example by telling a story about another child who was very successful at a task and felt proud about it), you make them perform an action that helps achieve a long-term goal. For example, they will choose to read a book instead of eating chocolate, they will achieve self-control (which contributes to listening and cooperation), and then they will feel the sense of pride they were expecting."

In their research, Prof. Eyal and her team seek to examine which actions people prefer to perform when they feel a negative emotion. Prof. Eyal: "Not every positive emotion can reduce a negative emotion to the same extent. Need to make a match. Guilt, for example, is experienced when a long-term goal is not achieved, so to reduce it, it is better to feel pride because it promotes long-term goals, rather than pleasure, which promotes short-term goals."

In one of their recent studies, the researchers examined about 200 subjects using questionnaires in which they were asked to write in detail about an event that caused them to feel a negative emotion, such as shame or sadness, in order to evoke this emotion in them. Later, they were asked to rate from a list daily activities that they would like to perform, that might inspire pride (for example, physical activity and studies), or pleasure (for example, watching a video and going to a party). In general, it was found that when the subjects felt sad, they chose more actions that cause pleasure, and when they felt shame, they chose more actions that cause pride.

Prof. Eyal: "Pleasure may better compensate for sadness because it contributes to the achievement of immediate goals, and pride better compensates for shame because it contributes to the achievement of long-term goals. However, pride-inducing activities—such as exercise and learning—are harder to do because they require more investment. Therefore, many times people choose to do actions that cause pleasure (rather than pride) when they feel shame."

In another study, the researchers scanned hundreds of thousands of tweets on Twitter consisting of the words "shame" and "sadness" (such as "I feel shame / ashamed", "I am sad"), and examined the response sentences to them. That is, to what extent they included the words "pride" and "pleasure" (eg "you should do something that will make you proud / pleasure"). As in the previous study, a correlation between certain negative and positive emotions was discovered: when the word "sadness" was mentioned - it was more often answered with the word "pleasure", and when the word "shame" was mentioned - it was more often answered with the word "pride". "This finding indicates natural behavior," says Prof. Eyal. "People feel that a negative emotion can be reduced through a certain positive emotion. In future studies - with the help of the National Science Foundation - we will also examine which positive emotion is the actual influencer."

Life itself:

Prof. Tal Eyal, married with three children (21, 16, 13), lives in Lahavim. In her free time she plays the piano, and volunteers to distribute food to refugee families and asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv ("probably to feel less guilty").