We don’t need to feel guilty over experiencing ‘bad’ emotions. The positive emotion crowd has taken over psychology, leaving little room for the abundant and wider experience of human feeling. T. Franklin Murphy argued for the varied emotional experience when he wrote, “the goal isn’t to gleefully frolic in endless joys. If that were the goal, we could hook up to artfully place electrodes activating pleasure regions of the brain or live in squalor while shooting heroin into our collapsing veins. Life is much more than this” (2016). Our ability to experience a large variety of emotions contributes to our emotional regulations skills. In psychology, er refer to this as emodiversity.
Every worthwhile endeavor carries a host of feelings, not all of them can be characterized as joyous. We aren’t broken when we feel sad or angry. We are experiencing the normal emotional sways of living. Certainly, not every emotional state is beneficial, but new research suggests that experiencing a wide and varied states may actually contribute to wellness and enhance resilience during difficulties. The variety and abundance of emotions available to the human experience is referred to in psychology as emodiversity.
What is Emodiversity?
In 2014, Jordi Quoidback and colleagues introduced the term emodiversity in their published research on the benefits of experiencing a wide rage of emotion, breaking from the current psychology environment that focused exclusively on the benefits of positive affect.
The concept of emodiversity was not new. Quoidback’s findings and research was built already established theories of emotional complexity. “Our notion of emodiversity builds on a large body of research highlighting the benefits of having a rich, authentic, and complex emotional life” (2014).
Murphy explains that wellness comes from diversity of feeling, not only an abundance of positive affect. He wrote “richness of experience consists of pleasure and discomfort. Too much pleasure and we no longer glory in feeling good—we expect it. We feel emotions most poignantly with movement from one feeling state to another” (Murphy, 2016a). Pleasure and pain motivate actions. They are an intricate part of the human experience.
Experiencing a varied emotions from the abundance of possibilities creates richness. A person that has a wide and varied emotional experience possess high emodiversity, and this contributes to a richer and fuller life.
An essential aspect to understanding emodiversity is understanding the difference between feeling affect and the complex constellation of emotions. Feeling affect is a biological process basically comprised of some combination of level of arousal and the specific nature of changes in our body in response to the arousal. Several bodily functions adjust to prepare to properly respond to the environment.
These changes, only when the arousal is significant, puncture through to consciousness, and cognitive functions join in, creating concepts to match the feeling affect. The involvement of the cognitive elements vastly expands the variety of experienced emotion.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, a distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where she focuses on affective science, explains, “emotions are not reactions to the world; they are your constructions of the world” (2017, p. 105).
Creating emotion through concepts is known as emotional differentiation. Murphy defines, “emotion differentiation also known as emotion granularity is the process of putting feelings into words with a high degree of complexity.” He continues, “feeling affects draw conscious attention to the feeling incident and we interpret the feeling, giving emotion labels that categorize and characterize the experience with greater granularity” (2021).
Feldman refers to this process as conceptual combination. She adds that the process plus words creates a “power to create reality” (2017, p. 106). The larger our database of words to use with our conceptual combination with feeling affects, the more emodiversity we experience.
While feeling affects may have limited components, they still carry a tremendous amount of information. Just like a color swatch containing red, yellow, and blue may seem limited, the possibilities for color are endless when the three colors are mixed with a variety of concentrations.
Our conceptions of feeling affect have endless possibilities when created from feeling affect, surrounding circumstances, and memories from our rich and diverse past. Words become the limiting factor.
Certainly, we should rely on more than a paltry description of angry, sad, or happy.
Our more granular descriptions provide better filing of experience into memory banks, adding to our resilience for future resources when the troubles of life demand a little more. It is theorized that “individuals with more differentiated emotional experiences have greater ability to make subtle distinctions among emotional states they experience” (Ong, et al. 2018).
Emodiversity and Wellbeing
There is plenty of research suggesting that higher scores in personal emodiversity positively impacts wellness. Barrett discovered that “students with a richer emotion vocabulary do better in school.” She theorizes that the process of integrating concepts with feelings affects can be used “to master your emotions, enhance your resilience, become a better friend or parent or lover, and even change your conception of who you are” (2017, p. 175).
Jordi Quoidbach, et al. determined through a series of studies that “global emodiversity was significantly negatively related to “visits to the doctor, doctor related costs to Social Security, hospital costs to Social Security and medication-related costs to Social Security. These scores were over and above mean positive emotion and mean negative emotion. Basically, according to their findings, emodiversity matters (2014).
Other researchers were quick to disagree. Brown and Coyne contend that Quoidbach’s research was foundationally flawed by their methods and unmeasurable characterization of global emodiversity. They concluded that “Quoidbach drew some far-reaching conclusions about the impact of emodiversity on mental and physical health…” (2017).
Emodiversity decreases Inflammation
In another study, researchers examined the impact of global emodiversity on on inflammation—a biomarker for disease. “Evidence from human laboratory research suggests that negative emotional states stimulate inflammatory responses.” Ong and colleagues theorized that emodiversity would decrease inflammatory responses as well (Ong, et al. 2018). Comparatively, this is similar to Barbara Fredrickson’s Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions.
In Ong’s study they expanded the research beyond different inflammatory responses between positive and negative effect and focused on how emodiversity “may influence inflammation.” However, their research found no significant connection between global emodiversity scores and inflammation.
Research suggests their is an association between emodiversity and wellness. However, findings don’t suggest this is always the case. In a 2020 paper, Lisbeth Benson and Anthony Ong found the association between emodiversity and attenuated stress and depressive symptoms only with young people, and only when the emodiversity for those with higher positive emodiversity (2020).
Another study that focused on mental well-being instead of overall health. Significantly, they found that “after adjusting for demographics and covariates, higher average positive affect was related to better, and higher mean negative affect was related to worse, indices of mental health” (2022).
A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic
While research has yet to show convincing evidence that emodiversity on its own improves health and mental wellbeing, the concept is helpful in understanding emotion and emotional experience.
Perhaps, more granular descriptions, leaning towards more positive concepts, and lightening the impact of negative affect with slightly less hostile descriptors can improve mental health. In summary, while research still continues, findings support the benefits of possessing a larger emodiversity. Perhaps, the benefits mostly are associated with increased emotional regulation skills. We can enjoy the flow of emotion without completely disengaging from the human experience.
Barrett, Lisa Feldman (2017). How Emotions are Made. Mariner Books; Reprint edition.
Benson, L., & Ong, A. (2020). Positive Emodiversity Buffers the Association Between Stress and Depressive Symptoms. Innovation in Aging, 4(Suppl1), 653-653.
Brown, N., & Coyne, J. (2017). Emodiversity: Robust Predictor of Outcomes or Statistical Artifact?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(9), 1372-1377.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2016). Feeling: The Experience of Living. Psychology Fanatic. Published 2-2016. Accessed 11-2-2022.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2016a) A Rich Meaningful Life. Psychology Fanatic. Published 3-2016. Accessed 11-2-2022.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2021) Emotional Differentiation. Psychology Fanatic. Published 9-19-2021. Accessed 11-2-2022.
Ong, A., Benson, L., Zautra, A., & Ram, N. (2018). Emodiversity and Biomarkers of Inflammation. Emotion, 18(1), 3-14.
Quoidbach, J., Gruber, J., Mikolajczak, M., Kogan, A., Kotsou, I., & Norton, M. (2014). Emodiversity and the Emotional Ecosystem. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(6), 2057-2066.
Urban-Wojcik, E., Mumford, J., Almeida, D., Lachman, M., Ryff, C., Davidson, R., & Schaefer, S. (2022). Emodiversity, Health, and Well-Being in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) Daily Diary Study . Emotion, 22(4), 603-615.