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Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being

Barbara L. Fredrickson
University of Michigan
Thomas Joiner
Florida State University

Published in 'Psychological Science', 13, 172-175, 2002

This study tested the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, which suggests that the effects of positive emotions should accumulate and compound.  According to Fredrickson, the broadened attention and cognition triggered by earlier experiences of positive emotion should facilitate coping with adversity, and this improved coping should in turn predict future experiences of positive emotion.  As this cycle continues, people build their psychological resilience and enhance their emotional well-being.

To test the theory, the researchers asked 138 undergraduate students (54% female; average age: 20) to complete the ?Positive and Negative Affect Schedule? (PANAS) and the 'Coping Responses Inventory' (CRI) on two different occasions 5 weeks apart.  It was expected that positive affect at the onset of the experiment would predict changes in broad-minded coping over the 5-week period.  In other words, the more positive affect individuals initially reported, the more they would experience improvements in coping over time.  The researchers also expected that negative affect would not predict changes in broad-minded coping.

Furthermore, it was expected that coping would predict changes in positive affect by the end of the 5-week period, that is, the better individuals coped initially, the more positive affect would increase over that period of time.  It was also expected that coping would not be associated with reductions in negative affect.

The results of this study supported the above hypotheses and demonstrated that positive emotions, through their effects on broadened thinking, predict future increases in positive emotions and therefore trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being.  This process also helps the individual to build coping skills for dealing with future adversities.  The researchers concluded that this upward spiral can, over time, build psychological resources and optimise people's lives.

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