Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Emotion duration

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Emotion duration:
Which emotions last the longest and why?

Overview[edit | edit source]

People undergo different types of emotions throughout a day. Emotions are developed through previous significant life events, and can affect how a person acts and also the choices they make. Though emotions are usually short-lived compared to moods, some emotions tend to last longer than others. This chapter addresses three long-lived emotions (anger, joy and sadness). Throughout this chapter, the triggers, effects, emotional duration, and the part of the brain in which joy, sadness and anger occur, will be explored.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Figure 1: Joy

[Provide more detail]

Emotion[edit | edit source]

Emotions often get confused with moods, personality and also motivation. The word emotion was derived from the French word émouvoir, which means “to stir up”. Emotions are described as dynamic processes that change over time (Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2015). Emotions can also be defined as strong feelings that result in changes (physical or physiological) which influence thoughts and behaviours. Basic emotions, self-conscience emotions and also cognitively complex emotions are all categories in which different emotions fall into. Anger, Joy and Sadness are three, of the seven, basic emotions that have the longest duration life. External stimuli usually lead to an internal emotion that is dependent on the result of physical bodily reactions, yet bodily reactions do not fully occur based on internal emotion. A theory that represents this is known as The Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion. Walter B. Cannon (1927) states that “Feelings of the bodily changes that occur, are the results of emotion”.

Example: If Susan is in the forest and she sees a tiger, she will feel afraid. She will then start to tremble and her heart rate will increase. But if Susan went for a run and saw a tiger, who she was not afraid of, her heart rate would still be increased because of the fact that she was just running.

Duration[edit | edit source]

Duration is defined as the length in which something continues. This can relate to how long someone is angry, sad or joyful for in time. The duration of something can be counted in hours, days, weeks, months, and also years.

When studying the differences in duration between emotions, this helps to differentiate emotions that are harder to distinguish (e.g., fear and anxiety) (Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2015). Emotions are usually short-lived but thats only when they are elicited by events that are not that important. However, when an event is important, emotions tend to last longer (Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2015).

Example: After Susan got scared by the tiger, this increased her fear of tigers from one minute to one year.[explain?]

The Cannon-Bard Theory[edit | edit source]

The three emotions that last the longest are anger, joy and sadness[factual?]. These three emotions have the longest duration and can strongly relate to the Cannon-Bard Theory. Watler Cannon (1927) stated that The Cannon-Bard theory is explained as the physical and psychological experience of emotions happening at the same time, and that one does not cause the other. This means that a person can feel an emotion before they begin to experience the physiological reactions to that emotion, but they can also have emotion-related reactions without actually feeling a specific emotion.

Example: A person is yelling to get someones[grammar?] attention but just because that person is yelling, does not mean that they are angry.

Anger[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Anger

Getting angry at a situation is something everyone has done. People get mad when things don’t go their way, or if they believe something is unfair or unpleasant. If someone lies to you about an important thing, then you may get mad at them for an extensive time.

What is Anger[edit | edit source]

Anger can be defined as an emotion usually triggered in response to objects that are perceived as threatening, harmful, unfair or considered obstacles in the way of reaching a goal (Reeve, 2009). Being angry can motivate a change to be made for the better but it can also lead to worse things like aggression, damage and also health problems (Reeve, 2009). Anger is usually directed towards other individuals[factual?]. These individuals can range from friends, parents, spouses, and even children. Anger usually occurs because of negative evaluation of self and others, low self-esteem, issues in marriage, general conflict and also job difficulties (Beck & Fernandez, 1998). When anger is not controlled properly it can lead to poor outcomes such as 'bipolarity ,aggression, anxiety, heart disease and also high blood pressure[factual?]. These reasons all contribute to the assumption that anger is considered a negative emotion. Though it is believed, anger is an emotion that triggers part of the body's fight or flight response. Facial expressions relating to anger are universal and usually consist of a persons eyebrows being creased together, eyelids tight, and tenseness of the face[factual?].

The Amygdala allows for abilities to express anger

Triggers[edit | edit source]

Events can easily cause a trigger in our brain that results in a person getting angry. These events can range from things that annoy you, verbal abuse, unfairness, and also stress. Annoyances that can lead to an angry emotion can be anything that gets on a persons nerves. This can be loud noises, pet peeves, and even unexpected things occurring at a bad time.


  • Jordan went to bed at 3am last night. At 6am his little sister, Paula, barged into his room, started playing music, and jumped on his bed causing him to get annoyed then get very angry.
  • Jordan got really annoyed and angry when his friend John started chewing his gum loudly.

Parts of the Brain Anger Occurs In[edit | edit source]

When a person becomes angry, the brain is the first thing that signals the entire body. Multiple areas within the cortical and subcortical brain deal with anger. These areas include the hypothalamus, and also the amygdala. The Hypothalamus is the brains command centre for stress response. Anger affects the brain by compromising neurons within the hypothalamus (Hendricks, Bore, Aslinia, & Morriss, 2013). The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure just above the hypothalamus of the brain. The amygdala is an excellent indicator to threats, and it causes the brain to react to threats before any other part of the brain. The amygdala is the control center for aggressive behavior. In a study done by, Hendricks, Bore, Aslinia, & Morris (2013), the researchers stated that an article published by Science News, had indicated that a women had her amygdala surgically removed because of epileptic seizures. Upon her recovery she was able to express and recognize every emotion besides anger. The removal of the amygdala causes the elimination of abilities to perceive signs of anger (Hendricks, Bore, Aslinia, & Morriss, 2013).

Figure 3. Supressing anger can lead to aggression and outbursts

Causes of Long Anger Duration[edit | edit source]

Anger is a powerful emotion that occurs within human bodies. The duration of anger can last a very [how?] long time for many reasons. These reasons are the adrenaline-caused arousal, and also the psychological self-control.

When person becomes angry the brain releases hormones, and adrenaline. When the adrenaline is released it causes a person’s blood pressure to increase[factual?]. After the body feels no longer angry, the body attempts to go back to its normal state. During this process, it usually takes a while for the body to get back to its relaxed state. The body takes anywhere between hours to days to get back to its equilibrium state while also getting rid of the adrenaline that was released[factual?]. This allows more chances for a person to become angry within that time period, causing the duration of anger to increase[factual?]. In a study done by Beck and Fernandez (1998), they measured the duration of emotions within participants and found that their participants were quick to become angry but relatively slow to recover from it (Beck & Fernandez, 1998). It is easy for an individual to become angry, but it takes a while to get over it. With that, a person is more likely to become angry again before they fully recover, extending the duration of anger.

Along with adrenaline being a factor in which causes the elongation of anger, self-control also contributes to the duration of anger. When a person doesn’t know how to control their anger, they tend to stay angry for longer periods of time. Controlling anger can be a strong impact on outcomes of relationships and personal individual happiness. When a person learns to control their anger, the duration of the emotion tends to decrease. Beck and Fernandez (1998) also stated that the duration of anger is more susceptible to psychological control. Most individuals do not know how to control their anger, hence causing anger to be an emotion with a long-lived span. When an individual does not learn how to control anger, then anger repression can occur. Anger repression can be described as anger that is not expressed, and held bottled up inside. When anger repression occurs, this can lead to health problem such as heart disease and also depression.

Effects of Long Term Anger[edit | edit source]

As mentioned earlier, consistent anger can lead to poor health problems such as bipolarity, aggression, anxiety, heart disease and also high blood pressure. Heart disease is strongly correlated to duration of anger. Emotion duration can negatively or positivity modify health activity. In the study, “Hostility Predicts Magnitude and Duration of Blood Pressure Response to Anger”, the authors state that more frequent anger episodes spark intense cardiovascular reactivity, and longer lasting cardiovascular responses to anger (Fredrickson, et al., 2000). Long durations of reactivity (anger) can raise the possibility of health-damaging affects (Fredrickson, et al., 2000). People who are constantly angry have a higher risk of suffering from a heart attack. It is shown that adults who have no history of heart disease, but who suffer from chronic anger are 19% more likely to develop heart problems (Hendricks, Bore, Aslinia, & Morriss, 2013). Therefore, since the duration of anger is increased easily or if anger is consistent, people increase their chances of having a heart attack or heart disease.

Joy[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. Joy is usually correlated with happiness

“Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” - Joseph Campbell

Life tends to bring negative and positive experiences that can cause either joy, sadness or anger. With those experiences joy is one of the emotions we feel the most. People strive to make the best out of situations in order to be joyful throughout most of their lives. Most people want to be joyful rather than sad or angry.

What is Joy?[edit | edit source]

Joy can be described as a great feeling of pleasure or delight. A synonym of joy that most people are familiar with is known as happiness. Joy is considered to be a positive emotion, and shares conceptual space with other relatively high-arousal positive emotions such as gladness and amusement (Fredrickson B. L., 1998). In order to feel joyful, there is a very low effort that is required. Feeling joy does not have to be forced, but it is felt at random moments of playfulness and amusement (Fredrickson B. L., 1998). In a study called “Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience”, researchers stated that people who are happier tend to have better life outcomes, such as supportive relationships, and better physical and mental health (Conway, Cohn, Brown, Mikels, & Conway, 2009). Since joy is considered to be a positive-emotion, it is healthy to endure feelings of joy. Enduring feelings of joy can lead to stress-less lives and also increased life satisfaction levels.

Figure 5. The hypothalamus is part of the limbic system

Triggers[edit | edit source]

There are multiple things that can contribute to feeling happy or joyful. These things can range from goals being reached, receiving rewards, seeing a loved one happy, being with friends, playing a game, enjoying your time and just doing what you love. There is no single factor that can trigger joyfulness. Being joyful is something can occur multiple times throughout a day and can last for more than a few days. Depending on a persons' wants and likes, results in what triggers happiness within their life. A person can be joyful when seeing a photo with a smile on it, along with remembering memories of happy times.

Example: Sarah had a goal set of reaching the semi-finals for gymnastics. When she went to the semi-finals she was extremely joyful that she reached her goal.

Parts of the Brain Joy Occurs In[edit | edit source]

In our brains, when joy occurs it actives the hypothalamus. Though as mentioned above, the hypothalamus is the brains command centre for stress, but it also releases neurotransmitters that affect reward, pleasure and arousal. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released, which acts as adrenaline when reward-motivated behaviour is conducted. Pleasures are important to happiness, such as speaking to friends, which both draw upon the same neurological roots (Kringelbach & Berridge, 2009). When people experience pleasurable activities and are happy, their bodies feel as if it is an award, hence causing the brain to release dopamine. Though the hypothalamus activates joy, reductions within the brain also contribute to happiness. Reductions occur within the regional activity of the prefrontal and bilateral parietotemporal cortex (George, et al., 1995).

Figure 6. People experience joy on a daily basis and are more likely to feel joyful then angry

Causes of Long Joy Duration[edit | edit source]

Joy is considered a highly positive emotion and there are many reasons as to why the duration of joy is prolonged. The duration of joy increases when interaction occurs between people (Vlahovic, Roberts, & Dunbar, 2012). When people interact with others, their happiness tends to last longer. In a study done by Vlahovic, Roberts and Dunbar (2012) they measured the duration of happiness in participants while they interacted with their family members and friends through social networks, and also face to face. Their results showed that, while interacting with family and friends, the duration of joy increased only when face to face interactions occurred. This occurred because when interactions happen, people are more likely to laugh and enjoy their time with others, causing the duration of joy to prolong.

Another reason why the duration of joy is elongated, [grammar?] is because people can control their happiness. If a person wants to be happy for a longer time, they find ways in which to make that happen. If memories cause a person to be happy, they think of those memories and live in those moments. Also, people tend to engage in activities in which are pleasurable for them. While engaging in these activities, people are joyful before, during and also after. They are joyful before, due to the fact that they look forward to doing what they find pleasing. After the activity is finished, they have positive memories to rely on, which cause their joyfulness to be extended.

Effects of Long Term Joy[edit | edit source]

When experiencing long durations of joy, positive outcomes can occur. Some of these outcomes include less stress in one’s life, and healthier mental health. In a study done by Danner, Snowdon, and Friesen (2001), the researchers state that an insightful, positive attitude in dealing with life events can lead to greater feelings of well-being and perhaps even to a longer life. When being consistently joyful or happy, this can lead to an enhanced emotional well-being along with future increases in positive emotions (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002).

Sadness[edit | edit source]

Getting upset and sad is feeling which everyone experiences multiple times throughout a lifetime. Sadness is looked at like a negative emotion, but if there were no sadness then happiness wouldn’t exist. Sadness and Joy work hand in hand. In order for one to exist, the other must exist as well.

Figure 7. Sadness is the longest duration emotoin[spelling?]

What is Sadness?[edit | edit source]

Sadness is considered to be an emotional hurt that is characterized by disappointment, loss, sorrow, heartbreak, rejection, misery and even physical pain. Sadness is an emotion that is consistently avoided by people. It allows for dwelling and feeling victimized by situations that occur. Sadness often corresponds with Crying, and is often related to Depression . Sadness gets short shrift in discussions of mental disorder, yet separating sadness from depression is important because sadness is a normal emotion and depression is a disorder (Leventhal, 2008). When sadness happens over long periods of time it can lead to bad health and also self- inflicted harm such as suicide.

Triggers[edit | edit source]

If you have ever had your feelings hurt, or your heart broken, then you’ve experienced a trigger of sadness. Sadness can be triggered by any life event such as being disappointed, unhappy, homesick, lonely, suffering, feeling uncomfortable, defeated and also anguished. Major life events can lead to longer duration of sadness. Events such as losing a loved one and also tragic health issues. When sadness is triggered, it should be coped with and not suppressed. If sadness is suppressed, or ruminated on, it can lead to depression,and also self-harm.

Example Julie was hanging out at home with her parents when she received a call informing her that her friend Samantha had passed away. This triggered Julie to feel sad for a few months. Julie could not get over the fact that her friend had passed away, and she did not want to speak to anyone about it. She acted like everything was okay but in reality it was not. Julie hid her feelings from her parents, and lost interest in all activities and tried to ignore the fact that she was sad. Julie then became depressed.

Part of the Brain Sadness Occurs In[edit | edit source]

When sadness occurs brain activity happens in multiple areas of the brain. Activity increases in the paralimbic structures of the brain, such as the inferior-medial prefrontal cortex, left prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex and also the anterior cingulate cortex (George, et al., 1995). The paralimbic structures work together causing sadness to occur, while also controlling decision making. In a study done by George and colleges (1995), the researchers conclusions showed that more activity is found in the inferior and orbitofrontal regions of the brain during sadness. This proves that the brain is much more active in the cortical areas which are a part of the limbic system.

Causes of Long Sadness Duration[edit | edit source]

Figure 8. Not coping with Sadness can lead to Suicide

Sadness is considered to be the longest lasting emotion out of all the emotions. Emotions that are typically centered on major concerns, guide behaviour for a longer period of time than those emotions that are more concentrated on minor concerns (Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2015). Excessive levels of rumination contribute to the prolongation of sadness. Rumination can be defined as the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of a person’s suffering. People who ruminate tend to stay fixated on problems and their feelings about those problems, but do not take action to change them (Nolen-Hoelsema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008). When people experience sadness they tend to ruminate, causing the duration of sadness to increase. People who engage in rumination while being sad are more likely to develop depression and depressive disorders (Nolen-Hoelsema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008).

In a study completed by Verduyn and Lavrijsen (2015), participants within their study were asked to recall an episode of 27 emotions and briefly describe the events. They were then asked to rate the duration of the emotional episode for each emotion. The duration was described in the number of days, hours, minutes, and/or seconds. The results of the study had showed that out of the 27 emotions, sadness was found to significantly last longer than all of the other emotions within the study (Verduyn & Lavrijsen, 2015). The duration of sadness increases due to rumination because sadness is specifically centered on major life events. Therefore, sadness is an emotion that lasts the longest.

Effects of Long term Sadness[edit | edit source]

Sadness can be caused because of the loss of an object or loved one. When mourning the passing of a loved one is prolonged, it can lead to dangerous outcomes such as suicide. Suicide is the intentional act of causing your own death. When a person is grieving over a loved one, multiple negative thoughts can go through their mind. They can believe that the death of their loved one didn’t occur, or they can blame the death on themselves. These thoughts cause people to not cope with sadness properly, which then leads to suicide or other forms of self-harm.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Though there are many emotions that one person can endure, some emotions tend to have a longer life-span. The three emotions, anger, joy, and sadness, all tend to be emotions that last the longest. Anger lasts long because it is it easy to become angry, but it also takes a while for the brain to get back to its normal state of equilibrium. Within that time period, it becomes easy to get angry again causing the duration life of anger to increase.

Joy lasts long because people love to reminisce in past memories and experiences. Joy is an emotion that can occur abruptly and has many triggers. Therefore, the duration of joy is long due to the fact that most people love being happy, and revisit old memories of happiness constantly.

Finally, sadness is the longest lasting emotion. People ruminate on negative major events that occurred throughout their lives. With that, people do not cope with sadness and try to ignore it, causing it to be an emotion that never seems to end. All in all, anger, joy and sadness have a duration that is longer than other emotions and they all have different reasons as to why they are prolonged.

Pop Quiz[edit | edit source]

Were you paying attention? How much do you know about Emotions?

1 What does the brain release when people get happy?

A Memories
B Testosterone
C Dopamine
D Oxytocin

2 Anger, Sadness and Joy are some of the longest lasting emotions


3 What part of the brain gets triggered when someone gets angry or threatened

A. Cortex
B. Amygdala
C. Putamen
D. Globus Pallidus

4 Sadness is considered to be the longest lasting emotion


See also[edit | edit source]






References[edit | edit source]

Beck, R., & Fernandez, E. (1998). Cognitive-Behavioral Self-Regulation of the Frequency, Duration, and Intensity of Anger. Journal of Psychology and Behavorial Assessment, 20(3), 217-229.

Cannon, W. B. (1927). The James-Lange Theory of Emotions: A Critical Examination and an Alternative Theory. The American Journal of Psychology, 39(1), 106-124.

Conway, A. M., Cohn, M. A., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M. (2009). Happiness Unpacked: Positive Emotions Increase Life Satisfaction by Building Resilience. Emotion, 9(3), 361-368.

Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity: Findings fron the Nun Study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(5), 804-813.

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What Good Are Positive Emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 300-319.

Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). POSITIVE EMOTIONS TRIGGER UPWARD SPIRALS TOWARD EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING. Psychological Science, 13(2), 172-175.

Fredrickson, B. L., Maynard, K. E., Helms, M. J., Haney, T. L., Siegler, I. C., & Barefoot, J. C. (2000). Hostility Predicts Magnitude and Duration of Blood Pressure Response to Anger. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23(3), 229-243.

George, M. S., Ketter, T. A., Parekh, P. I., Horwitz, B., Herscovitch, P., & Post, R. M. (1995). Brain Activity During Transient Sadness and Happiness in Healthy Women . Am J Psychiatry, 152(1), 341-351.

Hendricks, L., Bore, S., Aslinia, D., & Morriss, G. (2013). The Effects of Anger on the Brain and Body. National Forum Journal of Counseling and Addiction, 2(1), 1-12.

Kringelbach, M. L., & Berridge, K. C. (2009). Towards a functional neuroanatomy of pleasure and happiness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(11), 479-487.

Leventhal, A. M. (2008). Sadness, Depressino and Aviodance Behavior. Behavior Modification, 32(6), 759-779.

Nolen-Hoelsema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking Rumination. Perpectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400-424.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding Motivation and Emotion. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Verduyn, P., & Lavrijsen, S. (2015). Which emotions last longest and why: The role of event importance and rumination. Motiv Emot, 39(1), 119-127.

Vlahovic, T. A., Roberts, S., & Dunbar, R. (2012). Effects of Duration and Laughter on Subjective Happiness Within Different Modes of Communication. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17(4), 436-450.

External links[edit | edit source]




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