by Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee (www.yourwellbeing.doctor)
American Psychology Professor and Researcher, Barbara Fredrickson considers emotions to be response mechanisms that unfold over “short time spans”. Reflecting and connecting with our emotions is important to understand and advance our own personal well-being.
Fredrickson developed the “broaden-and build-theory” to explain the power behind positive emotions in our minds and bodies.
In 1998, Fredrickson determined that our negative emotions are part of an evolutionary response which lead to specific actions resulting in a narrowing of emotions and focus such as required in a “flight or fight” response. Positive emotions do not elicit this response and therefore needed to be researched in a different manner, because they affect our brain differently.
“Broaden-and-build theory is notable for drawing explicit attention to the positive and showing that insights result when we do something more than simply look at the absence of the negative.”
Positive emotions are said to have a “broadening effect”, in other words, positivity breeds positivity. By focussing on the positive aspects in our lives we become both more attuned and more aware of the positive in our lives.
One positive emotion has been shown to spark a psychological broadening effect, meaning that an individual will see and experience further pleasant and meaningful events as their brain becomes more receptive to positive emotions. This increases the likelihood that an individual can and will find positive meaning in further events which will enable the individual more receptive to positive emotions propagating further benefit.
By adapting our mindset by being more attentive to the positive, we exercise and utilise the neuroplasticity of our brain which allows us to broaden our mindset, building on these positive emotions not only in a linear fashion but in a rising circular fashion, like a rising spiral staircase.
By broadening our perspectives and actions, we build upon our existing resources which further embed supporting us to move forward serving as a resilience reservoir.
The value of inviting more positive emotion is that it allows for more constructive cognitive processing, including making more neural connections, thus could support us in times of significant need and distress.
One study showed that heart rate decreased to a more ‘normal’ level after experiencing negative emotion, IF prior to that stimulus a person was experiencing a positive emotion. It has therefore been concluded that positive emotions can have a direct positive protective effect on our physical health and therefore mental health and personal wellbeing.
Research has shown that individuals who experience an increased number of positive emotions are better able to find meaning in their negative circumstances. This behaviour and pattern of thinking could be shown to be beneficial in these times of unprecedented uncertainty.
Fredrickson, B. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.
Fredrickson, B. (2000). Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and wellbeing. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
Fredrickson, B. (2001). The role of positive emotions in Positive Psychology: The broaden and build theory of positive emotions.American Psychologist. 56(3): 218–226.
Fredrickson, B. (2004). The broaden and build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society B.359, 1367–1377
Fredrickson, B. (2013): Positive Emotions Broaden and Build. In: Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol 47, Elsevier
Fredrickson, B and Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 313-332.
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