Evgeny Gromov via iStock photo
How a person typically responds to emotional challenges may be more or less healthy depending on how strongly they react and how long their emotional response lingers. Researchers need to learn more about how people's emotional response styles are related to their life experiences, cognitive abilities, ability to cope with stress, later memory for stressful and emotional events, and their health and well-being. Identifying these individual differences may help inform new treatments and interventions to improve well-being especially when dealing with adversity, such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some people, better coping with negative events to shorten the negative emotional response might be the most appropriate target, whereas for others developing skills to better savor positive events to enhance and prolong positive emotional responses might improve resilience and be more impactful for health and well-being.
This study uses affective chronometry – how people experience emotions over a period of time – to investigate three fundamental questions: first, how quickly or slowly a person recovers from adversity; second, the extent to which a person savors positive emotion; and third, how a person’s emotional responses increase or decrease in intensity when they are exposed to positive or negative stimuli multiple times.
The study examines the importance of individual differences in the time course of emotional responses in 350 adults between the ages of 25-65. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and multidimensional stress of the past year, the study has flexibly responded to incorporate individuals’ experience and impacts of the pandemic and the social context in which it falls. This has allowed the study to expand its research questions to include how are differences in emotional responses associated with the ability to cope with the long term high stress and personal impacts of the pandemic, racial injustice, and sociopolitical tension of the time.
A primary goal of this study is to measure the time course of emotional responses on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis in people using both electromyography (EMG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A second goal of the study is to determine whether differences in response styles (i.e., negative and/or positive) are related to memory, cognition, coping with and history of stress, mental health, daily emotional experiences, response to reward, and biological markers of stress and immune health.
This investigation of individual differences in affective chronometry has the potential to explain why certain individuals are vulnerable to mood disorders and why others are resilient, as well as identify the most critical processes to target with interventions.