How can chemists explain human emotions

Emodiversity: Why It's Better To Feel A Lot

Emodiversity protects us from our emotional ecosystem being too dominated by individual emotions

In addition, a diverse emotional life could protect us from our emotional ecosystem being too dominated by individual emotions, say Quoidbach and his colleagues. For example, if you are always sad, you run the risk of developing depression. However, if other emotions such as anger were added, this could save a person from withdrawing too much from their environment, the researchers argue.

So far, however, neither Quoidbach nor Ong's study has been able to prove that a colorful world of emotions actually leads to better health. Perhaps the opposite is true, and healthy people simply feel more diverse. In this case, the emodiversity score that a person achieves could be viewed as a kind of indicator of our physical and mental health.

Divided opinions

The results of the two research teams therefore meet with divided opinions among psychologists. Nick Brown and James Coyne from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands were critical of this in 2017. They took a closer look at Quoidbach's study and came to the conclusion in a publication in the journal "Journal of Experimental Psychology General" that the results of the study were little more than statistical artifacts. Among other things, they criticize the fact that Quoidbach borrowed a measured variable from biometrics for his calculations - the so-called Shannon index, which biologists also use to describe biodiversity in ecosystems. Whether the formula can be transferred to psychology in the way suggested by the authors is highly questionable.

Luise Prüßner shares this point of criticism. She conducts research in the Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy Unit at the Psychological Institute of the University of Heidelberg and deals with emotion regulation. Her special focus is on people who suffer from illnesses such as depression or an anxiety disorder. How small or how large someone's emotional diversity is also related to how much the person concerned can do with the respective emotional terms selected for the studies, says the expert. In addition, there would be the risk that, in retrospect, many emotions would fall under the table if test subjects were encouraged, as in Quoidbach's study, to report on their general range of feelings. All of this makes it difficult to reliably measure emotional diversity.

Still, she finds exploring the concept of emodiversity helpful in understanding human emotions. Our emotions, explains Prüßner, most likely fulfill one adaptive purpose: They help us to master the challenges of our everyday life by providing the right behavioral repertoire for different situations. They draw our attention to warning signs that we need to recognize or grievances that need to be corrected. From this point of view, it makes perfect sense that a diverse and varied emotional life is more advantageous than a monotonous one - but only if the emotions actually fit the respective context, Prüßner limits. If this is not the case, strongly fluctuating states of mind could also make it difficult to deal with different situations. An example of this is the emotionally unstable personality disorder, which is characterized by frequently changing and unpredictable emotional states. The psychologist is therefore currently carrying out a study together with her colleagues in which healthy test subjects and people with psychological complaints are asked several times a day with the help of an app about their current feelings and the respective contexts. The researchers want to find out which emotions are helpful in which everyday situations.

The good side of bad feelings

Numerous studies have shown that bad feelings such as sadness, anger and envy also have their positive sides. "Every negative emotion can be helpful or adaptive in certain contexts," says Luise Prüßner. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is fear. When it takes hold of us, it instantly occupies all of our attention. The heart beats faster, the muscles tense, the pupils dilate. Our bodies prepare for fight or flight in a flash - a reaction that can save our lives in the face of real danger. Feelings like fear usually become problematic when they take on a life of their own and, for example, panic attacks suddenly overtake us in everyday situations that cut our breath away.