Combinations Of Sadness And Other Basic Emotions

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One of the possibilities that we suggested in Chapter 5 was that two or more basic emotions could, under certain circumstances, continuously activate each other. This "coupling" between emotion modules can be considered to work in a similar way to the within-module activation that was outlined in the previous section. The proposal does of course run counter to a number of emotion theories such as that of Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987), in which it was argued that complex emotions were derived from only one basic underlying emotion. We hope, however, to demonstrate that there is much to be gained from taking a different line; namely, that the coupling of two or more basic emotions may lock the individual into a complex emotional state from which it may be difficult to escape.

The fact that even under normal circumstances sadness can readily be experienced together with other basic emotions is illustrated by the examples presented in Table 7.1. By "experienced together" we mean simultaneously, rather than in succession. All emotion theorists acknowledge that one emotion can be replaced by a succession of others as circumstances or appraisals change; for example, the student who feels disappointed at getting a lower mark than hoped for on a test may subsequently feel overjoyed on finding out that she actually came top of the class. The first example in Table 7.1 shows a combination of sadness and disgust and an example under which such a combination might occur; namely, someone feeling

Table 7.1 Pairings of sadness with other basic emotions together with some typical examples

Example

SADNESS-DISGUST SADNESS-ANGER SADNESS-ANXIETY SADNESS-HAPPINESS

He left me because I am such an awful person. Why did he leave me, the ******?! How will I cope now that he's gone? Oh, how I miss the good times we had.

self-disgust following the break-up of a relationship. Such a combination may be central to the experience of depression, so we will return to the pairing of sadness and disgust in the subsequent section on depression. The second example is that of the combination of sadness and anger, a pairing that used to be thought to be pathological in the experience of bereavement, but which, from the work of Bowlby (e.g., 1980) and others, is now known to be a common experience in both children and adults following temporary or permanent breaks in attachment relationships. The third example is that of sadness and anxiety which, again, may be a common combination following a loss in which individuals feel depleted of resources and therefore fear for their capacity to deal with future demands. The final combination, that of sadness and happiness, is probably best known to us in forms such as nostalgia, homesickness, and love-sickness, and at the end of Hollywood movies. For example, in the film It's A Wonderful Life the hero, James Stewart, tries to kill himself because he concludes that his life has been a failure, but is then given an inspired view of how much he has contributed and finally decides that he wants to live.

In addition to our own anecdotal experience of combined basic emotions, there is empirical evidence of the types of combinations that may occur. Keith Oatley has carried out a number of diary studies in which individuals were asked to make detailed recordings of emotions that they experienced over a number of days (Oatley & Duncan, 1992). Despite having claimed in earlier theoretical work cited above that basic emotions cannot be combined, Oatley and Duncan reported that more than a third of everyday experiences of the basic emotions of fear, anger, sadness, and love were found to be simultaneously accompanied by the experience of one of the other basic emotions. In fact, sadness was found to be the emotion that was most likely to occur in combination, providing 77% of all such examples. Furthermore, where emotions were found to change over the course of an incident, the commonest change was found to occur between sadness and anger (with 33% of such changes being accounted for by this pairing). The predilection for sadness to combine with other basic emotions may provide some clue as to why conditions such as grief and depression can be so longstanding.

It seems that the combination or coupling of basic emotions is a common everyday experience and that sadness in particular is more likely than any of the other basic emotions to be involved in such combinations. We will proceed to examine therefore two particularly insidious combinations, those of sadness-anger and sadness-disgust, which, we suggest, may underlie atypical grief reactions and some forms of depression, respectively. Before doing so, however, we must reiterate that because combinations of basic emotions occur so readily within the bounds of normal experience, our approach emphasises that the emotional disorders are extreme variants of normal experience rather than being qualitatively different.

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