Mixed emotions are a sign of emotional complexity, a new study finds.
They are not necessarily a sign of indecision.
People experiencing higher emotional complexity are also better able to control their emotions and have a lower incidence of depression, other studies have found.
The new conclusions come from researchers who looked at 16 different cultures, including the US, Canada and the UK.
Professor Igor Grossmann, who led the study, said:
“People in many western countries see mixed feelings as undesirable — as if to suggest that someone experiencing mixed feelings is wishy-washy.
Actually, we found that both westerners and non-westerners who show mixed feelings are better able to differentiate their emotions and experience their lives in an emotionally rich and balanced fashion.”
People living in cultures which are self-oriented — like the US, Canada and the UK — experienced less emotional complexity, on average.
This was in comparison to those in other-oriented cultures where there is more emphasis on family bonds and duty.
Typically other-oriented cultures are in Asia and Russia.
Professor Grossmann continued:
“People in those other-oriented cultures are more likely to experience emotional complexity because they are able to see different perspectives.
For example, they might see a job loss as disappointing, but also as an exciting opportunity to spend more time with family or to try something new.
Someone from a culture that is oriented towards personal achievement is more likely to see it as all negative.”
The results came from analysing texts and from looking at how people in those cultures reported their emotional experience.
Professor Grossmann said:
“Across the entire project, the degree to which a culture promotes focus on other people rather than the self, including greater awareness of others, was positively associated with all of the markers of emotional complexity.
Further, when we looked at individuals who focus on others within each culture, they also showed greater emotional complexity on a personal level.”
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Grossmann et al., 2016).
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