People who have difficulty experiencing positive emotions are at greater risk of depression, research finds.
A lack of ‘positive affectivity’ is one aspect of the personality trait of introversion.
People with low levels of positive affectivity tend to lack cheerfulness and optimism and they can be lethargic and distressed.
Their brains also typically have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to a ‘flatter’ emotional state.
The conclusions come from a study of 2,942 adults who were followed over four years.
All were given tests of depression and aspects of the personality trait of extraversion: sociability, activity and positive affectivity.
People who are high in positive affectivity tend to be more confident, energetic, alert and enthusiastic.
Positive affectivity is an aspect of extraversion — so a lack of it is linked to being an introvert.
The authors explain the results:
“…trait depression had a large association with lack of positive affectivity, while trait social anxiety showed moderately strong associations with both low sociability and lack of positive affectivity.”
Social anxiety was also linked to the personality trait of low positive affectivity, the authors write:
“…socially anxious individuals reported fewer everyday positive emotions and positive events than did non-anxious individuals.
In contrast to other anxiety conditions, excessive social anxiety seems to be associated with diminished positive subjective experiences.”
One way to combat depression and anxiety may be by working on positive emotions, along with targeting negative emotions.
The authors write:
“…boosting positive emotionality may be a treatment goal
not only in the treatment of depression but also in the treatment of social anxiety.
It has recently been shown that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is associated with increased experience of momentary positive emotions as well as greater appreciation of, and enhanced responsiveness to, pleasant daily-life activities in persons vulnerable to depression.
Moreover, engaging in kind acts has been found to increase positive affect in socially anxious individuals.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Spinhoven et al., 2014).