Implicit Positive Emotion Counteracts Ego Depletion

By Ren, Jun; Hu, Lingyun et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Implicit Positive Emotion Counteracts Ego Depletion


Ren, Jun, Hu, Lingyun, Zhang, Hongying, Huang, Zihui, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Psychological resources play important roles in individuals carrying out conscious activities. In previous studies it has been shown that an individual consumes a large amount of psychological resources to perform some acts of self-regulation. As a result, at that time, the individual lacks necessary psychological resources, that is, the individual experiences a state of ego depletion, which may lead to inappropriate subsequent self-regulation or out-of-control behavior by that individual (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998; Muraven, Tice, & Baumeister, 1998; Vohs & Heatherton, 2000). Sometimes, inappropriate self-regulation and out-of-control behavior even occurs in areas that have nothing to do with the current situation (Vohs & Faber, 2007). Therefore, recovery from ego depletion has become an important topic in psychological research. In relevant studies it has been shown that getting enough rest or sleep is one effective strategy. For example, in one study (Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, & Born, 2004) it was suggested that sleeping helps people regain resiliency, thereby facilitating their ability to behave with insight. Positive emotions or mood can also counteract ego depletion and facilitate the individual's subsequent self-regulation (Tice, Baumeister, Shmueli, & Muraven, 2007), which is consistent with Fredrickson's (1998) broaden-and-build theory in which she proposed positive emotions not only broadened an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire, but also broadened and built the individual's personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social resources (see also Frederickson, 2005; Frederickson & Joiner, 2002). That is, positive emotions can help individuals broaden and recapture their psychological resources, allowing them to recover from the effect of negative emotions, and making their subsequent behavior more constructive and creative. Fredrickson and Levenson (1998) expanded the theory using biological functions of positive emotions, and others have found that a positive mood broadened visual attention to positive stimuli (Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2006). According to Johnson and Frederickson (2005), an individual with positive emotive experiences exhibited less own-race bias in face recognition, suggesting that positive emotions improve an individual's cognitive ability. In a study by Miley and Spinella (2006) it was shown that when participants were in a positive emotional state, such as exhibiting high levels of gratitude, their executive functions operated at a much higher level. Isen (2004) suggested that positive affect facilitates thinking and problem solving. They found that positive emotions were efficient in organizing human cognitive activities causing cognitive activity to range much wider, and making cognitive activity more fluent and more flexible. Recently, the findings of more empirical studies have supported the broaden-and-build theory (Burns et al., 2008; Folkman, 2008; Kuroki, 2007), even in studies with nonhuman participants (Boissy et al., 2007).

The aim of these studies in which the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotion has been examined was to examine states of explicit positive emotions in the participants. Since explicit positive emotion can restore individual's psychological resources, is it possible that implicit positive emotions can do this as well?

Originally, emotion resulting from a subliminal stimulus was defined as implicit emotion. For instance, Monahan, Murphy, and Zajonc (2000) required one group of participants to repeatedly observe a subliminal stimulus that consisted of multiple neutral pictures randomly ordered, while another group of participants did not watch it. The result showed that participants who looked at pictures repeatedly were more likely than those who did not watch the pictures to report that their mood was becoming better. Monahan and colleagues termed this phenomenon the Mere Exposure Effect.

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