Visualizing the Diversity of Individuals’ Emotion Ecosystem
How might individuals benefit from diversity in their experiences?
Functionalist theories of emotion suggest that the dynamics of daily life can activate a diversity of emotions because each emotion (e.g., excitement, fear, anger) serves specific adaptive purposes by prioritizing, organizing, and regulating behavior in ways that optimize an individual’s adjustment to current situational demands (Barrett & Campos, 1987; Keltner & Gross, 1999). From this perspective, emotions have persisted throughout evolution because their corresponding functional roles are adaptive for survival, reproduction, and attainment of social goals. For example, if you were hiking and ran into a bear, which emotion would be appropriate? Anger? Fear? Excitement? A few of us might respond with excitement, but fear would likely be the most health protective response – because fear of becoming the bear’s lunch motivates fleeing. In other situations, however, fear may not be an appropriate emotional response. From a functionalist perspective, a full repertoire of emotions are available and can be drawn upon for the situation at hand.
In the ecology literature, biodiversity describes how species interact with each other and the environment they are inhabiting (Magurran, 2004). Each species (from plants to insects to animals) serve specific functions in the ecosystem. The ecosystem health depends on all of these organisms together. Depleting any one species has consequences for the ecosystem as a whole. If the various emotions are considered as distinct ‘species’ that require and are particularly well suited for specific roles in the environment, then optimal experiential well-being may be more about ‘emotion-situation fit’ than the abundance of a specific ‘species’ or types of emotion (e.g., only high levels of positive emotion). Perhaps measures of biodiversity can be used to quantify and study the implications of the diversity of individuals’ emotion experiences (Ram et al., 2011; Quoidbach et al., 2014).
Our emotion diversity project seeks to extend previous research on emotion, psychological well-being and physical health through consideration of both overall levels and diversity of individuals’ emotion experiences. Using daily diary data from three complementary studies we are working to refine the calculation of emotion diversity and examine how various permutations of diversity relate to well-being and health. Of course, we want to make some cool plots and see what diversity looks like!
Focusing on just one of the studies, we started with daily data obtained from 150 persons who indicated the intensity (from 0 to 100) with which they experienced 26 different emotions across approximately 63 days (iSAHIB; Ram et al., 2014). To visualize emotion diversity, we used polar coordinate plots (also known as rose plots), where each “slice” or “petal” of the plot represents one species in the emotion ecosystem. Ordering the emotions in accordance with a Circumplex Model of emotion (Russell, 1980): positive valence high arousal emotions such as enthusiasm and joy are placed in the top-right quadrant whereas positive valence low arousal emotions such as calm and proud are placed in the bottom-right quadrant. Similarly, for the negative valence emotions, high arousal emotions such as angry and nervous are placed in the top-left quadrant, and low arousal emotions such as sad and sluggish are placed in the bottom-left quadrant. The colors represent the proportion of days each emotion / “species” was experienced with a certain intensity level, ranging from orange (low intensity) to yellow to green to blue to pink (high intensity).
The animation above illustrates the polar coordinate plot for each individual in the iSAHIB study. Looking across all the petals, we see how an individual’s experiences are distributed across emotion types (petals) and intensities (colors). It is also fascinating to note how each individual’s plot is unique, and some individuals even look drastically different from one another in terms of the intensities with which they experienced the various emotions across days.
Data for the emotion diversity project were collected by Nilam Ram as part of the Intraindividual Study of Affect, Health, and Interpersonal Behavior at Penn State. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging (RC1-AG035645) and Penn State Social Science Research Institute.
1. Barrett, K. C., & Campos, J. J. (1987). Perspectives on emotional development II: A functionalist approach to emotions. In J. Osofsky (Ed.), Handbook of infant development (2nd ed., pp. 555-578). New York: Wiley.
2. Keltner, D., & Gross, J. J. (1999). Functional accounts of emotions. Cognition & Emotion, 13(5), 467-480.
3. Magurran, A. E. (2004). Measuring biological diversity. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.
4. Quoidbach, J., Gruber, J., Mikolajczak, M., Kogan, A., Kotsou, I., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Emodiversity and the emotional ecosystem. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(6), 2057.
5. Ram, N., Conroy, D. E., Pincus, A. L., Lorek, A., Rebar, A., Roche, M. J., … & Gerstorf, D. (2014). Examining the interplay of processes across multiple time-scales: Illustration with the Intraindividual Study of Affect, Health, and Interpersonal Behavior (iSAHIB). Research in Human Development, 11(2), 142-160.
6. Ram, N., Gerstorf, D., Lindenberger, U., & Smith, J. (2011). Developmental change and intraindividual variability: relating cognitive aging to cognitive plasticity, cardiovascular lability, and emotional diversity. Psychology and aging, 26(2), 363.
7. Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 39(6), 1161.