Getting over a break-up, mourning a loved one or generally feeling down in the dumps can feel overwhelming. And now researchers have discovered this is because sadness lasts up to 240 times longer than other emotions, including feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored. Sadness often goes hand-in-hand with events of greater impact such as death or accidents, explained the researchers.And people therefore need more time to mull over and cope with what happened to fully comprehend it.
To test the length and effect of emotions, Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen from the University of Leuven in Belgium asked 233 students to recollect recent emotional episodes and report their duration. The participants also had to answer questions about the strategies they used to cope with these emotions. Out of a set of 27 emotions, sadness lasted the longest, whereas shame, surprise, fear, disgust, boredom, being touched, irritated or feeling relief were over much faster.
Typically, it took 120 hours to stop feeling sad, but just 30 minutes to get over feelings of disgust and shame. Hatred lasted for 60 hours, followed by joy for 35 hours. Boredom was also listed among the shorter emotions, and Professor Verduyn and Professor Lavrijsen claim this means that even though time seems to pass slowly when one is bored, an episode of boredom typically doesn’t last that long.
Their research, published in Springer’s journal Motivation and Emotion, is the first to provide evidence to explain why some emotions last longer than others. They addionally discovered that emotions that last a shorter time are typically elicited by events that have relatively low importance attached to them. On the other hand, long-lasting emotions tend to be caused by events that have strong implications for a person’s major concerns.
Professor Verduyn added some of these implications may only become apparent over time, which then causes the emotion to be maintained or strengthened. The feeling therefore endures while a person rethinks the events and consequences over and over. Duration was found to be a dimension that can differentiate between, otherwise very similar, emotions, too.
For instance, Verduyn and Lavrijsen found that guilt is an emotion that persists much longer than shame, while anxiety lingers longer than fear. ‘Rumination is the central determinant of why some emotions last longer than others. Emotions associated with high levels of rumination will last longest,’ said Professor Verduyn.
‘Emotions of shorter duration are typically – but, of course, not always – elicited by events of relatively low importance. On the other hand, long-lasting emotions tend to be about something highly important,’ Lavrijsen explains further.