We each experience the same emotions, but we all experience them differently. While my best known work is on the universal elements in emotion, I am now examining the exact opposite, how each individual’s emotional response or experience is unique. Individual differences were present in my study of universals, as they are in virtually any study of emotion, but because the evidence for universals was so strong, the individual differences could be set aside.
I had been attracted to the universals question because it had such a distinguished history, with famous people in disagreement. Having resolved that dispute to my own satisfaction, the study of individual differences attracted me as a way to deepen my understanding of my own life and the lives of my family and friends. I am not trying to find out why we have differences in how we experience emotions. Instead, the first step is to identify those differences.
Unique experiences of emotions
We do know that people differ in:
- The speed of their emotional onset (how quickly they become emotional)
- the intensity of emotional response (how strong it is),
- duration of the emotional response (how long it lasts),
- and the decline (how long it takes to recover and go back to a baseline state).
There are a lot of interesting questions to ask. For example, does everyone who gets angry quickly get over it quickly or can you have a fast onset with a long recovery time? If you have a fast onset, does that mean you will have a very strong angry response, or can you have a fast onset and weak or low intensity anger? And if the anger is very intense, does that mean it typically lasts a short time, and very brief bursts of intense but short duration, or can it last a long time?
What my research has shown
I have some answers, with plenty more questions. Take the relationship between strength of response and speed of response. I had expected to find that fast responders were usually strong responders, but just but about just as many were weak responders. And slow responders were split between strong and weak responders the same was so for the relationship between the duration of response and the strength of response. I thought that if you have a strong response, it would take longer for it to end. Not so. The strong response people were split between short and long durations and the weak response people were also just about split between short and long duration responses. We are still working on this research, asking other questions about how individuals differ.
Learn More about Universal Emotions
Explore each individual emotion in Dr. Ekman’s research on universal emotions.