Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times
longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised,
irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often
goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such
as death or accidents. You need more time to mull
over and cope with what happened to fully comprehend
it, say Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen of the
University of Leuven in Belgium. Their research,
published in Springer's journal Motivation and
Emotion, is the first to provide clear evidence to
explain why some emotions last a longer time than
The Belgian researchers asked 233 high school
students to recollect recent emotional episodes and
report their duration. The participants also had to
answer questions about the strategies they use to
appraise and deal with these emotions.
Meaningful differences in duration were indeed found
to exist between 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 often over in a
flash. Interestingly enough, boredom also counts
among the shorter emotions experienced. Verduyn and
Lavrijsen say that this means that even though time
seems to pass slowly when one is bored, an episode
of boredom typically doesn't last that long.
The researchers 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. Verduyn says 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
Duration was found to be a dimension that can
differentiate between otherwise very similar
emotions. 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," says Verduyn, explaining the role that
such constant and repetitive thinking has on the
experience of positive and negative emotions.
"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.?
For more information
Verduyn, P. and Lavrijsen, S. (2014).
Which emotions last longest and why: the role of
event importance and rumination.
Motivation and Emotion. DOI