Let's Do an Emotion Experiment!

How emotionally reactive are you?

Posted Jun 29, 2014

In addition to a psychology blogger, I'm the director of the Psychopathology and Affective Sciences lab at The Ohio State University. I study how people who suffer from anxiety and mood disorders have difficulties experiencing and regulating their emotions. To this end, I conduct expeirments, in which I bring volunteer participants into the lab and put them through emotional challenges (participants always provide informed consent and they know that they can quit at any time). Designing these emotion-eliciting situations can be a lot of work - but it's also a lot of fun!  So, for this week's post, I thought I would give you a glimpse into how an emotion experiment works by showing you how to measure your own emotional reactivity!

Imagine that you could rate your excitement on a scale ranging from 0 to 100. These are the anchors:

0 = “not at all”

50 = “moderately”

100 = “extremely”

What is your level of excitement NOW? Here are some examples (these pictures are from my lab):


Excitement level: 90

Excitement level: 30


Excitement level: 10

Remember your rating!

Now, take a good look at this picture. Imagine that you have not eaten all day. Visualize taking a bite.

What is your level of excitement NOW?

Remember your rating!

Next, calculate the difference between the SECOND rating and the FIRST rating. This is your emotional reactivity.

Voila! That’s our experiment.

Now, let's explore some of the conclusions we could draw from it

1. If your reactivity was positive, this indicates that you were more excited after seeing and thinking of  the cake than you were before encountering it. We might conclude, for example, that you like cakes and/or chocolate.

2. If your reactivity was negative, this suggests that you were less excited after seeing and thinking of  the cake than you were before seeing it. We might infer that perhaps, you are not a big fan of chocolate and/or cake. Maybe you are on a diet and this picture reminded you of those sweets you can no longer eat.

3. Lastly, if your reactivity was zero, this tells us that you were equally excited before and after the cake. We might conclude that you are not particularly interested in cakes and/or chocolate. Or perhaps you did not find this cake to be particularly enticing.

As you can see, even a very simple experiment can provide tons of information about people's emotional functioning.

If you are up for it, as you go through your day, try keeping track of your emotional reactivity, not only to exciting objects/situations, but also to those that make you feel anxious, sad, angry, etc. You might learn quite a bit about yourself!

For more in-depth look at the science of emotions, follow me on Twitter @DrAmeliaAldao or Facebook.