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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 work on emodiversity (emotion diversity) project 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 refined the calculation of emodiversity and examined how emodiversity related to aspects of health (Benson, Ram, Almeida, Zautra, & Ong, 2018; Ong, Benson, Zautra, & Ram, 2018). We also extended this work in a discussion of other types of experiential diversity (e.g., social, cognitive, environmental; Benson & Ram, 2018). 

Along the way, we made some cool plots to better see what diversity looks like!

Focusing on just one of the studies, we started with intensive longitudinal data obtained from over 2,000 people who provided ratings of the intensities (from 0 to 4) with which they experienced 26 different emotions each day for 8 days (National Study of Daily Experiences, Almeida). To visualize emodiversity, we used polar coordinate plots (also known as rose plots and radar 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).

To make your own plots using a step-by-step R tutorial, please visit the QuantDev website

Note: Use of this plot at a logo is Copyrighted by Lizbeth Benson (Libby's Pies © Lizbeth Benson). However, use of these plots for other non-profit purposes such as academic research is highly encouraged when accompanied by the following citation: Benson, Ram, Almeida, Zautra, & Ong, 2018


For the original version of this text as well as many other scientifically driven data visualizations, please see the Playing the Archive site, designed by Dr. Nilam Ram.  

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