Research into how emotions change over time has revealed that negative emotions tend to fade to a greater extent over time compared to positive emotions, an effect known as the fading affect bias.
Talking to others is an important way in which this process can be enhanced: frequent social disclosure of past emotional events can help dissipate negative emotions and maintain positive emotions. The question is, how and why does talking help?
Kate described experimental research which demonstrates that the degree of responsiveness of the listener during social disclosure is pivotal in how the speaker feels afterwards. Further, merely responding to the speaker is not enough. This research provides preliminary evidence that there are particular types of listener responses which are associated with the speaker feeling less negative about unpleasant events, and more positive about pleasant events.
She listed three factors that were key for good listening. Here they are and what they mean:
- Participants take turns at talk allowing speaker to tell story
- Smooth conversational flow
- Mutual understanding of story meaning
- Listener takes role as troubles’ recipient
- Display understanding of speaker’s emotional state
- Express sympathetic concern
Encouraging Positive Focus
- Encourage speaker to build on positive aspects of negative events
- Develop positive interpretation of events
- And you need to demonstrate understanding when someone shares negative events:
- Anticipatory response uses same evaluative term as speaker
- Continuer is in the form of expression of sympathy, i.e. emotional support
- Listener tells related story (self-disclosure)
- More sympathy expressed as part of story assessment
- Story agrees with speaker’s assessment demonstrating understanding of meaning
- Acknowledgement of speaker’s negative feelings as valid emotional reaction
- Self disclosure engenders rapport and intimacy
The suggestions for sharing positive events mimics the research by Gable on Active Constructive Responding. Fascinating…next time you talk to someone, you know what to do.
Speaker Bio: Kate Muir is a Research Fellow in linguistics and social behaviour at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Kate’s current research focuses on the factors that influence linguistic accommodation, including differences in power roles and personality traits, and the social consequences of accommodation.
Kate’s other research interests include the influence of social interaction and individual differences upon subjective and objective aspects of autobiographical memories, including reported emotional intensity and memory narratives. In her spare time Kate teaches on the Psychology undergraduate degree for the Open University.
Kate completed her BSc (Hons) and PhD in Psychology at the University of Leeds in the UK. Her doctoral research concentrated on the roles of social disclosure and listener behaviour in the fading affect bias. This work demonstrated that listener behaviour is an important factor in emotional regulation processes which encourage negative emotions to fade and positive emotions to be retained in autobiographical memory, and has been recently published in the journal Memory. Kate lives near Bristol with her husband and young son.