Does having a lot on your mind reduce your ability to experience emotion?

We propose that experience of emotion is a mental phenomenon, which requires resources. This hypothesis implies that a concurrent cognitive load diminishes the intensity of feeling since the 2 activities are competing for the same resources. Two sets of experiments tested this hypothesis. The first line of experiments (Experiments 1–4) examined the intensity of participants’ feelings as they performed a secondary (backward counting) task. The results showed that the intensity of both negative and positive feelings diminished under a cognitive load and that this attenuation of feeling was not mediated by either distraction from external stimuli or demand characteristics. In the second set of experiments (Experiments 5–6), load was created by asking the participants to focus on the feelings. Even in these circumstances, the participants who were under load reported a lower intensity of feeling than those who were not under load. We explain these findings in terms of a resource-dependent model of emotional experience. Possible implications of our findings for a broader class of phenomenological experiences are succinctly discussed.

Source: “Feelings don’t come easy: Studies on the effortful nature of feelings.” from Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 139(3), Aug 2010, 520-534

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