What is a differentiated effect in psychology

Psychological Institute - Developmental Psychology: Adulthood


In everyday life we ​​often notice that people differ in the extent to which they use different emotion words (e.g. fearful, angry, ashamed) to describe their own feelings in different situations. The term “emotion differentiation” describes this ability to use different emotion words appropriately and differently to describe emotions in different situations. People with a high degree of differentiation of emotions use different emotion words (e.g. worried, sad, angry or disappointed) to differentiate how they feel in different situations. In contrast, people with little differentiation of emotions use different emotion words in a completely interchangeable way (e.g., “worried” and “sad” as interchangeable terms). The importance of emotion differentiation for subjective well-being has already been investigated in earlier studies. For example, people who can report differently on their own emotions show fewer depressive symptoms, less stress and a generally more favorable way of dealing with their own emotions.

But to what extent is the ability to differentiate emotions also related to recognizing emotions in other people? Finally, it is also important in everyday life to correctly recognize the emotions of the other person in order to adequately adapt one's own reactions, depending on the other person's emotions (e.g. sad, disappointed or angry). However, this is hardly possible if the various emotions of other people are not correctly recognized (e.g. "something is wrong"). The term “emotion recognition” refers to the ability to correctly recognize different emotions of other people on the basis of facial expressions, voice pitch and posture.

Dutch researchers devoted themselves to the question of the so far hardly explored connection between the differentiation of emotions and the recognition of emotions. The researchers had the following assumption: the more differentiated people can differentiate between their own emotions in different situations, the more precisely they can recognize different emotions in other people. The researchers examined this assumption in two comparable studies with 363 participants (study 1) and 217 participants (study 2). In order to grasp the differentiation of emotions, the participants assess, for example, the emotions with which they reacted to different images. In further tasks, the participants should correctly recognize different emotions in different faces. The results of both studies showed that - as expected by the researchers - a higher ability to differentiate emotions is also related to a higher ability to recognize emotions. People who can accurately distinguish between their own emotions are also better at correctly identifying the emotions in other people's facial expressions.

What conclusion can be drawn from these study results? The ability to differentiate your own emotions in different situations plays an important role not only for your own well-being, but also for the ability to accurately recognize the emotions of others and then react appropriately to them (e.g. empathic behavior). In short, if we understand our own emotions better, we can also better understand the emotions of others.