Feeling Good And Bad About Nothing At All: Evidence That The Status Quo Can Elicit Mixed Feelings

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Sometimes we come out ahead and sometimes we fall behind. Sometimes the status quo is maintained and we end up where we began. The status quo can be disappointing when things might have gone better and relieving when they might have gone worse, but it is not clear how the status quo will feel when things might have gone better or worse. Hume (1739/2000) and Bain (1859) would contend that feelings of disappointment and relief will neutralize one another. The evaluative space model (Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994), which conceptualizes the positive and negative substrates of the affect system as separable, raises the possibility that the status quo will elicit mixed feelings in such circumstances. To test this possibility, we had participants play games that offered a 40% chance to win, a 40% chance to lose, and a 20% chance of getting nothing. Participants’ self-reported positive and negative affect indicate that the status quo elicited (a) less positive affect than wins and more positive affect than losses, and (b) less negative affect than losses and more negative affect than wins. More interestingly, the status quo elicited more mixed feelings than both wins and losses. Thus, when things might have turned out either better or worse, the status quo may best be conceived of as a bittersweet nothing. More generally, results indicate that a complete understanding of how counterfactual comparisons influence emotions requires conceptualizing positivity and negative as separable. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

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