A Three-Systems Investigation of Emotion-Processing in Very Happy People


Robert F. Simons and Lindsay Dillinger


Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, USA



In recent years, there has been an increasing movement towards research in positive psychology.  Diener and Seligman (Diener & Seligman, 2000) used questionnaires to successfully outline the necessary life attributes associated with ‘very happy people.’  In the present paper, the positive psychology research of Diener and Seligman is expanded to include physiological recordings.  This project identifies a group of very happy people, elicits emotions in the laboratory, and with verbal and physiological measures attempts to identify ways in which these happy people differ from a control group of volunteers whose happiness is average.


Heart rate (HR), Skin conductance (SCR), and Facial Electromyogram (EMG), were recorded while subjects watched a series of emotion-eliciting film clips.   It was found that although happy subjects consistently rated themselves as ‘happy’ on self-report questionnaires, physiological responses and self-reported emotional reactions   show no significant differences between happy and control groups in response to positive, negative and neutral stimuli.  We suggest that these results occurred due to a number of reasons, including an emphasis on intensity rather than frequency of positive emotions.



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