Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Putting a price on emotions

Would you pay more cash to experience intense happiness or to avoid intense embarrassment? Your answer may depend on the culture you live in.

A team led by Hi Lau at the University of Hong Kong used this "willingness to pay" approach to find out how students in Britain and Hong Kong value different emotions. For the first study, 97 British students chose how much they'd be willing to spend (from £10 to £150, in £10 increments) to enjoy various positive emotions intensely for an hour, or to to avoid various negative emotions for an hour.

Overall, the students were willing to pay more to experience positive emotions than to avoid negative ones. An hour's worth of love was the most valued, followed by an hour's worth of happiness and then an hour without sadness. Bottom of the list was disgust - the students were only prepared to pay an average of £43 to avoid an hour of disgust (compared with £95 to have an hour of love).

Next, the research took in the choices of 46 students in Hong Kong as well as 41 Brits, and the range of emotions was expanded. The findings for the British students was largely a replication of the first study, with a greater willingness to pay for positive emotions than to avoid negative ones. The Hong Kong students showed a more balanced set of responses, being just as willing to pay to avoid negative emotions as to experience positive ones. Focusing on specific emotions, the Brits said they'd pay more than the Hong Kong students for happiness, delight and calm; the Hong Kong students meanwhile said they'd pay more than the Brits to avoid regret, embarrassment and frustration.

Lau's team, including University of Cambridge researcher Simone Schnall, said their approach offers a new, advantageous way to gauge people's attitudes towards emotions. The findings complement questionnaire-based research on people's beliefs about which emotions matter most to them, and their beliefs about which emotions will have more of an impact on their long-term wellbeing. There's some evidence that an absence of negative emotion is more important for wellbeing than positive emotion, in which case the British participants in the current study may have been unwise in their choices. "By putting price-tags on emotions we might come closer to understanding the value of human experience in order to aid policies at enhancing well-being," the researchers said.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Lau, H., White, M., and Schnall, S. (2012). Quantifying the Value of Emotions Using a Willingness to Pay Approach. Journal of Happiness Studies DOI: 10.1007/s10902-012-9394-7

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting. I wonder what would happen if one actually introduced something that would evoke the emotion. (Say, doing the same thing in a room that smells disgusting, or in the presence of snakes or spiders, or wen joined by ones current partner or child).

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  2. Italian translation of the article here:
    http://www.psicolinea.it/dare-un-prezzo-alle-emozioni/

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  3. i would pay more like british students...nice article..

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  4. I must be super-cheap, because I wouldn't be willing to pay anything for any of it.

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  5. Very interesting but sort of obvious to me. Many Asian cultures have a strong emphasis on shame whilst Westerners are largely detached from a sense of responsibility to friends and family. We care what people think of us but in a largely superficial way.

    Also, as a practicing Buddhist I can see the influence that many eastern religions would have on the choices people made.

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  6. As for me if I were to be asked, I wouldn't pay anything. Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.But neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive in any random manner, but will perish unless he lives as his nature requires.The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.
    Social Psychology

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