Discordant expressions of emotions, such as crying at a wedding, or laughing when one hears a sad story may actually play an important role in our psychological functioning. Yale researcher Oriana Aragon has been studying this phenomenon via experiments in her lab, and she posits that when people are at risk of being overwhelmed by their emotions, the outward display of the opposite emotional state functions to restore balance.
Our threshold for emotional intensity tends to vary, which is why some individuals are more prone to ill-fitting responses than others. This is why some, but certainly, and thankfully, not all, might be witnessed crying during a wedding. Adults possess a more highly developed capacity for emotional regulation, which is why children more often provide responses that signify discordant emotional expressions. This concept is vividly and hilariously depicted within 2011’s viral video of Lily being informed that she was going to Disneyland.
In her lab experiments, Aragon and her colleagues asked participants to imagine a scenario in which they were informed that they had just won the lottery. Most participants responded as one may expect, with intense expressions of joy. A smaller percentage of participants, however, responded to the news with facial expressions of sadness, and occasionally tears. More subtle demonstrations of discordant expressions of emotions were also witnessed in examining participants’ responses to pictures of infants. Common expressions of affection that highlight this phenomenon included, “I want to pinch those cheeks. That baby is so cute I want to eat it up.” Younger babies tended to elicit expressions of playful aggression more often when photographs of younger babies were presented. Furthermore, participants who displayed discordant emotional reactions via expressions of playful aggression also endorsed the tendency to cry when reuniting with a loved one.
Wray, H. (2014, November, 6). Nervous Laughter, Tears of Joy.
Graham Martin, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern