Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Mixed emotions

Mixed emotions:
What are mixed emotions, what causes them, and how can they be managed?


Figure 1. Picture of 20 different emotions in Humans

Have you ever felt both positive and negative emotions about a situation? Have you ever felt really excited about an upcoming event but also scared at the same time? Do you ever recall feeling extremely angry at someone but at the same time love? Try to think back to a time when you were a child, and for example you were running around the house not noticing where you going, and all of sudden you run into a table that has your mother's family heirloom vase, and it falls onto the ground and shatters. Your mother is extremely angry that the vase it broken, but she is also happy because she never liked the vase.

The experiences of both positive and negative emotions at the same time has been explained as feeling mixed emotions. Although the theory of mixed emotions has been debated and questioned throughout, Hostler & Berrios (2021) characterise mixed emotions "as the coactivation of two oppositely-valance[spelling?] emotions such as happy and sad, amused and disgusted or fearful and hopeful" (Hostler & Berrios, 2021, p.341).

This is the experience of both emotional feelings of positive and negative towards an external event or person. Emotions have been said to be a form of "set behavioural, experiential, and physiological response tendencies that together influence how a person responds to perceived challenges and opportunities" (Gross, 2002, p.281). This, is turn, suggests that when experiencing multiple different emotions whether positive and or negative this is referred to as mixed emotions[Rewrite to improve clarity]. As shown in Figure. 1 the different emotions shown in facial expressions[Rewrite to improve clarity]. If looked at carefully you can see some picture's show evidence of a positive and negative emotion experience oneself is having[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Focus questions:

  • What mixed emotions am I experiencing?
  • Why am I experiencing mixed emotions?
  • How can I overcome and manage mixed emotions?

What are mixed emotions?Edit

Figure 2. Example of different emotions through different facial expressions.

Hoemann et al. (2017) suggests[grammar?] the original term for mixed emotions is 'Emotional Complexity' and argues that to understand emotions you need to understand how the brain works (Hoemann et al, 2017). Mixed emotions have further been described as a correlation of feeling both positive and negative stimulation at the same time (Kung & Chao, 2019). However, previous research investigates [grammar?] on the whether the occurrence of positive and negative emotions at the same does exist, and have argued that people are unable to experience positive and negative emotions such as happiness and sadness at the (Larsen & McGraw, 2011). In contrast, Larsen & McGraw (2011) further investigated whether positive and negative emotions can co-exist, and found a possibility of people feeling mixed emotions such as happiness and sadness at the same time, even though research has proven that positive and negative emotions are polar opposites and are separable from one another (Larsen & McGraw, 2011; Larsen et al, 2001).

Definition: Mixed Emotions are the experience of positive and negative feelings at the same time, often referred to as "emotional ambivalence" (Hung & Chao, 2019).

Example: "The pride of achieving a goal may be tainted by the sadness of one's sacrifices, and feelings of love are often complicated by feelings of jealousy" (Oh & Tong, 2022, p.283).

Positive Emotions vs Negative Emotions:Edit

Positive emotions are the emotions that people find pleasurable or are desirable to experience (Ackerman, 2019). Whereas negative emotions are the emotions that people find unpleasant to experience (Ackerman, 2019)[grammar?]. There are many positive and negative emotions, as shown in Figure 9.Plutchik's wheel of emotion. However, Ackerman (2019) argues that some examples of positive and negative emotions are as follows (descriptions of each emotion are from the American Psychology Association Dictionary, 2022 & Ackerman, 2019):

Figure 3. An example of a female cartoon character's facial expression when experiencing the emotion joy.
Positive Emotions
Emotion Description
Love Love is a complex emotion which usually involves strong feelings of affection and tenderness for the love object, pleasurable sensations in the other person's presence, devotion to the other person's well-being, and sensitivity to the other person's reactions to oneself. Love also takes on many other forms such as concern for one's fellow human for example brotherly love, parental love, erotic love, and self-love. Another form is the identification with the totality of being for example 'love of God' (APA, 2022)
Joy Joy is the emotion of feeling extreme gladness, delight, or exultation of a sprit[say what?] arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction. The feeling of joy may take two forms of passive and action. Passive joy involves tranquility and a feeling of contentment. Active joy involves a desire to share one's feelings with other's[grammar?]. The distinction between passive and active joy may be related to the intensity of the emotion, with active joy representing the more intense form. Both forms of joy are associated with an increase in energy and feelings of confidence and self-esteem (APA, 2022) See Figure 3. for an example.
Interest Interest is an emotion that is associated with attitude, by a need or desire to give selective attention to something that is significant to the individual such as an activity, goal, or research area (APA, 2022)
Happiness Happiness is an emotion associated with joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being (APA, 2022)
Awe Awe is an emotion that is associated with the experience of admiration and elevation in response to physical beauty, displays or exceptional ability, or moral goodness. The awe-inspiring stimulus is experienced as "vast" and difficult to comprehend (APA, 2022)
Case study

Thomas is a 12 year old at an amusement park with his best friend John who is also 12 years old and his family. John suggests going onto the slingshot ride and they both grab tickets for the ride and wait in line to go onto the ride. Thomas and John are both feeling really excited to get onto the ride, [grammar?] as the line gets shorter and they get to the start of the line Thomas starts feeling overwhelmed and scared. By the time its[grammar?] ready for them both to get onto the ride, Thomas is feeling very anxious because he is scared something bad will happen like he will fall out while it is going but also really excited because he has never been on this ride.

Figure 4. An example of a male's expression when experiencing the emotion fear.
Negative Emotions:
Emotion Description
Fear This emotion is associated with the fear response: fight-or-flight response. Fear is an intense emotion that is aroused by the detection of a sudden threat such as a spider crawling on your arm. The response involves an instant reaction to the body causing increased rapid heartbeat, redirection of blood flow, and muscle tension, to ensure the body readiness for action (APA, 2022). See Figure 4.[grammar?] for an example.
Anger Anger is an emotion associated with feelings of tension and hostility which develops from experiencing frustration. Anger can be real or imagined injury by another, or perceived injustice. The behaviours associated with anger are implemented to either remove the object of the anger or express the emotion such as swearing (APA, 2022).
Disgust Disgust is a strong aversion to a stimulus. This emotion is associated with the five senses of the body such as taste, smell, and touch. The feeling of something being revolting, either towards a person or behaviour (APA, 2022).
Sadness Sadness is the emotional state of unhappiness. This emotion can range the intensity from mild to extreme as seen in the mental health condition major depressive disorder. The intensity is typically aroused by the loss of something that is highly valued, for example loosing a job or someone close to you (APA, 2022).
Rage Rage is an intense emotion that involves uncontrollable anger and not hostility behaviours. This emotion is associated with excessive expressions and includes rapid respiration, thrusting and jerking of limbs and either clawing, biting and snarling, this emotion is usually more common in animals (APA, 2022).
Loneliness Loneliness is an emotion drawn from affective and cognitive discomfort or uneasiness. Usually the emotion loneliness is from either being lonely or believing oneself to be alone or in solitary. However, psychological theory and research argue slightly different explanations of loneliness, for further reading check out Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology or Humanistic Perspective for a different take on the emotion loneliness.
Case study

Sally is working as a retail consultant at a clothing stall at the local shops down from where she lives. She is a full time worker, is married, has two cats and enjoys her job very much. Sally enjoys the regular hours and pay she receives from work and is looking forward to having some days off in the next upcoming holiday period. One day when arriving at work her boss sits her down and explains the shop is closing due to an increase in rent. Sally is sad that she is loosing[spelling?] her job, [grammar?] she wonders how she will pay for her rent, bills and cat food, however, she is also glad because she has been wanting some time off for a while and is looking forward to spending days off doing nothing.

Emotion Categories & Moods:Edit

Emotions and moods are not the same, and it is important to understand the difference when exploring mixed emotions. Many people seem to confuse a mood with feelings of mixed emotions. Figure 5 shows the Emotion categories from Basic to Self-conscious to Cognitively Complex (Reeve, 2018) Figure 6 shows the difference between Emotions and Moods, although this figure also explores a slight difference in feelings too, Emotion's are feelings of positive and Negative feelings, therefore Feelings and emotions can be characterised as the same (Kreibig & Gross, 2017)[grammar?].

Figure 5. The 3 emotion categories and examples based on Reeve, J. (2018). Individual emotions. In Understanding Motivation and Emotion (pp. 339-361). John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Figure 6. Difference between emotion, feelings, and moods (Source: Godovykh & Tasci, 2021)
Emotions Feelings Moods
Duration Short (Seconds) Moderate(Minutes) Long(hours or days
Intensity High Moderate Low
Causes Specific responses to external stimuli (events, objects) Mental reactions to emotions The cause is often general and unclear
Effects Immediate actions, fight or flight response Decision-making, learning, memory, perceptions, attitudes, intentions Behavoir, psychological wellbeing, physical health

Want to find out how high your Emotional Quotient (EQ) is? Click on this link to test yourself.

What are some of the Mixed Emotion combinations?Edit

Mixed emotions can contain range of different emotions as long as it is contains two or more negative and positives at the same time it can be considered mixed. According to the history of mixed emotions some studies have found the below combination of emotions many people explain they are experiencing at the same time (Berrios et al, 2014; Hoemann et al, 2017; Kung & Chao, 2019; Larsen & McGraw, 2014). Also see Figure 7, for another example of mixed emotions or emotional instability.

Figure 7. Two heads facing in opposite directions, one happy / excited and the other depressed / sad, possibility representing a mixed episode in bipolar disorder, conflicting emotions, or emotional instability.
Example's of mixed emotions:
Emotion 1 Emotion 2
Fear Amusement
Happy Sad
Love Hate
Fear Happy
Disgust Amusement
Case study

Tess has been offered a promotion in her job, [grammar?] the new job involves Tess travelling overseas for the first time and living in [missing something?] country she has been to before. Tess is really happy that she has been given a promotion, [grammar?] her promotion involves a pay increase, her rent is paid for and she gets to visit a new country. However, Tess is also scared she is going to lose all her friends when she goes, and is scared something bad will happen as she will be in a foreign country.

Test yourselfEdit

Click on this link to complete the What Emotion am I feeling test for yourself.

What causes mixed emotions?Edit

Figure 8. four components of emotions

Mixed emotions have shown to arise from experience over a lifetime from certain life events (Braniecka et al, 2015; Berrios et al, 2015). Braniecka et al (2015) argues that mixed emotions are an affective response to complex events such as "winning a disappointing prize or remembering a lost love with warmth and joy". Mixed emotions have shown to be been more prominent in stressful life situations due to situation itself, as when being in these circumstances, it is nearly impossible to avoid negative affects associated with stressful life events, and positive affect may help alleviate the negative emotion experienced (Braniecka et al, 2014).

Theories of what causes the experience of Mixed Emotions:Edit

Below are some theories of how mixed emotions are caused.

Function Adapting:Edit

When people are in stressful life events, Braniecka et al (2015) suggests that adapting a function of mixed emotions maybe helpful in lowering the negative arousal associated with the negative event, and as such when manifesting the positive affect it changes the negative experience by reducing the physiological arousal without actually eliminating the negative affect itself. Allowing a decrease in distress, which in turn benefits the individual during such circumstances as it "allows them to confront adversity and find meaning in life's stressors, as well as feeling better" (Braniecka et al, 2015, p.1). This in turn reflects the James-Lange Theory of Emotion as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. James-Lange Theory of Emotion

Pleasant vs Unpleasant Stimuli:Edit

Mixed emotions have been shown to be experienced over time, and have often been studied as traits (Berrios et al, 2014, p.1). Berrios et al (2014) argues that the arousal of mixed emotions draws on from the experience of alternating the presentation of pleasant and unpleasant stimulus to instigate a mixed emotion experience. For example presenting someone with a puppy (pleasant) and throwing a bucket of ice cold water (unpleasant). Berrios et al (2014) explored research from Kellog (1915) which further supported this theory of pleasant and unpleasant stimulus to drive mixed emotion behaviours, and suggested that "two opposite streams of feelings can operate continuously" (Berrios et al 2014, p.2).

Figure 10. Arnolds[grammar?] appraisal theory of emotion

Life Events:Edit

Mixed emotions has been commonly suggested, to be triggered during situations involving goal conflict or personal dilemmas (Hostler & Berrios, 2021, p.341). Hostler & Berrios (2021) argued that mixed emotions are highly associated with "greater effort to resist temptation, which suggests a relationship between mixed emotions and self-control" and furthermore mixed emotions have also been proven to show improvement in an individuals[grammar?] accuracy of judgment, or even so maybe be relevant when dealing with uncertainty confusing future outcomes" (Hostler & Berrios, 2021, p.341-342). For an [grammar?] photographic example, see Figure 8, where the four components of emotion have been explained and Figure 10 where Arnolds[grammar?] appraisal theory of emotion is presented.

Case study

Donald worked full time in a call center for a busy telephone company. He has 2 children and is married and is the sole income earner for his family. Donald was contempt [say what?] with his job as it was a consistent income for him and his family. He found his role made him stressed and angry, due to the high demands and limited time off. He has been working at the company for 3 years and had recently applied for a promotion where he would have his own office, large pay increase and would work every second Saturday. Donald was really excited in applying, as he had plans to take the family on a special trip to celebrate with the pay increase, however, he was not successful. Donald felt sad and angry that he did not get the promotion, but was also happy and relieved as he can now spend every Saturday with his children.

Research or Laboratory Events:Edit

When researchers are exploring the cause and understanding of Mixed Emotions, different types of stimuli have been used to enforce the emotions. Kreibig & Gross (2017) explored different paradigms and measures for understanding mixed emotions such as inducing an occurrence of positive and negative emotional states by creating a film library of mixed emotions. However, other researchers have used methods such as:

  • Recalling naturally occurring situations
  • Fictitious press advertisements
  • Listening to self-selected music
  • Paired picture paradigm
  • Excerpts from motion pictures

Test yourselfEdit

1 Mixed Emotions involves both Negative and Positive emotions:


2 Which of the following is not an example of mixed emotion experience?:

Tim was angry that his lego tower fell over but was happy to build it up again.
Tim was happy with his ice-cream even though it was very cold.
Tim was excited to play with his new toy outside but fearful his sister may break it if she plays with him.

How can mixed emotions be managed?Edit

Figure. 9. Plutchik-wheel of Emotion

Managing mixed emotions can be tricky for some, and according to psychological research there are many ways mixed emotions can be managed. As Braniecka et al (2015) suggested, adapting the negative and positive emotions can help with reducing emotional complexity. Gross (2002) argued that the most successful way of deregulating emotions is the "process model of emotion regulation" (Gross, 2002, p.281) which involves two commonly used strategies, reappraisal and suppression. Reappraisal involves changing the way a situation is perceived or interpreted to decrease the emotional impact, and suppression involves preventing or minimising the outward expression of inner feelings (Gross, 2002). Below are the pro's[grammar?] and con's[grammar?] according to Gross (2002) for utilising reappraisal and suppression in emotional regulation.

Reappraisal vs Suppression[factual?]
Pro's[grammar?] Con's[grammar?]
Reappraisal has been known to be more effective. Suppression has been known to be less effective than reappraisal.
Reappraisal decreases both emotional experience and behavioural expression/s. Suppression fails to decrease emotional experience.
Reappraisal has no impact on memory. Suppression impairs memory function.
Suppression decreases behavioural expression.
Suppression increases physiological responding for suppressors and their social partners.

Below are some further modern suggestions on how to manage mixed emotions.

Psychology TodayEdit

According to Psychology Today there are 6 ways mixed emotions can be managed:

6 ways to Manage Multiple Emotions
  1. Observe your feelings, don't judge them
Observing the feelings you are feeling. Understanding why you are feeling the feelings you are feeling and do not judge yourself for feeling a certain way.
2. Live: don't re-live Try to gather positive emotions and dilute negative emotions. Don't believe you have to work through your past emotions before you can proceed in daily life activities, looking towards the future rather than living in the past.
3. Talk - or don't talk Everyone is different, and sometimes talking about your feelings to a professional, friends, family or colleague is helpful as you can hear yourself out loud which helps with clarity of your feelings, However, some people don't need to express their feelings, do what works for you.
4. Find Friends, dont[grammar?] find excuses Using mixed emoitions[spelling?] as an excuse to withdraw from friends when experiencing multiple emotions is not helpful. Mixed emotions is best dealt with when you are distracted, entertained, and different perspectives. Supportive friends that you can express your feelings if you like or if just simply being around people who care about you.
5. Organise, dont[grammar?] multitask Every time your sense of control goes up, stress goes down. By doing one task at a time allows you to focus your attention on one thing, as when dealing with multiple emotions you already feel out of control, therefore by doing one task at a time will help you regain your sense of control.
6. Pause, dont[grammar?] panic While your brain and body are trying to sort, digest and organise your emotions, the rest of you needs to be quiet. According to Herbert Benson, MD o Harvard University just 20 minutes of pausing a day can decrease stress symptoms of 50%. For example 5 minutes of breathing exercises in a slow elevator, 5 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation on a long line, or ten minutes of walking or meditation.

Mental Health AmericaEdit

Figure. 11 Thumbs down red

Mental Health America suggest their are helpful and harmful ways to managing mixed emotions. Mental Health America suggest you need to understand both the negative and positive ways to managing emotions. Below is the list of harmful and helpful ways to understanding mixed emotions.

Denial Denial is when you are not accepting that something is wrong or that you may need help. This is harmful as you may bottle up to a point that you end up "exploding" or acting out in harmful way.
Withdrawal Withdrawal is when someone doesn't want to be around or participate in usual activities with other people. This is not the same as wanting to be alone, and can be a warning sign of a mental health disorder such as depression. For whatever reason you are withdrawing it can bring further problems such as extreme loneliness, misunderstanding, anger, and distorted thinking. Social interaction is must as human beings.
Bullying Bullying is when someone uses force, threats, or ridicule to show power over others. This behaviour usually stems from not feeling goof about yourself and making someone else feel bad makes you feel better about yourself. This is harmful to both the bully and the person being bullied and does not address underlying issues.
Self-Harm Self-harm can take many forms including: cutting, starving one's self, binging and purging, or participating in dangerous behaviour. Some people self-harm because they feel like it gives them control over emotional pain. While self-harming may bring temporary relief, these beahvoiurs can become addictive, and can lead people to be more out of control and in greater pain than ever.
Substance Use Substance use is the overuse of alcohol and other drugs to make a person feel better or numb about painful situations. Alcohol and drugs can cause damage to the brain, making the need for higher amounts of used substances to get the same effect. This in turn can make difficult feelings worse, and in come cases lead to suicidal thoughts or addiction.
Figure 12. Thumbs up green with plus sign
Step 1. Pause Instead of acting on your feelings right away, you stop yourself and think things through. For example counting to 100 or saying the alphabet backwards.
Step 2. Acknowledge What You're Feeling For example, are you mad at someone or are you sad because your feelings were hurt by what they did? whatever it is that you are feeling, it is okay to feel that way.
Step 3. Think Now that you have taken a few moments to figure out what exactly it is that you are feeling, now you can think about how to make yourself feel better.
Step 4. Help Take action to help yourself based upon what you up with in the 'Think' step.

Additionally Check out The Ekmans Atlas of Emotions for the first steps of emotion awareness.


So, what does this all of this mean for you? Is it normal to feel multiple emotions at once? and is possible to manage them all? Well, yes it is normal to feel both positive emotions (eg. happiness) and negative (eg. sadness) at the same time (Kung & Chao, 2019). There are multiple avenues to managing mixed emotions, the first and most important thing to remember is it okay to feel mixed emotions, and at one point in everyone's life people feel mixed emotions. The first step is acknowledging the feelings you are feeling and understanding why you are experiencing certain emotions. The second is letting yourself pause and reflect so you express your emotions in an appropriate manner so if you need to seek help in managing them you can. Mixed emotion's[grammar?] have strongly been suggested that through life experience and the situations you come by you are bound to experience both negative and positive emotion's[grammar?] at the same time (Hostler & Berrios, 2021). Mixed emotion's[grammar?] can be managed by incorporating an functional adaption (Braniecka et al, 2015) or by practicing the reappraisal and or suppression technique's (Gross, 2002) to better experience and express your emotions, the first step is to understand why the feelings of such an emotion appear and the cues that are associated with triggering the emotion, so you can better express your emotions in a way that will make you feel better about yourself.

See alsoEdit


American Psychological Association, (2022). APA Dictionary of Psychology.

Ackerman, C. E., (2019). What are Positive and Negative Emotions and Do We Need Both? Positive Emotions

Berrios, R, Totterdell, P., & Kellett, S., (2015). Eliciting mixed emotions: a meta-analysis comparing models, types, and measures. Frontiers in Psychology. 6:428.

Braniecka, A, Trzebinska, E., Dowgiert, A., & Wytykowska, A., (2015). Mixed Emotions and Coping: The Benefits of Secondary Emotions. PLoS ONE. 9(8).

Godovykh, M., & Tasci, A. D., (2021). Emotions, feelings, and moods in tourism and hospitality research: Conceptual and methodological differences. Tourism and Hospitality Research. 22(2):247-253.

Gross, J. J., (2002). Emotion Regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology. 39:281-291.

Hoemann, K., Gendron, M., & Barrett, L. F., (2017). Mixed emotions in the predictive brain. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 15:51-57.

Hostler, T. J., & Berrios, R., (2021). The impact of mixed emotions on judgements: a naturalistic study during the FIFA world cup. Cognition and Emotion. 35(2):341-355.

Kreibig, S. D., & Gross, J. J., (2017). Understanding Mixed Emotions: Paradigms and Measures. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 15:62-71.

Kung, F. Y. H., & Chao, M. M., (2019). The Impact of Mixed Emotions on Creativity in Negotiation: An Interpersonal Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology. 9:2660.

Larsen, J. T., & McGraw, A. P., (2011). Further Evidence for Mixed Emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 100(6):1095-1110.

Larsen, J. T., McGraw, A. P., & Cacicoppo, J. T., (2001). Can people feel happy and sad at the same time? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 81(4):684-696.

Mental Health America, (2022). Helpful vs Harmful.

Oh, V. Y. S., & Tong, E. M. W., (2022). Specificity in the Study of Mixed Emotions: A Theoretical Framework. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 26(4):283-314.

Psychology Today, (2019). 6 ways to managing mixed emotions.

Williams, P., & Aaker, J. L., (2002). Can Mixed Emotions Peacefully Co-Exist?. Journal of Consumer Research. 28(4):636-649.

External LinksEdit