When faced with emotional challenges or traumatic experiences, we may well have different, mixed feelings both at the same time and sequentially. In adolescence, when complex emotions are experienced as part of everyday life, the effect of challenge or trauma combined with difficulty expressing emotional complexity can exacerbate a given situation and limit the communication needed between young people and professionals.
New research published (23rd July 2019) in the Journal of Adolescence by a research team from the University of Chichester has, for the first time, examined types of reported simultaneous mixed emotion experiences in adolescents for conflicting, bipolar emotional pairs (eg: happy/sad) using an Analogue Emotion Scale (AES). This is a comparatively simple, flexible graph which can track mixed emotions over time and is especially useful where people cannot find the words to explain how they are feeling.
There is use of an AES to assess adult emotions, and growing use in the assessment of children, but to date there has been no research to support its use in assessments in adolescence - a period of life when, arguably, it would be of most benefit.
The study investigated 163 participants based at schools in the UK. They reported experiencing mixed emotions one after the other (sequentially) and simultaneously. They felt that others experienced mixed emotions sequentially, while they themselves experience more emotions in a highly simultaneous way. Their experience was different depending on the conflicting emotional pairings and age.
The study was led by Dr Esther Burkitt, Reader in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chichester. She said:
An AES could be a useful tool for professionals to assess the emotional state of an individual, especially in situations where they are upset or find it hard to verbalise how they feel. Ours is the first piece of research to investigate simple and simultaneous types of mixed emotions in adolescence using an AES.
Our findings show that there is potential for an AES to be an effective supplementary tool for professionals working with adolescents experiencing complex emotions at a difficult time. This is an important finding, given that background emotions can be complex and conflicting in adolescence even without the added complication of trauma and/or emotional challenge. Our next step will be the development of trials to see how our findings play out in practice."
Burkitt, E. et al. (2019) Mixed emotion experiences for self or another person in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence. doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.07.004.