Theoretical writings on resilience have indicated that resilient individuals are characterized by high positive emotionality (e.g., Block & Kremen, 1996
; Klohnen, 1996
; Wolin & Wolin, 1993
) and by the capacity to rebound from negative circumstances despite threats to the individual (e.g., J. H. Block & Block, 1980
; Lazarus, 1993
; Masten, 2001
). This study demonstrates the utility of positive emotions in the coping process. Though not directly tested here, these findings may also have an impact on health outcomes.
In Study 1, those who rated themselves as having the ability to rebound effectively from stressful encounters also demonstrated this quality physiologically, by quickly returning to baseline levels of physiological responding after negative emotional arousal. This suggests that resilience may not be just a psychological phenomenon. One’s self-perception of resilience may be reflected in one’s bodily responses to stressful stimuli, which has strong implications for research in health psychology. Health researchers, for example, might consider examining subjective reports of psychological resilience as a way to understand or predict one’s physiological response to stress. The physiological embodiment of psychological resilience might be used as a further demonstration of how psychological constructs may positively affect physical health.
For trait-resilient individuals, the experience of positive emotions is related to accelerated speed in rebounding from the cardiovascular activation generated by negative emotions (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004
). It is possible that this quick recovery provides the body with restoration time to toughen it up in preparation for additional stressors should they arise (Dienstbier, 1989
). Positive emotions may also enhance coping outcomes beyond the physiological level. By helping to speed cardiovascular recovery from negative emotions, a valuable byproduct of positive emotions is that they should broaden arrays of subsequent thoughts and actions (Fredrickson, 2000
) and provide the opportunity for resilient people to explore other coping possibilities.
Given that resilient individuals are characterized by positive emotionality (e.g., Block & Kremen, 1996
; Klohnen, 1996
; Wolin & Wolin, 1993
), the benefits of positive emotional experience can accrue and accumulate. In line with the broaden-and-build theory, research has shown that positive emotions and broadened thinking influence one another reciprocally, leading to appreciable increases in functioning and well-being. In one study, for example, affective experiences and broad-minded coping (e.g., considering multiple courses of action to manage problems) were examined across two assessment periods, 5 weeks apart (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2001). Over this period, the relations between positive emotions and broad-minded coping became stronger, creating an upward spiral towards enhanced well-being. Positive emotions predicted improvements in broad-minded coping, which in turn, predicted increases in subsequent experiences of positive emotions. And again, new experiences of positive emotions were related to increases in broad-minded coping, and so forth.
In line with this conceptualization, in another study, positive emotions appeared to aid resilient individuals in their ability to build psychological resources that are essential for coping effectively with large-scale tragedy, such as the September 11th attacks on the United States. As part of our ongoing research on positive emotions and resilience, we studied a sample of students prior to September 11th. This afforded us the opportunity to make a prospective assessment of the benefits of positive emotions in this crisis. Those characterized by high trait resilience reported greater post-crisis experiences of positive emotions (gratitude, interest, love) in the midst of the negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear) they experienced after the attacks. In addition, higher resilience was linked to post-crisis growth (indexed by increases in optimism, subjective well-being, tranquility). In line with the broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 1998
), post-crisis experiences of positive emotions fully mediated the relation between the effect of trait resilience on psychological growth after the attacks (Fredrickson, Tugade, Waugh, & Larkin, 2003
Together with these findings, the results of Study 1 show that the positive emotions experienced by trait-resilient people may serve as protective factors useful in promoting short-term health benefits as well as long-term advantages for coping in the future. Given that positive emotions may serve important health-promoting functions, it is possible that certain individuals who have a greater tendency to harness positive emotions to their advantage in times of stress may reap beneficial consequences in the coping process. The existing data would suggest that resilient individuals may have a fine-tuned understanding about the benefits that positive emotions can offer, especially during times of stress (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2002
). The evidence, however, is far from definitive.
The ways that individuals represent their emotional experiences may provide insight into the information that they derive from emotions to direct coping behavior. Towards this end, the aim of Study 2 was to investigate another trait characterized by positive emotional experience, namely positive emotional granularity. Positive emotional granularity reflects individual differences in the tendency to represent positive emotional experience precisely (rather than globally). By representing positive emotional experiences with precision, one may derive important information from discrete emotion concepts. Such information may be more beneficial to an individual than more general information provided by global moods. Given the health benefits associated with positive emotions and the informational value provided by discrete positive emotion concepts, higher positive emotional granularity should be associated with healthier outcomes.