To advance understanding in this area, I formulated a new theoretical model to better capture the unique effects of positive emotions. I call this the broaden-and-buiid theory
of posiiive emotions (Fredrickson, 1998
). This theory states that certain discrete positive emotions—including joy, interest, contentment, pride, and love—although phenomenologically distinct, all share the ability to broaden people's momentary thought-action repertoires and build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources.
I contrast this new theory (o traditional models based on specific action tendencies. Specific action tendencies work well to describe the function of negative emotions and should be retained for models of this subset of emotions. Without loss of theoretical nuance, a specific action tendency can be redescribed as the outcome of a psychological process that narrows a person's momentary thought–action repertoire by calling to mind an urge to act in a particular way (e.g., escape, attack, expel). In a life-threatening situation, a narrowed thought–action repertoire promotes quick and decisive action that carries direct and immediate benefit. Specific action tendencies called forth by negative emotions represent the sort of actions that likely worked best to save human ancestors' lives and limbs in similar situations.
Although positive emotions can occur in adverse circumstances, the typical context of positive emotions is not a life-threatening situation. As such, a psychological process that narrows a person's momentary thought-action repertoire to promote quick and decisive action may not be needed. Instead, the positive emotions of joy, interest, contentment, pride, and love appear to have a complementary effect: They broaden people's momentary thought-action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind (Fredrickson, 1998
; Fredrickson & Branigan, 2001
). Conceptual analyses of a range of positive emotions support this claim. Joy, for instance, broadens by creating the urge to play, push the limits, and be creative. These urges are evident not only in social and physical behavior, but also in intellectual and artistic behavior (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988
; Frijda, 1986
). Interest, a phenomenologically distinct positive emotion, broadens by creating the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990
; Izard, 1977
; Ryan & Deci, 2000
; Tomkins, 1962
). Contentment, a third distinct positive emotion, broadens by creating the urge to savor current life circumstances and integrate these circumstances into new views of self and of the world (Izard, 1977
). Pride, a fourth distinct positive emotion that follows personal achievements, broadens by creating the urge to share news of the achievement with others and to envision even greater achievements in the future (Lewis, 1993
). Love, conceptualized as an amalgam of distinct positive emotions (e.g., joy, interest, contentment) experienced within contexts of safe, close relationships (Izard, 1977
), broadens by creating recurring cycles of urges to play with, explore, and savor experiences with loved ones. These various thought-action tendencies—to play, to explore, to savor and integrate, or to envision future achievement—each represent ways that positive emotions broaden habitual modes of thinking or acting (Fredrickson, 1998
; Fredrickson & Branigan, 2001
In contrast to negative emotions, which carry direct and immediate adaptive benefits in situations that threaten survival, the broadened thought-action repertoires triggered by positive emotions are beneficial in other ways. Specifically, these broadened mindsets carry indirect and long-term adaptive benefits because broadening builds enduring personal resources, which function as reserves to be drawn on later to manage future threats.
Take play, the urge associated with joy, as an example. Animal research has found that specific forms of chasing play evident in juveniles of a species, like running into a flexible sapling or branch and catapulting oneself in an unexpected direction, are seen in adults of that species exclusively during predator avoidance (Dolhinow, 1987
). Such correspondences suggest that juvenile play builds enduring physical resources (Boulton & Smith, 1992
; Caro, 1988
). Play also builds enduring social resources: Social play, with its shared amusement, excitement, and smiles, builds lasting social bonds and attachments (Aron, Norman, Aron, McKenna, & Heyman, 2000
; Lee, 1983
; Simons, McCluskey-Fawcett, & Papini, 1986
), which can become the locus of subsequent social support. Childhood play also builds enduring intellectual resources by increasing levels of creativity (Sherrod & Singer, 1989
), creating theory of mind (Leslie, 1987
), and fueling brain development (Panksepp, 1998
). Other positive emotions, like interest, contentment, pride, and love, similarly augment individuals' personal resources, ranging from physical and social resources to intellectual and psychological resources. (Fuller descriptions of the broaden-and-build theory are available in Fredrickson, 1998
, in press
; Fredrickson & Branigan, 2001
It is important to note that the personal resources accrued during states of positive emotions are conceptualized as durable. They outlast the transient emotional states that led to their acquisition. By consequence, then, the often incidental effect of experiencing a positive emotion is an increase in one's personal resources. These resources function as reserves that can be drawn on in subsequent moments and in different emotional states.
In short, the broaden-and-build theory describes the form of positive emotions in terms of broadened thought–action repertoires and describes their function in terms of building enduring personal resources. In doing so, the theory provides a new perspective on the evolved adaptive significance of positive emotions. Human ancestors who succumbed to the urges sparked by positive emotions to play, explore, and so on would have by consequence accrued more personal resources. When these same ancestors later faced inevitable threats to life and limb, their greater personal resources would have translated into greater odds of survival, and, in turn, greater odds of living long enough to reproduce. To the extent, then, that the capacity to experience positive emotions is genetically encoded, this capacity, through the process of natural selection, would have become part of universal human nature.