Negative Emotions Spark Success – But There Is a Cost

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Anxiety and anger, often viewed as negative emotions, were found to act as energizers similar to enjoyment and hope. But, these darker emotions are associated with reduced strategic thinking and adverse health effects, including stress-related psychosomatic symptoms like headaches, nausea, back pain, and insomnia.

According to a multi-national study led by The University of Essex, tapping into negative emotions such as anxiety and anger can lead to greater success, albeit at the cost of one’s health. The study explored how the mind processes “achievement emotions.”

The paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has scientifically identified the 12 emotions that drive and impact success. The study found that, despite being perceived as negative, anxiety and anger can serve as energizers, much like enjoyment and hope.

However, these darker feelings are linked with a lack of strategic thinking and poor health, including stress-related psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, nausea, back pain, and lack of sleep. Overall, hope is the most powerful emotion – with the study discovering positive perceptions and feelings of control leading to enjoyment of learning, desire for success, and pride in accomplishment.

It discovered that if two students of equal ability took a test the hopeful student would achieve one grade higher than their negative-minded peer. This can mean the less optimistic person would get a failing D whereas the positive student will take home a C.

Study leader Professor Reinhard Pekrun, from Essex’s Department of Psychology, said: “This is the first study that has developed a 3D model for success emotions.

“Although the model might seem abstract at first sight, it shows how achievement emotions relate to critically important parts of our lives and can define how we perform in job interviews, tests, and other stressful situations. Interestingly we found feelings like anxiety and anger can sometimes motivate us more than enjoyment or relaxation.”

He continues, “However, despite its energizing powers, the knife edge of anxiety can lead to mental health issues, undermine the functioning of the immune system, and lead to a drop in performance in the long run. Overall hope was the healthiest and best way to spark success and promote long-term happiness. Failure and struggle as such don’t define one’s future, it is the perception of failures that has a strong effect on emotional responses.”

The psychological study involved students from several universities and the general adult population. It took place across four different countries – Britain, Germany, America, and Canada.

It looked at more than 1,000 people and assessed them across different challenging situations at the university and the workplace. It is now hoped the research will influence how coaches, teachers, and managers inspire achievement.

The paper found that promoting the value, meaning, and interestingness of tasks rather than emphasizing success leads to better results.

The findings show that it may be important for leaders to display enthusiasm to spark excitement and hope in colleagues, students, and athletes.

Reference: “A Three-Dimensional Taxonomy of Achievement Emotions” by Reinhard Pekrun, Herbert W. Marsh, Andrew J. Elliot, Kristina Stockinger, Raymond P. Perry, Elisabeth Vogl, Thomas Goetz, Wijnand A. P. van Tilburg, Oliver Lüdtke and Walter P. Vispoel, January 2023, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000448

2 Comments on "Negative Emotions Spark Success – But There Is a Cost"

  1. It’s called “Survival Mode” and it’s not something to be used for success, it’s something for you to cease using ASAP and use “Rational Mode”, in a calm manner.
    NO ONE’s health needs to be sacrified for chasing a buck.

  2. Jihtiree Fakouff | March 24, 2023 at 9:44 am | Reply

    Good article. It’s almost as if negative feelings serve a purpose, and don’t always need clinical treatment. I hope someday research will realize that a society needs all kinds of people; hope may be the most positive motivator, but a hopeful person at a crosswalk will expect every car will stop for them, where an angry anxious person won’t expect that but won’t get hit by a car either. Traits sub-optimal in one situation can be crucial in another.

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