As human beings, our emotions tend to play a dominant role in how we feel, behave, and function in society. Therefore, understanding the benefits and pitfalls of affect is important to help set ourselves up for success.
In our personal lives, a multitude of studies have shown the numerous benefits of maintaining a positive affect Studies have shown that positive affect lowers stress, improves sleep, and increases longevity. Maintaining a positive affect also improves people’s interpersonal lives, as it can increase sociability, helpful behavior, and open-mindedness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, staying in a positive emotional state is also key to living a good life, as positive affect is strongly correlated to life satisfaction, happiness, and well-being.
Beyond the personal benefits, encouraging positive affect has been shown to be helpful in the workplace. A positive affect helps individuals handle emotional information well, problem-solve, and make more effective plans and achieve them. Therefore, fostering positive affect in the workplace can increase feelings of organizational support, which allows employees to discuss their viewpoints more openly and decrease their alienation from the decision-making process. On the other hand, in workplaces that are hostile and ripe with negative emotions, studies have shown increases in workplace deviance and lowered efficiency.
Another area of our lives in which affect plays a key role is decision-making. Often, when making decisions, we use mental shortcuts to speed up the process. One of these shortcuts is the affect heuristic, which occurs when we rely on our emotions to make quick decisions. Because our first response to a situation is often an emotional one as stimuli passes first through our amygdala (the brain structure responsible for emotions), it is easier to rely on emotions to guide our decision making. The affect heuristic alters our perception of risk depending on our affect at the time. If we have a positive affect, we tend to underestimate risk and focus on reward, whereas if we have a negative affect, we generally overestimate risk and disregard reward.
Similarly, inducing a positive or negative affect through advertising, public messaging, and other communications platforms can help drive people to action. For example, deciding whether to use fear or encouragement in your messaging can lead to wildly different results for advertising and public health efforts.Typically, fear based messaging is useful for inducing behaviour in the short run, but is less useful in the long run, whereas positive messaging is potentially less useful in rapidly changing behaviour, but is much more sustainable long term.