Have you ever had the feeling that everyone else seems so sorted, so at ease? You look about you and see friends chatting over lunch, people laughing on their mobiles, others escaping contentedly through novels or newspapers. According to Alexander Jordan and colleagues, most of us have such a tendency to underestimate other people’s experience of negative emotion. In turn the researchers think this skewed perception perpetuates a collective delusion in which we all strive to present an unrealistically happy front because we think that’s the norm.
Jordan’s team began their investigation by asking 63 undergrads to describe recent negative and positive emotional experiences they’d had. As expected, the negative examples (eg had an argument; was rejected by a boy/girl)， more than the positive examples (eg attended a fun party; had a great meal)， tended to occur in private and to provoke emotions that the students had attempted to suppress.
The most frequently cited of these experiences were then put to a separate set of 80 students whose task was to say how many times in the last two weeks they had lived through something similar, and to estimate how often their peers had. The important finding here was that the students consistently underestimated their peers’ experience of negative events whilst slightly over-estimating their peers’ experience of positive situations.
A final study showed that students with a greater tendency to underestimate their peers’ negative emotions also tended to feel more lonely, less satisfied with life and to ruminate more, thus suggesting that underestimating others’ misery could be harmful to our own well-being. Of course the causal direction could run the other way (i.e. being lonely and discontented could predispose us to think everyone else is happier than they are)， or both ways. The researchers acknowledged more research is needed to test this.
A fascinating implication of this research is that it could help explain the popularity of tragic art, be that in drama, music or books. "In fictional tragedy, people are given the opportunity to witness ’the terrible things in life’ that are ordinarily ’played out behind the scenes’," the researchers said, "which may help to depathologize people’s own negative emotional experiences."
2011-12-30 20:52 编辑：颜麦粥