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By (March 7, 2009) ()

The function of sadness is less obvious than some other emotions.  The authors put forth a few theories, but there has not been very much actual research on the subject.  It may serve a social purpose.  One idea is based on the idea that sadness makes you avoid social activity.  Feeling sad about a failure or feeling unwelcome makes you reclusive.  This way you can save your energy and avoid the possibility of public humiliation when you are most vulnerable.  An different theory suggests that sadness is a way to appeal to others for help or attention.    To me the second idea seems more convincing, because sadness is so closely linked to feelings of empathy.  When I see a person making a sad face I usually want to help them.  Though then again it might also seem like they want to be left alone.  Clearly sadness is a complex emotion and the function probably depends on the specific situation.

I find it interesting that sadness is considered a negative emotion, but a lot of people really enjoy sad stories, movies and music–even though these things probably make them more sad.  Perhaps this is because of the link to empathy?  Does wallowing in sadness serve a social function?  Sometimes shared sadness can form strong social bonds.

The authors give some ideas for relieving sadness and depression–such as reinterpreting negative events in a more positive light, and getting regular sleep and exercise.  In terms of persuasive technology, it’s hard to imagine reverse engineering a specific event that causes sadness.  Often things that make you sad are things that are out of your control.  Its easier to think of technologies that might help people with their general mood, by motivating them or helping them to reach out to others.   Such attempts can backfire though.  For instance, loneliness is a common cause of sadness.  Social networks like facebook can help people feel more connected to their friends, but attempting to communicate through status updates can also seem impersonal and alienating.  Considering the complexity of sadness,  it makes me think that there is definitely no foolproof way to engineer an emotion or to predict how people will react in a specific situation.


March 7, 2009


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