What is Dispositional Affect?


Dispositional affect, similar to mood, is a personality trait or overall tendency to respond to situations in stable, predictable ways.

This trait is expressed by the tendency to see things in a positive or negative way. People with high positive affectivity tend to perceive things through “pink lens” while people with high negative affectivity tend to perceive things through “black lens”. The level of dispositional affect affects the sensations and behaviour immediately and most of the time in unconscious ways, and its effect can be prolonged (between a few weeks to a few months).

Research shows that there is a correlation between dispositional affect (both positive and negative) and important aspects in psychology and social science, such as personality, culture, decision making, negotiation, psychological resilience, perception of career barriers, and coping with stressful life events. That is why this topic is important both in social psychology research and organiaational psychology research.


Conceptual Distinctions from Emotion and Mood

Besides dispositional affect, there are other concepts for expressions of emotion such as mood or discrete emotions. These concepts are different from dispositional affect though there is a connection among them.

Dispositional affect is different from emotion or affect, by being a personality trait while emotion is a general concept for subjective responses of people to certain situations.Emotion includes both general responses (positive or negative emotion) and specific responses (love, anger, hate, fear, jealousy, sadness etc. The strength of emotions a person feels can stem from his level of dispositional affect.
Dispositional affect is also different from moods since mood relates to general feeling that usually tends to be diffusing and not focused on a specific cause or object.Though mood is specific, it is not a personality trait. Still, positive affectivity can explain why a person has good mood in general, since positive affectivity means viewing the world in a good light. The same thing is true for negative affectivity, which can explain why a person has bad mood in general, since negative affectivity means viewing the world in a dark light.


In general, though emotion researchers disagree about the way that emotions and dispositional affect should be classified, a common classification of emotions assumes that each emotion is a combination of pleasantness (pleasant or unpleasant) and activation (high or low). For example, excitement is a combination of pleasantness and high activation, while calmness is a combination of pleasantness and low activation. Dispositional Affect is also a combination of pleasantness and activation. According to this classification, the different combinations of high or low pleasantness and high or low activation create four Quarters. In line with the classification mentioned above, there is a well-known and common model that is being used in organisational psychology research to analyse and classify dispositional affect, which was developed by Watson and Tellegen. The researchers claim that there are two dimensions of dispositional affect: positive affectivity and negative affectivity and that each person has a certain level of both positive affectivity and negative affectivity. Hence, according to the model and contrary to intuition, positive affectivity does not represent the opposite of negative affectivity, but a different aspect from it. According to Watson & Tellegen one must regard these quarters as two pivots which determine the positive affectivity and negative affectivity of a person. These two dimensions of dispositional affect are bipolar, distinct and independent, relating to different emotion groups, so that each person can be classified with a positive affectivity and negative affectivity grade.

Positive AffectivityDescribes a person’s tendency to be cheerful and energetic, and who experience positive moods, (such as pleasure or well-being), across a variety of situations, perceiving things through a “pink lens”. Individuals who have low levels of positive affectivity tend to be low energy and sluggish or melancholy. High level of positive affectivity represents the extent to which an individual feels energetic and excited, while low level of positive affectivity represents the extent to which an individual feels sadness, sluggishness or weariness”.
Negative AffectivityDescribes a person’s tendency to be distressed and upset, and have a negative view of self over time and across situations, perceiving things through a “black lens”. It is important to explain that low levels of negative affectivity are perceived as positive traits since they represent individuals who are more calm, serene and relaxed. High levels of negative affectivity represents the extent to which an individual feels anger, irritability, fear or nervousness, while low level of negative affectivity represents the extent to which an individual feels calm and serene”.

Relation to Personality Traits

There has been some debate over how closely related affect and some of the Big Five Model of personality traits are related. Some maintain that negative affect and positive affect are should be viewed as the same concept as Neuroticism and Extraversion from the Big Five Model, respectively. However, other researchers maintain that these concepts are related but should remain distinctly separate as they have traditionally had weak to moderate correlations, around.


Operationalisations for dispositional affect can be measured by questionnaires. In English researchers use the Positive Affect Negative Affect Scale (PANAS). According to the instructions of this questionnaire, the individual is asked to indicate to what extent he or she feels a certain feeling or emotion such as happy, sad, excited, enthusiastic, guilty, distressed, afraid, etc. An individual has to indicate the most appropriate answer to each item (feeling or emotion) on a scale ranging from 1-5 (1- Very slightly or not at all, 5- Extremely). Early mapping of these emotions by the researchers, helps determine the positive affectivity and negative affectivity of the individual. Another advantage that was discovered while developing this questionnaire is that though it is intended for personality analysis, people can respond to the questions according to specific time frames, for example people can indicate the emotions or sensations they feel at this moment, in the past week, or in general. This way we can learn about dispositional affect to a certain situation and not only about dispositional affect as a general personality trait. By responding to the questions about feelings “in general” we can learn about positive and negative affectivity as a personality trait. By responding to the questions about feelings “at this moment” we can learn about situational dispositional affect as a response to a certain situation. For example, Rafaeli et al. showed in their research that waiting in line cause an increase in negative affectivity levels.

Physical and Mental Aspects

Physical healthWhen it comes to people with different illness, it is interesting to see that there are differences in the physical health according to the levels of dispositional affect. Individuals who have high levels of positive affectivity, had longer life span, reported fewer pains and illness symptoms (such as blood pressure), and were less likely to develop a cold when exposed to a virus compared with individuals who have high levels of negative affectivity, while both had the same illness. It was also discovered that when it comes to people with chronic diseases that has decent prospects for long-term survival, (such as coronary heart disease), people may benefit from high levels of positive affectivity. However, when it comes to people with chronic diseases that has short-term prognoses (e.g. metastatic breast cancer) and poor survival chances, high levels of positive affectivity may be detrimental to the health of these individuals, possibly as a consequence of underreporting of symptoms resulting in inadequate care, or of a lack of adherence to treatment.
LifestyleEven when it comes to healthy individuals, it seems that there are differences between people’s life style, due to their dispositional affect trait. Individuals who have high levels of positive affectivity tend to attend healthier activities such as improved sleep quality, more physical exercise, and more intake of dietary vitamins, and tend to socialise more often and maintain more and higher-quality social ties. It was also found that high levels of positive affectivity may result in more and closer social contacts because it facilitates approach behaviour, and because others are drawn to form attachments with pleasant individuals.
Psychological ResilienceIndividuals who have high levels of positive affectivity have lower levels of the stress hormones (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol), thus physiology gives one explanation in favour of psychological resilience that provides positive resources to confront stressful life events. On the other hand, the broaden-and-build theory provides a different explanation from the physiological one, and claim that individuals who have high levels of positive affectivity and experience positive events in the present, create a spiral or “snow ball” effect, that may lead to higher probability to experience positive events in the future as well. This means that happiness and well-being sensations in the present, are the ones which creates the likelihood to feel the same in the future, which helps us in building a strong and improved system of coping with stressful life events.
Dispositional Affect and the WorkplaceSome studies have suggested that worker’s perceived career barriers might be due to their dispositional affect.
Positive/Negative AffectNegative affect (NA) is said to have some relation with positive affect (PA), however the actual answer to that is still up in the air. Research of negative affect noted that the contents related to specific-situation in a negative way.
CopingSome studies have found a relationship between Dispositional affect and the coping mechanisms used in attaining ones goals. Those with a positive dispositional affect were more successful in using task-oriented coping methods ( which involve directly addressing the issue at hand), while those with a negative dispositional affect were more successful in using avoidant coping strategies (which involve managing stressful situations in an indirect way).


Though it is agreed that there are differences between one culture and another, most of the differences that were addressed in researches are related to the comparison between individualism and collectivism. In individualistic cultures, it was found that there is a strong relationship between dispositional affect (either positive or negative) and general life satisfaction (though the relationship was stronger for positive affectivity compared to negative affectivity). On the other hand, in many collectivistic cultures, it was found that there is a no relationship between negative affectivity and general life satisfaction, and it may result from the great variance in the ways that different cultures regulate their positive affectivity compared to negative affectivity.

Decision Making and Negotiation

Decision-MakingIn dealing with interesting and important situations, it was found that individuals who have high levels of positive affectivity make a thorough and efficient cognitive processing, and therefore their decision making process is more efficient, flexible, creative and innovative. It was also found that positive affectivity facilitate creativity, cognitive flexibility, novel responses, openness to new information and dealing with mental problems. This stems from the fact that positive affectivity encourages problem solving approach and searching for variety, in order to achieve a suitable result. At last, it was found that high levels of positive affectivity does not encourage risk taking, though it does facilitates negotiation processes, and improves the results of face to face negotiation processes, in order to reach to agreement.
NegotiationWhen individuals negotiate, it was found that high levels of positive affectivity was related to optimistic view of the upcoming results, planning and using cooperation strategies, and better results regarding the agreements that were made, both in personal (and not formal) negotiation, and group (formal) negotiation. It was also found that positive affectivity increases the likelihood to use cooperation strategies (but not other strategies such as “an eye for an eye”) and improves the results of the negotiation, even if just one of the negotiators has the desired trait of positive affectivity, and increases the likelihood and willingness to agree with counter–arguments, and behaviour changes as a result. Another support for the findings presented above, showed that high levels of positive affectivity was related to willingness to compromise and give up, finding creative solutions, using cooperative strategies, less cheating and better results in negotiation processes. On the contrary to the findings about positive affectivity, it was found that high levels of negative affectivity was related to usage of competitive strategies, and much worse results regarding the agreements that were made. Another support for these finding showed that high levels of negative affectivity was related to competition, lower offers, rejecting ultimatums and lower combined gains, as a result of the negotiation process, and minimum willingness to continue the cooperation strategy in the future.

What is Negative Affectivity?


Negative affectivity (NA), or negative affect, is a personality variable that involves the experience of negative emotions and poor self-concept.

Refer to Positive Affectivity.

Negative affectivity subsumes a variety of negative emotions, including anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, fear, and nervousness. Low negative affectivity is characterised by frequent states of calmness and serenity, along with states of confidence, activeness, and great enthusiasm.

Individuals differ in negative emotional reactivity. Trait negative affectivity roughly corresponds to the dominant personality factor of anxiety/neuroticism that is found within the Big Five personality traits as emotional stability. The Big Five are characterised as openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Neuroticism can plague an individual with severe mood swings, frequent sadness, worry, and being easily disturbed, and predicts the development and onset of all “common” mental disorders. Research shows that negative affectivity relates to different classes of variables: Self-reported stress and (poor) coping skills, health complaints, and frequency of unpleasant events. Weight gain and mental health complaints are often experienced as well.

People who express high negative affectivity view themselves and a variety of aspects of the world around them in generally negative terms. Negative affectivity is strongly related to life satisfaction. Individuals high in negative affect will exhibit, on average, higher levels of distress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, and tend to focus on the unpleasant aspects of themselves, the world, the future, and other people, and also evoke more negative life events. The similarities between these affective traits and life satisfaction have led some researchers to view both positive and negative affect with life satisfaction as specific indicators of the broader construct of subjective well-being.

Negative affect arousal mechanisms can induce negative affective states as evidenced by a study conducted by Stanley S. Seidner on negative arousal and white noise. The study quantified reactions from Mexican and Puerto Rican participants in response to the devaluation of speakers from other ethnic origins.


There are many instruments that can be used to measure negative affectivity, including measures of related concepts, such as neuroticism and trait anxiety. Two frequently used are:

  • PANAS – The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule incorporates a 10-item negative affect scale.
    • The PANAS-X is an expanded version of PANAS that incorporates negative affect subscales for Fear, Sadness, Guilt, Hostility, and Shyness.
  • I-PANAS-SF – The International Positive and Negative Affect Schedule Short Form is an extensively validated brief, cross-culturally reliable 10-item version of the PANAS.
    • Negative Affect items are Afraid, Ashamed, Hostile, Nervous and Upset.
    • Internal consistency reliabilities between .72 and .76 are reported.
    • The I-PANAS-SF was developed to eliminate redundant and ambiguous items and thereby derive an efficient measure for general use in research situations where either time or space are limited, or where international populations are of interest but where English may not be the mother tongue.


Studies have indicated that negative affect has important, beneficial impacts on cognition and behaviour. These developments were a departure from earlier psychological research, which was characterised by a unilateral emphasis on the benefits of positive affect. Both states of affect influence mental processes and behaviour.

Benefits of negative affect are present in areas of cognition including perception, judgement, memory and interpersonal personal relations. Since negative affect relies more on cautious processing than pre-existing knowledge, people with negative affect tend to perform better in instances involving deception, manipulation, impression formation, and stereotyping. Negative affectivity’s analytical and detailed processing of information leads to fewer reconstructive-memory errors, whereas positive mood relies on broader schematic to thematic information that ignores detail. Thus, information processing in negative moods reduces the misinformation effect and increases overall accuracy of details. People also exhibit less interfering responses to stimuli when given descriptions or performing any cognitive task.


People are notoriously susceptible to forming inaccurate judgments based on biases and limited information. Evolutionary theories propose that negative affective states tend to increase scepticism and decrease reliance on pre-existing knowledge. Consequently, judgemental accuracy is improved in areas such as impression formation, reducing fundamental attribution error, stereotyping, and gullibility. While sadness is normally associated with the hippocampus, it does not produce the same side effects that would be associated with feelings of pleasure or excitement. Sadness correlates with feeling blue or the creation of tears, while excitement may cause a spike in blood pressure and one’s pulse. As far as judgement goes, most people think about how they themselves feel about a certain situation. They will jump right to their current mood when asked a question. However, some mistake this process when using their current mood to justify a reaction to a stimulus. If you are sad, yet only a little bit, chances are your reactions and input will be negative as a whole.

Impression Formation

First impressions are one of the most basic forms of judgments people make on a daily basis; yet judgment formation is a complex and fallible process. Negative affect is shown to decrease errors in forming impressions based on presuppositions. One common judgment error is the halo effect, or the tendency to form unfounded impressions of people based on known but irrelevant information. For instance, more attractive people are often attributed with more positive qualities. Research demonstrates that positive affect tends to increase the halo effect, whereas negative affect decreases it.

A study involving undergraduate students demonstrated a halo effect in identifying a middle-aged man as more likely to be a philosopher than an unconventional, young woman. These halo effects were nearly eliminated when participants were in a negative affective state. In the study, researchers sorted participants into either happy or sad groups using an autobiographical mood induction task in which participants reminisced on sad or happy memories. Then, participants read a philosophical essay by a fake academic who was identified as either a middle-aged, bespectacled man or as a young, unorthodox-looking woman. The fake writer was evaluated on intelligence and competence. The positive affect group exhibited a strong halo effect, rating the male writer significantly higher than the female writer in competence. The negative affect group exhibited almost no halo effects rating the two equally. Researchers concluded that impression formation is improved by negative affect. Their findings support theories that negative affect results in more elaborate processing based upon external, available information.

Fundamental Attribution Error

The systematic, attentive approach caused by negative affect reduces fundamental attribution error, the tendency to inaccurately attribute behaviour to a person’s internal character without taking external, situational factors into account. The fundamental attribution error (FAE) is connected with positive affect since it occurs when people use top-down cognitive processing based on inferences. Negative affect stimulates bottom-up, systematic analysis that reduces fundamental attribution error.

This effect is documented in FAE research in which students evaluated a fake debater on attitude and likability based on an essay the “debater” wrote. After being sorted into positive or negative affect groups, participants read one of two possible essays arguing for one side or another on a highly controversial topic. Participants were informed that the debater was assigned a stance to take in the essay that did not necessarily reflect his views. Still, the positive affect groups rated debaters who argued unpopular views as holding the same attitude expressed in the essay. They were also rated as unlikeable compared to debaters with popular stances, thus, demonstrating FAE. In contrast, the data for the negative affect group displayed no significant difference in ratings for debaters with popular stance and debaters with unpopular stances. These results indicate that positive affect assimilation styles promote fundamental attribution error, and negative affect accommodation styles minimise the error in respect to judging people.


Negative affect benefits judgement in diminishing the implicit use of stereotypes by promoting closer attention to stimuli. In one study, participants were less likely to discriminate against targets that appeared Muslim when in a negative affective state. After organising participants into positive and negative affect groups, researchers had them play a computer game. Participants had to make rapid decisions to shoot only at targets carrying a gun. Some of the targets wore turbans making them appear Muslim. As expected, there was a significant bias against Muslim targets resulting in a tendency to shoot at them. However, this tendency decreased with subjects in negative affective states. Positive affect groups developed more aggressive tendencies toward Muslims. Researchers concluded that negative affect leads to less reliance on internal stereotypes, thus decreasing judgemental bias.


Multiple studies have shown that negative affectivity has a beneficial role in increasing scepticism and decreasing gullibility. Because negative affective states increase external analysis and attention to details, people in negative states are better able to detect deception.

Researchers have presented findings in which students in negative affective states had improved lie detection compared to students in positive affective states. In a study, students watched video clips of everyday people either lying or telling the truth. First, music was used to induce positive, negative, or neutral affect in participants. Then, experimenters played 14 video messages that had to be identified by participants as true or false. As expected, the negative affect group performed better in veracity judgments than the positive affect group who performed no better than chance. Researchers believe that the negative affect groups detected deception more successfully because they attended to stimulus details and systematically built inferences from those details.


Memory has been found to have many failures that affect the accuracy of recalled memories. This has been especially pragmatic in criminal settings as eyewitness memories have been found to be less reliable than one would hope. However, the externally focused and accommodative processing of negative affect has a positive effect on the overall improvement of memory. This is evidenced by reduction of the misinformation effect, and the number of false memories reported. The knowledge implies that negative affect can be used to enhance eyewitness memory; however, additional research suggests that the extent to which memory is improved by negative affect does not sufficiently improve eyewitness testimonies to significantly reduce its error.

Misinformation Effect

Negative affect has been shown to decrease susceptibility of incorporating misleading information, which is related to the misinformation effect. The misinformation effect refers to the finding that misleading information presented between the encoding of an event and its subsequent recall influences a witness’s memory. This corresponds to two types of memory failure:

  • Suggestibility:
    • When recollections are influenced by the prodding or expectations of others creating false memories.
  • Misattribution:
    • When a witness gets confused and misattributes the misinformation to the original event.
    • Also defined as the retroactive interference: When later information interferes with the ability to retain previously encoded information.

In Witness of Events

Negative mood is shown to decrease suggestibility error. This is seen through reduced amounts of incorporation of false memories when misleading information is present. On the other hand, positive affect has shown to increase susceptibility to misleading information. An experiment with undergraduate students supported these results. Participants began the study in a lecture hall and witnessed what they thought was an unexpected five-minute belligerent encounter between an intruder and the lecturer. A week later, these participants watched a 10-minute-long video that generated either a positive, negative or neutral mood. They then completed a brief questionnaire about the previous incident between the intruder and lecturer that they witnessed the week earlier. In this questionnaire half of the participants received questions with misleading information and the other half received questions without any misleading information. This manipulation was used to determine if participants were susceptible to suggestibility failure. After 45 minutes of unrelated distractors participants were given a set of true or false questions which tested for false memories. Participants experiencing negative moods reported fewer numbers of false memories, whereas those experiencing positive moods reported a greater amount of false memories. This implies that positive affect promotes integration of misleading details and negative affect reduces the misinformation effect.

In Recall of Past Public Events

People who experience negative affectivity following an event report fewer reconstructive false memories. This was evidenced by two studies conducted around public events. The first surrounded the events of the televised O.J. Simpson trial. Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires three times: one week, two months and a year after the televised verdict. These questionnaires measured participant emotion towards the verdict and the accuracy of their recalled memory of what occurred during the trial. Overall the study found that although participant response to the event outcome did not affect the quantity of remembered information, it did influence the likelihood of false memory. Participants who were pleased with the verdict of the O.J. Simpson trial were more likely to falsely believe something occurred during the trial than those who were displeased with the verdict. Another experiment found the same findings with Red Sox fans and Yankees fans in their overall memory of events that occurred in the final game of a 2004 playoff series in which the Red Sox defeated the Yankees. The study found that the Yankees fans had better memory of events that occurred than the Red Sox fans. The results from both of these experiments are consistent with the findings that negative emotion can lead to fewer memory errors and thus increased memory accuracy of events.

Degree of Enhanced Memory

Although negative affect has been shown to decrease the misinformation effect, the degree to which memory is improved is not enough to make a significant effect on witness testimony. In fact, emotions, including negative affect, are shown to reduce accuracy in identifying perpetrators from photographic line-ups. Researchers demonstrated this effect in an experiment in which participants watched a video that induced either negative emotion or a neutral mood. The two videos were deliberately similar except for the action of interest, which was either a mugging (negative emotion) or a conversation (neutral emotion). After watching one of the two videos participants are shown perpetrator line-ups, which either contained the target perpetrator from the video or a foil, a person that looked similar to the target. The results revealed that the participants who watched the emotion-induced video were more likely to incorrectly identify the innocent foil than to correctly identify the perpetrator. Neutral participants were more likely to correctly identify the perpetrator in comparison to their emotional counterparts. This demonstrates that emotional affect in forensic settings decreases accuracy of eyewitness memory. These findings are consistent with prior knowledge that stress and emotion greatly impair eyewitness ability to recognitive perpetrators.

Interpersonal Benefits

Negative affectivity can produce several interpersonal benefits. It can cause subjects to be more polite and considerate with others. Unlike positive mood, which causes less assertive approaches, negative affectivity can, in many ways, cause a person to be more polite and elaborate when making requests.

Negative affectivity increases the accuracy of social perceptions and inferences. Specifically, high negative-affectivity people have more negative, but accurate, perceptions of the impression they make to others. People with low negative affectivity form overly-positive, potentially inaccurate impression of others that can lead to misplaced trust.

Intergroup Discrimination

A research conducted by Forgas J.P studied how affectivity can influence intergroup discrimination. He measured affectivity by how people allocate rewards to in-group and out-group members. In the procedure, participants had to describe their interpretations after looking at patterns of judgments about people. Afterwards, participants were exposed to a mood induction process, where they had to watch videotapes designed to elicit negative or positive affectivity. Results showed that participants with positive affectivity were more negative and discriminated more than participants with negative affectivity. Also, happy participants were more likely to discriminate between in-group and out-group members than sad participants. Negative affect is often associated with team selection. It is viewed as a trait that could make selecting individuals for a team irrelevant, thus preventing knowledge from becoming known or predicted for current issues that may arise.


Negative affectivity subconsciously signals a challenging social environment. Negative mood may increase a tendency to conform to social norms.

In a study, college students were exposed to a mood induction process. After the mood induction process, participants were required to watch a show with positive and negative elements. After watching the show, they were asked to engage on a hypothetical conversation in which they “describe the episode (they) just observed to a friend”. Their speech was recorded and transcribed during this task. Results showed that speakers in a negative mood had a better quality descriptions and greater amount of information and details. These results show that negative mood can improve people’s communication skills.

A negative mood is closely linked to better conversation because it makes use of the hippocampus and different regions of the brain. When someone is upset, that individual may see or hear things differently than an individual who is very upbeat and happy all the time. The small details the negative individual picks up may be something completely overlooked before. Anxiety disorders are often associated with over-thinking and ruminating on topics that would seem irrelevant and pointless to an individual without a disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is one common anxiety trait that allows the affected individual a different insight on how things may appear to be. An individual that makes use of their negative affect has a different view of the world and what goes on in it, thus making their conversations different and interesting to others.


Results of one study show that participants with negative affectivity were more careful with the information they shared with others, being more cautious with who they could trust or not. Researchers found that negative mood not only decreases intimacy levels but also increases caution in placing trust in others.

Enhanced Ability to Experience Feelings

Negative affect is regularly recognised as a “stable, heritable trait tendency to experience a broad range of negative feelings, such as worry, anxiety, self-criticisms, and a negative self-view”. This allows one to feel every type of emotion, which is regarded as a normal part of life and human nature. So, while the emotions themselves are viewed as negative, the individual experiencing them should not be classified as a negative person or depressed. They are going through a normal process and are feeling something that many individuals may not be able to feel or process due to differing problems.

Fit with Evolutionary Psychology

These findings complement evolutionary psychology theories that affective states serve adaptive functions in promoting suitable cognitive strategies to deal with environmental challenges. Positive affect is associated with assimilative, top-down processing used in response to familiar, benign environments. Negative affect is connected with accommodative, bottom-up processing in response to unfamiliar, or problematic environments. Thus, positive affectivity promotes simplistic heuristic approaches that rely on pre-existing knowledge and assumptions. Conversely, negative affectivity promotes controlled, analytic approaches that rely on externally drawn information.

What is Positive Affectivity?


Positive affectivity (PA) is a human characteristic that describes how much people experience positive affects (sensations, emotions, sentiments); and as a consequence how they interact with others and with their surroundings.

People with high positive affectivity are typically enthusiastic, energetic, confident, active, and alert. Research has linked positive affectivity with an increase in longevity, better sleep, and a decrease in stress hormones. People with a high positive affectivity have healthier coping styles, more positive self-qualities, and are more goal oriented. Positive affectivity also promotes an open-minded attitude, sociability, and helpfulness.

Those having low levels of positive affectivity (and high levels of negative affectivity) are characterised by sadness, lethargy, distress, and un-pleasurable engagement (see negative affectivity). Low levels of positive affect are correlated with social anxiety and depression, due to decreased levels of dopamine.

Research and Findings

Studies are finding there is a relationship between dopamine release and positive affect in cognitive abilities. For instance, when dopamine levels are low, positive affect can stimulate the release of more dopamine, temporarily increasing cognitive, motor, and emotional processing. Stimulating dopamine release influences several cognitive functions. First, an increase in dopamine in the nigrostriatal system can temporarily relieve motor or cognitive dysfunction, due to Parkinson’s.

An increase in dopamine release also influences the mesocorticolimbic system, via ventral tegmental area (VTA) cells, increasing mood and open mindedness in older adults. Positive affect also stimulates dopamine production in the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate facilities, which help with processing working memory and executive attention. Lastly, PA indirectly improves memory consolidation in the hippocampus, by increasing acetylcholine release from an increase in dopamine.

Overall, positive affect results in a more positive outlook, increases problem solving skills, increases social skills, increases activity and projects, and can play a role in motor function.

Relationship with Negative Affectivity

Refer to Negative Affectivity.

Positive affectivity (PA) and negative affectivity (NA) are nearly independent of each other; it is possible for a person to be high in both PA and NA, high in one and low in the other, or low in both. Affectivity has been found to be moderately stable over time and across situations (such as working versus relaxing). Positive affectivity may influence an individual’s choices in general, particularly their responses to questionnaires.

Relationship with Happiness, Self-Esteem and Extraversion

Happiness, a feeling of well-being, and high levels of self-esteem are often associated with high levels of positive affectivity, but they are each influenced by negative affectivity as well. Trait PA roughly corresponds to the dominant personality factors of extraversion; however, this construct is also influenced by interpersonal components.


Because there is not a hard-and-fast rule for defining certain levels of positive affectivity, different self-reported assessments use different scales of measure. Several prominent tests are listed below; in each of these, the respondent determines the degree to which a given adjective or phrase accurately characterizes him or her.

  • Differential Emotions Scale (DES): A PA scale that assesses enjoyment (happy or joyful feelings) and interest (excitement, alertness, curiosity).
  • Multiple Affect Adjective Checklist – Revised (MAACL-R): Measures PA according to the DES scale and to an additional scale assessing thrill-seeking behaviour (i.e. how daring or adventurous the person is).
  • Profile of Mood States (POMS): Uses vigour scale to assess the domain of PA.
  • Expanded Form of the Positives and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS-X): This test uses three main scales:
    • Joviality (how cheerful, happy, or lively);
    • Self-assurance (how confident and strong); and
    • Attentiveness (alertness and concentration).
  • International Positive and Negative Affect Schedule Short-Form (I-PANAS-SF): This is a brief, 10-item version of the PANAS that has been developed and extensively validated for use in English with both native and non-native English speakers.
    • Internal consistency reliability for the 5-item PA scale is reported to range between .72 and .78.

In Business Management

Positive affectivity is a managerial and organisational behaviour tool used to create positive environments in the workplace. Through the use of PA, the manager can induce a positive employee experience and culture. “Since affectivity is related to the employee experiences, we expect the employees with high PA to feel considerable organizational support. Their optimism and confidence also helps them discuss their views in a manner characterised by constructive controversy with their supervisor, so that problems are solved and their positive feelings confirmed”. Positive Affectivity allows creative problem solving to flourish in an environment where employees are not intimidated to approach managers, therefore employees believe they are playing a key role in the organisation in coming forward with solutions. The goal is to maximise PA and minimise any negative affectivity circulating in the business. Negative emotions, such as fear, anger, stress, hostility, sadness, and guilt, increase the predictability of workplace deviance, and therefore reduce the productivity of the business.


Positive affectivity is an integral part of everyday life. PA helps individuals to process emotional information accurately and efficiently, to solve problems, to make plans, and to earn achievements. The broaden-and-build theory of PA suggests that PA broadens people’s momentary thought-action repertoires and builds their enduring personal resources.

Research shows that PA relates to different classes of variables, such as social activity and the frequency of pleasant events. PA also strongly relates to life satisfaction. The high energy and engagement, optimism, and social interest characteristic of high-PA individuals suggest that they are more likely to be satisfied with their lives. In fact, the content similarities between these affective traits and life satisfaction have led some researchers to view both PA, NA, and life satisfaction as specific indicators of the broader construct of subjective well-being.

PA may influence the relationships between variables in organizational research. PA increases attentional focus and behavioural repertoire, and these enhanced personal resources can help to overcome or deal with distressing situations. These resources are physical (e.g. better health), social (e.g. social support networks), and intellectual and psychological (e.g. resilience, optimism, and creativity).

PA provides a psychological break or respite from stress, supporting continued efforts to replenish resources depleted by stress. Its buffering functions provide a useful antidote to the problems associated with negative emotions and ill health due to stress, as PA reduces allostatic load. Likewise, happy people are better at coping. McCrae and Costa concluded that PA was associated with more mature coping efforts.

What is the Tripartite Model of Anxiety and Depression?


Watson and Clark (1991) proposed the Tripartite Model of Anxiety and Depression to help explain the comorbidity between anxious and depressive symptoms and disorders.

This model divides the symptoms of anxiety and depression into three groups: negative affect, positive affect and physiological hyperarousal. These three sets of symptoms help explain common and distinct aspects of depression and anxiety.

The ability to distinguish between anxiety and depression with this model may help increase diagnostic accuracy and help eliminate the complications that occur with comorbidity. According to Clark, depressed patients have a comorbidity rate of 57% for any anxiety disorder. Other studies in youth have revealed comorbidity rates of anxiety and depression as high as 70%. There are many negative effects of anxiety-depression comorbidity. The negative effects of comorbidity include: chronicity, recovery and relapse rates, and higher suicide risk. Among youth samples, negative effects of anxiety-depression comorbidity include: increased substance abuse, more likely to attempt suicide, receive a diagnosis of conduct disorder, and are less likely to show favourable gains from treatment.


Negative Affect

Negative affect is the factor that is common to both anxiety and depression. Negative affect can be defined as, “the extent to which an individual feels upset or unpleasantly engaged, rather than peaceful”. It involves negative mood states such as subjective distress, fear, disgust, scorn, and hostility. Mood states that are specific to depression include sadness and loneliness that have large factor loadings on negative affect. Some common symptoms of negative affect include: insomnia, restlessness, irritability, and poor concentration.

There is a substantial amount of empirical research on negative affect (NA) and its role in the tripartite model. For example, the Mood and Anxiety Symptom Questionnaire (MASQ) was administered to a sample of college students and a sample of psychiatric patients. The correlations between the specific anxiety scale (anxious arousal) in the MASQ and NA were moderate (rs= .41 and .47), supporting that NA is specific to anxiety disorders, congruent with the tripartite model. Another study consisted of a sample of children (ages 7-14) diagnosed with a principal anxiety disorder. The children completed the Positive and Negative Affect Scale for Children (PANAS-C). The results showed NA was significantly associated with measure of anxiety and depression. A study by Chorpita in 2002, was consistent with the tripartite model. In a large sample of school-aged children, NA was positively correlated with all anxiety and depression scales.

Physiological Hyperarousal

Physiological hyperarousal is defined by increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system, in response to threat. Physiological hyperarousal is unique to anxiety disorders. Some symptoms of physiological hyperarousal include: shortness of breath, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, dry mouth, trembling or shaking, and sweaty palms.

Compared to negative affect and positive affect, physiological hyperarousal has been studied less. Chorpita et al. (2000), proposed an affect and arousal scale in order to measure the tripartite factors of emotion in children and adolescents. In this study, physiological hyperarousal was positively correlated with negative affect but not positive affect. This supports the tripartite model hypothesis, that physiological hyperarousal will distinguish anxiety from depression, which is related to positive affect. Another study by Joiner et al. (1999), analysed the construct validity of physiological hyperarousal. Data were collected from samples of psychotherapy outpatients, air force cadets, and undergraduate students. Confirmatory factor analyses showed that psychological hyperarousal is a reliable, replicable, valid, and discriminable construct.

Positive Affect

Positive affect is a dimension that reflects one’s level of pleasurable engagement with their environment. High positive affect is made up of enthusiasm, energy level, mental alertness, interest, joy, social dominance, adventurousness, and activeness. In contrast, a low level of positive affect, or absence of, is called anhedonia. Anhedonia is described as the loss of interest or the inability to experience pleasure when experiencing things that used to be pleasurable. Low levels of positive affect in the Tripartite Model characterise depression. Signs of low positive affect include fatigue, loneliness, sadness, and lethargy. Positive affect is important because it is a construct used in order to differentiate depression from anxiety.

Many studies were completed to evaluate the role of positive affect in the tripartite model. A sample of university students were administered the Positive and Negative Affective Schedule (PANAS), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI). The results of this study were congruent with low Positive Affect predicting depression. A longitudinal study was completed with a sample of students in grade 6 and later grade 9. The students completed the Baltimore How I Feel (BHIF), a measure of anxious and depressive symptoms. This study confirmed the PA aspect of the tripartite model. A study with a sample of inpatient children/adolescents was consistent with the tripartite model as well. Findings from a study in 2006 of a community sample of youth supported the tripartite in youth and further supported that anxiety and depression do represent unique syndromes in youth based on differences found in positive affect. Many studies looked at samples of youth but studies were also done with older adult samples. A study consisting of psychiatric outpatients, ages 55-87, confirmed that positive affect was significantly more related to depression than anxiety symptoms.



The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) was developed by Watson, Clark, and Tellegen in 1988. This scale is brief, easy to administer, and is used to measure positive affect and negative affect. The scale uses 20 adjectives that describe different moods ranging from excited to upset. There are 10 positive affect adjectives and 10 negative affect adjectives. Individuals are asked to rate each adjective on a 5-point scale (1 – very slightly or not at all to 5 – extremely) based on how they feel. The time frame in which they make these ratings varies based on the study.


Watson and Clark established the 90-item Mood and Anxiety Symptom Questionnaire (MASQ). The MASQ consists of five subscales that measure: mixed general distress symptoms (GD: Mixed, 15 items), general distress depressive symptoms (GD: Depression, 12 items), general distress anxiety symptoms (GD: Anxiety, 11 items), anxious arousal symptoms (Anxious Arousal, 17 items) and anhedonic depression symptoms (Anhedonic Depression, 22 items). All individual items are rated on a scale 1 to 5, where 1 (not at all) indicates the individual has not felt this way at all during the past week and 5 (extremely) indicates that they have felt this way extremely.