What Is Emotional Affectivity and How Does It Affect You?

Emotional Affectivity

Simply put, emotional affectivity describes the way in which people experience both negative and positive emotions. Everyone experiences many different moods and emotions, but they differ when it comes to those things’ intensity and frequency. For instance, people who score high in the area of happiness will experience joy more frequently and more intensely than people who score low in that area.

The Basics of Emotional Affectivity

It is good to remember that this term refers to the extent to which a relatively stable individual experiences moods and emotions. It doesn’t apply to someone who may be bipolar or has another type of mental illness. These individuals have different perceptions and must be treated separately from stable, or average, individuals.

Affect can also be separated into positive and negative affectivity, and there is even a psychological test that can determine whether you’re high or low in both of these areas. Just what are the emotions associated with positive and negative affectivity? They include:

  • Positive affect characteristics such as interest, contentment, joy, pride, and engagement
  • Negative affect characteristics such as fear, anxiety, anger, depression, and sadness

There is also a difference between trait affect and state affect. Typically, individuals experience a wide range of moods and emotions throughout any given day. Consistent, long-term differences in affective experience refer to the trait affect, whereas state affect refers to short-lived fluctuations in mood and emotions. The latter can be brought on by temporary situations such as the death of a family member.

The most common way to measure positive or negative affectivity is with a test known as the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule, commonly known as PANAS. The test consists of two scales with 10 items each that measure both positive affect, or PA, and negative affect, or NA. There is a list of adjectives, and participants have to indicate how they generally feel or how they feel on average with certain emotions and moods.

Everyone experiences many different moods

The PANAS Scale

The PANAS diagnostic test consists of two segments, each of which is a mood scale. One scale measures the participant’s positive emotions and the other measures the negative emotions. It is a questionnaire that the participants fill out themselves, and each of the two segments consists of 10 questions that you answer using a five-point scale.

Developed in 1988 by three American psychologists, the PANAS test has been used extensively throughout the years for a variety of reasons. One of these is conducting research in group studies. The test can also be subjective, however, because participants fill it out themselves. It is easy for participants to be subjective when interpreting how they are feeling at any given moment.

Despite this, the PANAS test is now widely used when professionals want to assess changes in a person’s mood. The 20 concepts of the test measures:


  • Active
  • Alert
  • Attentive
  • Determined
  • Enthusiastic
  • Excited
  • Inspired
  • Interested
  • Proud
  • Strong


  • Afraid
  • Ashamed
  • Distressed
  • Guilty
  • Hostile
  • Irritable
  • Jittery
  • Nervous
  • Scared
  • Upset

For each of the 20 emotions, participants must rank them according to how often the emotions affect them. The five-point scale goes from 1, which indicates the concept doesn’t apply or applies very little to the participant; to 5, which indicates the concept applies a lot to the participant.

The final score on the PANAS test is determined by adding the scores from the 10 positive concepts and comparing to the scores from the 10 negative concepts.

Different Versions Are Available

Since 1988, there have been different versions of the PANAS test developed. These include:

  • PANAS-C: a test made specifically for children
  • PANAS-X: this is a more extensive version of the original PANAS test, and it is divided into 3 sections instead of 2
  • PANAS-SF: this test is shorter and more concise than the original version
  • I-PANAS-SF: similar to the PANAS-SF test, this test is designed for an international audience, so any ambiguities are removed so that people of all nationalities will understand the concepts

As you can see, all of these versions are simply modified versions of the original PANAS test, and they target different groups of people. This allows for a more precise and exact score in the end, making the tests more applicable to the goals of the professionals administering those tests.

If you’re curious about where most people fit in when their tests are complete, here are some mean scores that will help you understand the typical results:

  • Positive affect (momentary): 29.7
  • Positive affect (weekly): 33.3
  • Negative affect (momentary): 14.8
  • Negative affect (weekly): 17.4

Are There Other Tests to Determine Affectivity?

In addition to the PANAS series of tests, there are also other diagnostic tools to determine how certain moods and emotions affect certain individuals. These include the following two tests:

The Differential Emotions Scales (DES)

This test assesses 10 different emotions either at the current moment or during a certain experience. The emotions are:

  • Anger
  • Contempt
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Interest
  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Shame
  • Surprise

The test consists of 30 adjectives, with three per emotion, and they are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “never” and 5 being “very often.” It is a fairly simple test to interpret in the end because you can easily tell which emotions belong in which category.

The Multiple Affect Adjective Checklist – Revised (MAACL-R)

Using this test, a psychologist can test positive and negative affectivity as either a state, which is called the Today Form; or as a trait, which is called the General Form. There are five subscales and a total of 132 adjectives that are related to mood. The five subscales are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hostility
  • Positive affect
  • Sensation-seeking

There are a few other lesser-used tests to test emotional affectivity in an individual. One of these is the NEO PI-R, which is the revised NEO test that concentrates on three main traits: neuroticism (N), extraversion (E), and openness to experience (O). More specifically, the test looks at five separate facets, known as the Big 5: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Another lesser-known test is the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire, or MPQ; more specifically, the well-being scale of that particular questionnaire. There are several versions of the MPQ, including a full-length version with 276 items, and a shorter version that contains 155 or 157 items, depending on which one you choose.

Last, there is the Profile of Mood States, or POMS test, developed in 1971. It consists of 65 words/statements that can describe a person’s emotions or moods. Again, it uses a five-point scale that goes from 1, or “not at all,” to 5, or “extremely.” The results are assessed similarly to how other tests with the same goal are assessed.

The “Big 5” Personality Traits

When discussing all types of emotional affectivity, you have to first understand the significance of the Big 5 personality traits. These are considered the most important traits for an individual to have, and many psychological tests now look for these 5 traits and assess them when conducting the tests. These personality traits can be remembered by using the acronym OCEAN, and they include the following 5 traits.

Openness to Experience (O). The word “openness” refers to how much you embrace certain situations in life. It gives you intellectual curiosity and creativity, and it means you are more likely to prefer a lot of different activities over a strict routine. People who exhibit a lot of openness to experience tend to enjoy adventure, unusual ideas, art, and curiosity, among other things.

Conscientiousness (C). People who are conscientious are dependable and organized. They are focused and sometimes cause people to think they are stubborn. These people concentrate on achieving their goals and prefer an activity that is planned beforehand, as opposed to spontaneous or spur-of-the-moment activity.

Extraversion (E). People who are extraverted are energetic and assertive, as well as talkative and seekers of stimulation when they’re in groups. If you’re highly extraverted, people might think you’re too domineering or too much of an attention-seeker. Extraverted people are, in fact, more dominant in social situations, and they react with a lot of emotion quite often.

Agreeableness (A). When it comes to others, people with high levels of agreeableness are more cooperative and compassionate than people with low levels. Often seen as being naïve or even suspicious, these people are trusting and helpful instead of antagonistic or suspicious of others.

Neuroticism (N). Neurotic people tend to be more prone to psychological stress than other people. Because of this, they often experience anxiety, depression, vulnerability, and even anger. However, this term can also refer to how stable you are emotionally and even how you handle impulsive behavior. If you’re highly emotionally stable, you usually exhibit calmness and stability, even though others may see a lack of concern or inspiration instead.

Many things can affect these traits, including your family life and even how you were raised. If you do not show any tendency towards any of these dimensions’ factors, you are considered reasonable and moderate. However, the degree to which you exhibit this disposition tells psychologists a lot more about your overall level of emotional affectivity than just the single results of the test.

Positive Affectivity – the Basics

Both types of affectivity affect how individuals react both to their surroundings and to other individuals. However, contrary to what many people assume, individuals can be high in both positive affectivity (PA) and negative affectivity (NA), low in both positive and negative affectivity, and even high in one of those areas and low in another.

In the average individual, affectivity usually remains stable across certain situations and over time. If people are high in PA, they tend to experience high levels of confidence, alertness, energy, enthusiasm, and of course, overall happiness. People with low levels of PA tend to experience sadness, lethargy, and even depression.

Tests that assess PA in individuals have been used for a number of purposes, including managers who want to understand their employees better. Employees with high PA levels tend to be more motivated and even more organized than employees with low PA levels. They are more successful at problem-solving skills and at coming up with different types of solutions.

Of course, PA is also a very important part of everyday life for most individuals. In order to be more efficient at making plans, processing emotional information the right way, solving everyday problems, and even participating in social activities, high PA scores are a must.

High-PA individuals also experience better health, which is a physical trait; better psychological and intellectual traits, including more optimism and resilience; and better social skills, which includes getting along better with other individuals. They also tend to be better at buffering themselves against stressful situations and have much better coping skills.

People with high positive affectivity have better health

Negative Affectivity – the Basics

The NA variable is associated with a poor concept of self and a bevy of negative emotions. High-NA individuals tend to see themselves and the world around them in negative terms. Closely related to their satisfaction with life in general, these people have more anxiety, distress, and general dissatisfaction than others.

When it comes to reactions to negative situations, people vary quite a bit. Trait negative affectivity is closely related to the Big 5 personality trait of neuroticism and anxiety. This means those people tend to exhibit traits such as frequent sadness, a lot of worries, poor coping skills, and a host of physical problems that are usually related to their emotional challenges.

High-NA individuals’ negative reactions can even have an effect on their behavior and cognitive skills. This does not mean that these individuals are necessarily depressed or generally negative. These traits are often inherited. In fact, it is generally accepted that they are going through a normal process – a process other individuals also go through but are unable to process or feel because they are in a different situation.

Negative affectivity can directly affect judgment, memory, and a host of characteristics related to interpersonal relationships. This usually occurs in the following ways:

Judgment. People judge others notoriously, and this affects a high-NA individual in some very negative ways. These people can be just a little bit sad, yet others will consider them negative because of the input and reactions they display. Many judgments are very inaccurate and false, but that doesn’t stop other people from deciding that a high-NA person is a negative person overall.

Memory. Oddly enough, high-NA individuals tend to have good memories and recall. This is partly due to the fact that they are less likely to recall incorrect information. In addition, since NA can decrease the amount of suggestibility when recalling certain information, these people tend to be very accurate when it comes to the information they are recalling.

Interpersonal Relationships. Negative affectivity has been shown to increase positive interpersonal relationships. Why? Because high-NA individuals tend to be more considerate and polite. They also tend to have more accurate – albeit negative – perceptions of the impressions they are striving to make on others. Their sense of social inferences and perceptions is more accurate, and they can even be more elaborate when they are making requests of others.

Positive Affectivity and Stress – the Theory of Broaden and Build

No research on emotional affectivity can be complete without looking at how both positive and negative affectivity affect a person’s health. High-PA people, naturally, have fewer health problems, both physical and psychological, while the opposite is true for high-NA individuals.

When looking at ways to help people increase their level of positive affectivity and therefore the positiveness in their lives, the theory of “broaden and build” was developed by psychologists. This theory states that:

  • Your perspectives are broadened when you give your mood a little lift, which causes you to notice more possibilities than in the past
  • This, in turn, helps people build upon the resources they need to notice and take advantage of those possibilities

Just what are these resources that improve lives and are the result of more positive affectivity? Below are a few of them.

  • Social resources: these include better relationships, resulting in friends who are there for you no matter what
  • Physical resources: these include increased stamina, health and fitness, energy, and overall wellness
  • Psychological resources: these include pulling yourself out of a negative situation, experiencing greater workloads with less stress and burnout, and deliberately choosing perspectives that are more positive in nature

The broaden-and-build theory states that positive emotions result in more positive results for your life. They broaden your horizon and your interest in new things, and they encourage better actions and thoughts. Negative emotions, on the other hand, result in more immediate and narrow survival-oriented behaviors.

Why are survival-oriented behaviors important? These behaviors are a physiological reaction to certain situations, in particular, dangerous situations. The “right” reactions include the release of hormones and adrenaline, as well as an increase in blood pressure and even an increase in energy.

Also known as the “fight or flight” reaction, these physiological responses are necessary for you to make the right decisions; in other words, to flee. Making the “wrong” decision can be life-threatening, but positive emotions help you make the right decision and, more than anything else, increase your overall resilience and reactions.

Increasing Your Level of Positive Affectivity

High-PA individuals are not that way by accident. It isn’t that these people are happy because life is going their way; it’s that life is going their way because they choose to be happy. Does this mean a person has complete control over PA? Not necessarily, as some of it is innate. However, there are things you can do to increase your level of positive affectivity, and these include the following:

You'll increase your positive affectivity if you choose to be happy
  • Indulge. Enjoy life’s pleasures, and revel in them as often as possible. In fact, adding new positive experiences on a regular basis will help tremendously.
  • Exercise. Everyone knows that taking care of yourself physically helps you emotionally as well. If you want exercise to be a regular part of your life, don’t forget to make it fun.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, write down something you’re grateful for. It might just open your eyes to all of the positive things around you.
  • Meditate. Regular meditation clears the mind and helps you both physically and emotionally. Practice it daily for the best results.
  • Get yourself some hobbies. Everyone needs a way to relax, and a good hobby is a perfect way to do that. If you don’t already have a hobby, go out and get yourself one.
  • Savor all of the positive aspects of your life. Concentrate on them, look for them, and savor every moment of them. After all, many of them won’t last long.

Many of these things simply involve changing the way you think and changing the experiences you put yourself in, which is easier than you think. While it’s true that many people are simply born with a tendency towards happiness in their genes, that doesn’t mean that a high-NA individual cannot increase the number of happy moments in his or her life.

Some Final Thoughts

The two main dimensions of emotional affectivity are positive affectivity, or PA; and negative affectivity, or NA. This does not mean, however, that they are two opposites on different ends of a particular spectrum. It also doesn’t mean that high-PA individuals are always positive and those high-NA people have no positive characteristics.

There are different degrees of each trait that is tested by psychologists, so sometimes high-PA and high-NA people may have more in common than you think. Their personality traits may also surprise you. For example:

  • Low-PA people, even when exhibiting some positive characteristics, can be sleepy or tired a lot of the time, or even be considered dull by others
  • Low-NA individuals, while exhibiting few negative characteristics, may be described as very calm and relaxed, which many consider to be good traits

As with other psychological tests, the self-reporting assessment tests mentioned earlier do not attempt to put anyone in a specific category or “box.” Instead, the degree to which individuals experience certain concepts is assessed and studied in an attempt to determine what actions should be taken to improve those individuals’ lives.