The duration of emotional episodes iven van mecHeLen, pHiLippe verDuyn, anD karen Brans
Emotions are not just momentary states, but processes that evolve and unfold over time (Sonnemans and Frijda, 1994). A full account of them therefore inevitably requires an in-depth understanding of their temporal dynamics. This is the major challenge for the research domain that was named by Davidson (1998) affective chronometry. In the present chapter, we will focus on one key aspect of the time dynamics of emotions: emotion duration. Up to 15 years ago, emotion duration has been a largely underinvestigated topic, apart from pioneering work by Frijda and colleagues (see, e.g., Frijda, Mesquita, Sonnemans and Van Goozen, 1991). More recently, however, we witnessed several attempts to contribute solid empirical evidence on the topic, and especially on factors that account for a significant amount of variability in emotion duration. We will present a brief review of the most important theoretical and empirical findings on determinants of emotion duration. Subsequently, we will briefly discuss the possible process basis underlying the operation of these determinants. We will start, however, with a discussion of the very concept of emotion duration.
The concept of emotion duration Emotion duration refers to the duration of emotion episodes. For a given episode, the duration can be simply defined as the amount of time between its beginning and its end point. When looking more closely at this definition, however, it appears to include several aspects, each of which requires some further clarification. In this clarification, quite different choices can be made, leading to quite different specifications of the concept of emotion duration. A first aspect pertains to the concept of emotion. As argued by Frijda “‘An’ emotion (. . .) is a slippery notion” (Frijda, 2007, p. 195) and “the same emotion words are being used for psychological events of vastly different kinds and durations” (Frijda et al., 1991: 221). At this point, a careful distinction between the concept of emotion and a few neighboring concepts may be especially important, as this may be very consequential for implied differences in duration. Important neighboring concepts in this regard include moods and sentiments. Frijda et al. (1991) define moods as more or less continuous feeling states that,