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Short on time, long on feeling: Study suggests deadlines intensify emotions

Amateur observers and scholars alike have remarked that older people often have more intense and complex emotional lives than their younger cohort. What accounts for the difference, wondered psychologist Ursina Teuscher: Wisdom gained with the gathering years? A shift in values thanks to greater life experience? Or, is it a keener sense of time a precious and, of necessity, diminishing resource?

To test the notion that time limits and approaching endings add fuel to feelings, Teuscher, a post-doctoral researcher in the cognitive science department of the University of California, San Diego, asked 165 young subjects to imagine themselves in several different scenarios.

Half of the scenarios included an explicit "limited-future" condition, such as the last day of a holiday. The other half differed only in that they made no mention of the future at all. The subjects, whose mean age was 20.68 years, were asked to read the scenarios and then indicate how intensely (on a scale of 1 to 5) they would experience 31 different emotions.

"Given time limits, people showed more extreme emotions on both the positive and negative ends of the scale," Teuscher said. "The test results suggest that a different time perspective itself can cause differences in emotional complexity and intensity."

In one experimental scenario, for example, half the participants were asked to picture an evening spent at a close colleague's home. The colleague is a very bad cook and burns the dinner. A dessert made and brought by the participant is not much better: It's dry and not at all what was planned. Nonetheless, the two have "a cheerful evening and chat until late into the night." The other half of the participants considered the same story in light of additional information that they would be retiring next week and moving to another city. Compared to the open-ended group, the time-limited subjects reported for this scenario that they would feel more closenes
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Contact: Inga Kiderra
ikiderra@ucsd.edu
858-822-0661
University of California - San Diego
26-May-2005


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