BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the first study of its kind, researchers
have found compelling evidence that our best and worst experiences
in life are likely to involve not individual accomplishments, but
interaction with other people and the fulfillment of an urge for
The findings, which run contrary to implications of previous
research, are reported in "What Makes Us Feel the Best Also Makes
Us Feel the Worst: The Emotional Impact of Independent and
Interdependent Experiences." The study reports on research
conducted at the University at Buffalo and will appear in the
forthcoming print issue of Self and Identity.
Co-author Shira Gabriel, PhD, associate professor of psychology
at UB, says, "Most of us spend much of our time and effort focused
on individual achievements such as work, hobbies and schooling.
"However this research suggests that the events that end up
being most important in our lives, the events that bring us the
most happiness and also carry the potential for the most pain, are
social events -- moments of connecting to others and feeling their
connections to us."
Gabriel says that much research in social psychology has
explicitly or implicitly implied that events experienced
independent of other individuals are central to explaining our most
intense emotional experiences.
"We found, however, "she says, "that it was not independent
events or individual achievements like winning awards or completing
tasks that affected participants the most, but the moments when
close relationships began or ended; when people fell in love or
found a new friend; when a loved one died or broke their hearts. In
short, it was the moments of connecting to others that that touched
peoples' lives the most."
The researchers included principal author Lisa Jaremka, a
doctoral student in psychology at the University of California,
Santa Barbara, and Mauricio Cavallo, PhD, assistant professor of
psychology at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, both graduates of
A total of 376 subjects participated in the four studies that
formed the basis of the researchers' conclusions.
Study 1 involved college students who were asked to describe the
most positive and negative emotional experiences of their lives.
Overwhelmingly, and without regard for the sex of participants,
they were much more likely to describe social events as the most
positive and negative thing they had ever experienced (as compared
to independent events).
Study 2, replicated and extended Study 1, with similar results,
and focused on middle-aged participants who were asked to report on
a recent intense emotional experience.
Study 3 provided evidence that the strong emotional impact of
interdependent (i.e., social) events reported in the first two
studies was not due to the fact that social events were more
salient than independent events.
Study 4 demonstrated that when thinking about both social and
independent events, participants rate the social events as far more
impactful than independent events. Study 4 also demonstrated that
social events gain their emotional punch from our need to
Gabriel's research and expertise focuses on the social nature of
the self, including social aspects of self-construal, the social
functions of the self, the need to belong and gender differences in
strategies for connecting to others.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.