To the outsider musician, Daniel Johnston, depression is a poly-eyed hellion fueled by the brains of humanity. To author and literary critic, Flannery O’ Connor, anxiety is a roar that lies on the other side of silence. To the post-impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gogh, joy is a young girl reveling in the rain kneaded puddles of Paris. Masters of expression love to simplify the complexity of raw sensations by animating them with the familiar though the benefit extends beyond poetry.
New research penned by collaborating scientists at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the University of Texas, and Hong Kong Baptist University celebrates the lyricism of anthropomorphization when it comes to aiding sadness.
A tactical approach to mitigating despair
Inspired by the premise of the 2015 film, Inside Out, the authors behind the paper published in the journal Consumer Psychology, engineered two experiments.
The researchers initiated the first by assigning a recruited group of participants into two groups. Both groups were asked to recall a moment in their life that brought them a great deal of sadness. Following this, the first group was asked to envision the emotion as a person, decorating it with physical attributes. The other group was merely asked to employ adjectives to sadness. After the researchers collected the participants’ submissions, these were asked to rate their sadness on a scale of one to seven.
The first group — the bulk of which either imagined despair as an elderly figure with weathered locks or a helpless girl wet with tears, expressed significantly lower levels of depression compared to the other group. These results were successfully replicated in the second experiment, which observed identical prerequisites as the first, only with impulse regulation indexed alongside degrees of reported sadness.
The study’s authors theorize that applying human traits to sadness enabled the respondents to detach themselves from it i.e instead of being depressed, you could think of it in terms of ‘an independent force I’ll call depression has me.’ There is also something to be said about the borrowed imagery. Sadness evoked one of two basic illustrations, the decrepit or the impotent. Irrespective of background, the symmetry of isolation remains.
“Our study suggests that anthropomorphizing sadness may be a new way to regulate this emotion,” Author lI Yang noted to Science Daily. “Activating this mindset is a way to help people feel better and resist temptations that may not benefit them in the long-term. “It’s probably not wise to apply this strategy for positive emotions because we do not want to minimize these good feelings.”