A new study has revealed that because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death or accidents, it lasts 240 times longer than any other emotion.
According to the study, emotions that last a shorter time are typically elicited by events that have relatively low importance attached to them. On the other hand, long-lasting emotions tend to be caused by events that have strong implications for a person's major concerns.
Researchers Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen of the University of Leuven in Belgium asked 233 high school students to recollect recent emotional episodes and report their duration. The participants also had to answer questions about the strategies they use to appraise and deal with these emotions.
Meaningful differences in duration were indeed found to exist between emotions. Out of a set of 27 emotions, sadness lasted the longest, whereas shame, surprise, fear, disgust, boredom, being touched, irritated or feeling relief were often over in a flash. Interestingly enough, boredom also counts among the shorter emotions experienced. Verduyn and Lavrijsen say that this means that even though time seems to pass slowly when one is bored, an episode of boredom typically doesn't last that long.
It was also found that guilt is an emotion that persists much longer than shame, while anxiety lingers longer than fear.
Verduyn said that some of these implications may only become apparent over time, which then causes the emotion to be maintained or strengthened. The feeling therefore endures while a person rethinks the events and consequences over and over again.
The study was published in Springer's journal Motivation and Emotion.