The Laws of Emotion – 3

After a small break here we go again!

In this entry we will discuss the fourth law of emotion:

The Law of Change, Habituation and Comparative Feeling:

First we take up the law that speaks about change and comparative feeling.

Frijda says emotions are elicited not because of favorable or unfavorable conditions a person is in but it is by actual or expected changes in favorable or unfavorable conditions. This explains that there is nothing like favorable or unfavorable conditions as such but it is always “with respect to”(theory of relativity!), i.e., there is no absolute conditions but only comparative conditions for emotions to be elicited. This, in turn, tells the important fact that we always have a frame of reference to measure the magnitude of the change. So it is not the magnitude of the event as such but the magnitude of the event with respect to your frame of reference which is the most important aspect to get one’s emotion elicited. This also shows how we perceive is important because for the same event there can be different frame of references and one can make upward or downward comparisons! For example, a student getting a percentage of 70% can be compared in a positive way or in a negative way. When we compare the same student to the students who have got less than 69% then it is upward comparison but same will be downward if we compare him with the students with more than 71%.

So far we have talked about law of changes and comparative feelings but still we have not seen the law of habituation. Habituation comes into picture when there is an iteration of some “favorable” or “unfavorable” conditions for some finite number of times in one’s life. Frijda argues that continued pleasures wear off mainly because we habituate it. This habituation in turn makes us, in some occasion, take something for granted! This shows that ones default state always increases with more and more pleasures! This habituation to positive and favorable conditions is directly connected to the notions called as hedonic treadmill and joyless economy.

As an example to the law of habituation we can take the most common example of spouses taken for granted after they spend awhile as couples. After being together for quite sometime they may not feel the love and affection when they are together but they will feel for the love and affection of the other only when they are missing their counterparts!

So, what does the law of habituation say when a person is faced with hardship continuously? Frijda says continued hardship lose their poignancy (up to a limit). For example, suppose a person, who uses his car to go to his office daily, loses his car for some reasons. Also, assume that he has to use public transport to go to his office for few months.  For the first few days/week he will experience the hardship of walking to the bus stop, waiting for the bus and so on. But after few days or weeks he will get used to it in other word he gets habituated to it.

The law of comparative feelings is also connected to envy. A person who has performed better in his/her exam might feel jealous seeing somebody else having scored more marks than him/her. In addition to this, it also has direct contact with Schadenfreude — a person who has got into some difficulty in his life sees his enemy has also got into more problems than him and feels better seeing that!