Barbara L. Fredrickson

Basic Proposition

The broaden-and-build theory describes the form and function of a subset of positive emotions, including joy, interest, contentment and love.

These positive emotions have two functions –

      • Broadening
      • Building


Basic Proposition

These positive emotions broaden an individual’s momentary thought–action repertoire.

Example- Joy sparks the urge to play. Interest sparks the urge to explore. Contentment sparks the urge to savour and integrate. Love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships.


The broadened mindsets arising from these positive emotions are contrasted to the narrowed mindsets sparked by many negative emotions.

Secondly, by broadening an individual’s momentary thought–action repertoire, positive emotions promote discovery of novel and creative actions, ideas and social bonds, which in turn build that individual’s personal resources.

These resources range from physical and intellectual resources, to social and psychological resources.

Importantly, these resources function as reserves that can be used later to improve the chances of successful coping and survival.

Unlike negative emotions, that have very specific narrow implications, positive emotions lead to broadened mindsets, that carry indirect and long-term adaptive benefits because broadening builds enduring personal resources.

Research Support for the Theory

In a study, research participants were shown short, emotionally evocative film clips to induce the specific emotions of joy, contentment, fear and anger. A non-emotional film clip was used for the control condition.

Immediately following each film clip, the breadth of participants’ thought–action repertoires was measured. The researchers asked the participants to step away from the specifics of the film and imagine being in a situation themselves in which similar feelings would arise.

Given this feeling, the participants were asked to list what they would like to do right then. Participants recorded their responses on up to 20 blank lines that began with the phrase ‘I would like to. . .’.

Participants in the two positive emotions conditions (joy and contentment) identified more things that they would like to do right then relative to those in the two negative emotion conditions (fear and anger), and, more importantly, relative to those in the neutral control condition. Those in the two negative emotion conditions also named fewer things than those in the neutral control condition.

The Undo Hypothesis

The idea that positive emotions might ‘correct’ or ‘undo’ the after-effects of negative emotions is called the undo hypothesis.

If negative emotions narrow the momentary thought-action repertoire, and positive emotions broaden this same repertoire, then positive emotions ought to function as efficient antidotes for the lingering effects of negative emotions.

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