All Emotions Are Not Created Equal

By David Forbes, Ph.D.

I just returned from the Insight Innovation Exchange
conference in Philadelphia, where a broad range of market research scientists
and professionals gathered to talk about techniques for emotional measurement
and emotional research. As I look back on
the three-day event, it seems that the most striking feature was the range of
diversity in both the methods proposed for studying emotions, and in the types
of phenomena under study ‘ all of them called ‘emotion.’

The study of emotions as they drive consumer behavior is
still a relatively new focus for market
. It seems important at this early point to begin clarifying the
various options for this type of research ‘ the various types of phenomena that
can be called ‘emotions.’ In our work, we focus on one particular type of
emotional force that I heard very little about at IIEX ‘ the type of emotional
force that can pull someone from their armchair at home, move them to their
automobile, and get them to a retail store to purchase a particular type of
product, hoping for a particular type of outcome from that purchase. 
Psychologists typically call this type of emotional force ‘motivation.’
I believe that it’s important that the study of motivation
occupy a central role in Market Researchers’ study of emotion ‘ for several
Firstly, the emotional forces of Motivation are what we
should be studying when we seek to uncover new business opportunities in the
consumer lifestyle ‘ because motivational drives which are unfulfilled in a
consumer’s life represent emotional need states that can be targeted by new
product ideas.
Secondly, the emotional forces of Motivation are also what
need to be targeted by marketing strategists who wish to have a product story
that is arousing and compelling. A new product concept is far more likely to
succeed if it offers the promise of emotional benefits that speak to consumer
lifestyle aspirations and frustrations. And finally the emotional forces of
Motivation should be the target of communication impact for advertisers who
want their messages to become a call to action.
Motivations vs. other
Motivations can be distinguished from other types of
emotion in part because they derive from forces inside the individual, rather
than being primarily ‘reactive’ to outside stimuli. We all carry around inside
us two distinct forms of motivational forces. One type consists of
aspirations that we have to make our experience of life better ‘ a desire for
outcomes which psychology calls ‘positive reinforcement.’ The other type
consists of frustrations that we experience in life which, drive us to seek
relief ‘ that drive for what psychology calls ‘negative reinforcement.’ In
my recent paper in the Review of General Psychology, I’ve attempted
to summarize a great deal of research
on these motives, developing a unified model that identifies nine distinct
types of motivating emotional forces, each of which can be manifest as an
aspiration for positive outcomes, or a search for relief from frustration of
negative situations.
Clearly the concept of emotion can take several other forms
aside from the emotions of motivation. We can study general states of arousal,
we can study the various sensory-emotional states activated by experiences in
life (like excitement), we can study emotion as a pattern of vascular activity
through the technique of brain imaging, we can study physiological expression
emotional states as expressed by the facial muscles (like happiness, or
disgust). And based on my experience at IIEX, I suspect that all of these types
of emotion will continue to play a role in the work of Market Researchers.
I only hope that enough of us decide to focus on the
emotions that drive motivation, and seek to understand the aspirations and
frustrations that drive consumer choices and actions in life.
Want to learn more
about this topic? Attend TMRE 2013 in
Nashville, TN October 21-23. For details, click here: We hope to see you
About the Author:
David Forbes holds a Ph.D. in clinical and cognitive psychology from Clark
University, and was a member of the faculties of Harvard Medical School
Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard Laboratory of Human Development before
beginning his career as a business consultant. He founded Forbes Consulting
over 20 years ago as a strategic market research consultancy dedicated to
creating business advantage through psychological consumer insights. He has
since built Forbes into a major resource for scores of major corporations in
the CPG, Financial Services, and Pharmaceuticals industries, domestically and
internationally. David is the creator of the MindSight?? emotional
assessment technologies, a suite of applied neuropsychological methods for
understanding consumer emotion and motivation, without the distortions of
conscious editing and self-presentation