A new study says that people have a tendency to underestimate the intensity of their recalled feelings if those feelings are mixed, as compared to purely happy or sad feelings.
In the research, authors Jennifer Aaker (UC-Berkeley), Aimee Drolet (UCLA), and Dale Griffin (University of British Columbia) conducted a series of studies that tested participants' emotions when they faced scenarios such as taking tests and moving, events that are typically associated with mixed emotions.
"We conducted two longitudinal experiments which show that the intensity of mixed emotions is underestimated at the time of recall-an effect that appears to increase over time and does not occur to the same degree with happy or sad emotions," the authors said.
The underestimation increases over time, to the point that people sometimes don't remember having felt ambivalent at all.
The authors' explanation for the modification of memory is that many people feel uncomfortable with mixed emotions. They are motivated to resolve the conflicts, and thus memories of the emotional intensity fade.
They also found that current beliefs affect the memory of mixed emotions more than the actual emotions.
"Over time, people rely less on episodic memories of emotion experiences that link their recall to specific details of the situation and more on semantic cues that link their recall to general beliefs and theories," the authors said.
The research indicates that people who are more comfortable feeling mixed emotions have better memories of those emotions.
"These questions are important because decisions about the future are determined less by the online (actual) emotion experience than by the memory of the emotion experience," the authors said.
The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.