Physiological evidence of contentment as a withdrawal-motivated affect

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Emotions motivate humans to either approach or avoid stimuli in their environment. While most emotion theorists associate all positive emotions with approach-motivation, there may be some positive emotions associated with withdrawal-motivation. Post-goal states of contentment may prompt an individual to withdraw from the environment to protect and savor goal objects. The current study examined whether post-goal contentment led to withdrawal-motivation using behavioral and psychophysiological measures. Participants wrote an essay evoking contentment, enthusiasm, or neutral affect. Then, participants completed behavioral tasks measuring aspects of withdrawal motivation while EEG and EMG were recorded. Asymmetric frontal activity assessed using electroencephalography (EEG) differed between the contentment and neutral conditions. Specifically, contentment evoked less relative left frontal activation, a neurophysiological marker of approach motivation. Participants in the contentment condition demonstrated less approach motivation than a neutral condition. Participants in the contentment condition demonstrated a trend towards more activity of the zygomaticus major than participants in the neutral condition, suggesting that the content state was experienced as positively valenced. Behavioral measures of risk taking and protective behavior did not reveal differences between conditions. Physiological evidence suggests that contentment is experienced as a positive but possibly withdrawal-motivated state, while behavioral evidence is inconclusive.

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