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Jeff Larsen

Jeff LarsenJeff Larsen
Ph.D., Ohio State University (2003)

Phone: 865-974-9967
Web site:

Key words: emotion, attitudes, well-being

Research Interests

How would it feel to win $100 when you had been expecting to win a much larger amount of $200, $500, or even $1,000? Maybe such disappointing wins feel good because at least you've won something. Maybe they feel bad because you could have won so much more. My research investigates whether and when people experience mixed emotions when they experience disappointing wins, the end of meaningful times in their lives (e.g., college graduations), and other bittersweet events. It's puzzling that music, which has no obvious adaptive significance, can elicit emotions at all, but my colleagues and I have shown that certain songs (e.g., slow songs in major modes) can elicit simultaneously mixed emotions of happiness and sadness. We have also investigated whether the ability to experience mixed emotions develops over the course of childhood.

The ultimate goal is to understand the nature of emotional experience. We typically think of emotions as falling along a dimension ranging from pleasant to unpleasant states. Sometimes we feel happy, excited or other positive emotions. My line of research on mixed emotions indicates that it might be useful to think about positive and negative affect as separable dimensions in a bivariate space rather than opposite ends of a single dimension.

Current goals include identifying what the events that elicit mixed emotions have in common and whether some people are more likely to experience mixed emotions than others. For instance, I am conducting cross-cultural research with collaborators in Beijing to investigate whether and when East Asians experience more mixed emotions than Westerners.

  • Associate Editor, Emotion (2011-)
  • Consulting Editor, Cognition and Emotion (2008-2012)
  • Consulting Editor, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2007-2008)
  • Consulting Editor, Emotion (2006-2010)
  • Panelist, National Science Foundation's Social Psychology Program (2009-2012)
  • The Templeton Foundation (2014-2017)
  • National Institute of Mental Health (1997-2001)
  • Sterling-Rice Research Grants (2010-2011)

Ito, T.A., Larsen, J.T., Smith, N.K., & Cacioppo, J.T. (1998). Negative information weighs more heavily on the brain: The negativity bias in evaluative categorizations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 887-900.

Larsen, J.T., McGraw, A.P., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2001). Can people feel happy and sad at the same time? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 684-696.

Kitayama, S., Duffy, S., Kawamura, T., & Larsen, J.T. (2003). Perceiving an object and its context in different cultures: A cultural look at new look. Psychological Science, 14, 201-206.

Larsen, J.T., Norris, C.J., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2003). Effects of positive and negative affect on electromyographic activity over zygomaticus major and corrugator supercilii. Psychophysiology, 40, 776-785.

Larsen, J.T., Hemenover, S. H., Norris, C.J., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2003). Turning adversity to advantage: On the virtues of the coactivation of positive and negative emotions. In L. G. Aspinwall & U. M. Staudinger (Eds.), A psychology of human strengths: Perspectives on an emerging field (pp. 211-226). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Larsen, J.T., McGraw, A.P., Mellers, B. A., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2004). The agony of victory and thrill of defeat: Mixed emotional reactions to disappointing wins and relieving losses. Psychological Science, 15, 325-330.

Larsen, J.T., To, Y.M., & Fireman, G. (2007). Children's understanding and experience of mixed emotions. Psychological Science, 18, 186-191.
Larsen, J.T., Berntson, G. G., Poehlmann, K. M., Ito, T. A., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2008). The psychophysiology of emotion. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. F. Barrett (Eds.), The handbook of emotions (3rd Ed., pp. 180-195). New York: Guilford.

Larsen, J.T., & McKibban, A.R. (2008). Is happiness having what you want, wanting what you have, or both? Psychological Science, 19, 371-377.

Larsen, J.T., & Norris, J.I. (2009). A facial electromyographic investigation of affective contrast. Psychophysiology, 46, 831-842.

Larsen, J.T., Norris, C.J., McGraw, A.P., Hawkley, L.C., & Cacioppo, J.T. (2009). The evaluative space grid: A single-item measure of positivity and negativity. Cognition and Emotion, 23, 453-480.

McGraw, A.P., Larsen, J.T., Schkade, D.A., & Kahneman, D. (2010).  Comparing gains and losses. Psychological Science, 21, 1438-1445.

Larsen, J.T., & McGraw, A.P. (2011). Further evidence for mixed emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 1095-1010.

Larsen, J.T., & Stastny, B.J. (2011). It's a bittersweet symphony: Simultaneously mixed emotional responses to music with conflicting cues. Emotion, 11, 1469-1473.

Cohen, A.S., Callaway, D., Najolia, G.M., Larsen, J.T., & Strauss, G.P. (2012). On risk and reward: consummatory anhedonia in psychometrically-defined schizotypy but not schizophrenia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121, 407-415.

Larsen, J. T., & Green, J. D. (2013). Evidence for mixed feelings of happiness and sadness from brief moments in time. Cognition and Emotion, 27, 1469-1477. 

Levens, S. M., Larsen, J. T., Bruss, J., Tranel, D., Bechara, A., & Mellers, B. A. (2014). What might have been? The role of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and lateral orbitofrontal cortex in counterfactual emotions and choice. Neuropsychologia, 54, 77-86.

Hardin, E. E., & Larsen, J. T. (2014). Distinct sources of self-discrepancies: Effects of being who you want to be and wanting to be who you are on well-being. Emotion, 14, 214-226.

Larsen, J. T., & McGraw, A. P. (in press). The case for mixed emotions. Social and Personality Compass.

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