Discrete emotions predict changes in cognition, judgment, experience, behavior, and physiology: a meta-analysis of experimental emotion elicitations. Academic Article uri icon


  • Our purpose in the present meta-analysis was to examine the extent to which discrete emotions elicit changes in cognition, judgment, experience, behavior, and physiology; whether these changes are correlated as would be expected if emotions organize responses across these systems; and which factors moderate the magnitude of these effects. Studies (687; 4,946 effects, 49,473 participants) were included that elicited the discrete emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety as independent variables with adults. Consistent with discrete emotion theory, there were (a) moderate differences among discrete emotions; (b) differences among discrete negative emotions; and (c) correlated changes in behavior, experience, and physiology (cognition and judgment were mostly not correlated with other changes). Valence, valence-arousal, and approach-avoidance models of emotion were not as clearly supported. There was evidence that these factors are likely important components of emotion but that they could not fully account for the pattern of results. Most emotion elicitations were effective, although the efficacy varied with the emotions being compared. Picture presentations were overall the most effective elicitor of discrete emotions. Stronger effects of emotion elicitations were associated with happiness versus negative emotions, self-reported experience, a greater proportion of women (for elicitations of happiness and sadness), omission of a cover story, and participants alone versus in groups. Conclusions are limited by the inclusion of only some discrete emotions, exclusion of studies that did not elicit discrete emotions, few available effect sizes for some contrasts and moderators, and the methodological rigor of included studies.

published proceedings

  • Psychol Bull

altmetric score

  • 12.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Lench, H. C., Flores, S. A., & Bench, S. W.

citation count

  • 376

complete list of authors

  • Lench, Heather C||Flores, Sarah A||Bench, Shane W

publication date

  • September 2011