State and Trait Emotions

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Nevertheless, psychologists have developed numerous assessment instruments to study common emotions. (An assessment instrument is a method used to measure some psychological quality.) Because there are so many different emotions, the study of emotion requires the development of specific methods that can accurately measure each of the common emotions. The most popular method of measuring an emotion is a self-report questionnaire in which a person answers questions relevant to a particular emotion. When measuring emotions, researchers make a distinction between "state" and "trait" emotion. An emotional state refers to what a person is experiencing at the moment. If one is interested in assessing how anxious someone currently is, one might use a questionnaire that asks the person to respond to several anxiety-related statements, using a scale from 1 ("not at all") to 5 ("very much"). Some examples of relevant statements are "I feel tense," "I feel nervous and shaky inside," "My heart is beating rapidly," and "I feel a sense of foreboding." The higher the total score on the questionnaire, the more anxiety the person is experiencing at the moment.

Trait emotion refers to how often an emotion is experienced. An "anxious person" is someone who frequently experiences the state of anxiety. Moreover, one would call someone a "hostile person" if one determined that he or she frequently exhibits states of anger. Examples of statements that assess trait anxiety are "I frequently become tense," "I often feel afraid for no apparent reason," "I am bothered by dizzy spells," and "I tend to worry a lot."

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