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The researchers discovered that emotions that last a shorter time are typically elicited by events that have relatively low importance attached to them. On the other hand, long-lasting emotions tend to be caused by events that have strong implications for a person’s major concerns. Verduyn says some of these implications may only become apparent over time, which then causes the emotion to be maintained or strengthened. The feeling therefore endures while a person rethinks the events and consequences over and over again.
Duration was found to be a dimension that can differentiate between otherwise very similar emotions. For instance, Verduyn and Lavrijsen found that guilt is an emotion that persists much longer than shame, while anxiety lingers longer than fear.
“Rumination is the central determinant of why some emotions last longer than others. Emotions associated with high levels of rumination will last longest,” says Verduyn, explaining the role that such constant and repetitive thinking has on the experience of positive and negative emotions.
“Emotions of shorter duration are typically – but, of course, not always – elicited by events of relatively low importance. On the other hand, long-lasting emotions tend to be about something highly important,” Lavrijsen explains further.