Essays on Science and SocietyESSAY

Parsing reward from aversion

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Science  04 Nov 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6312, pp. 558
DOI: 10.1126/science.aak9762

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Starting from the moment we hear our alarms in the morning, our emotions guide the thousands of decisions we make every day. More specifically, it is the valence of our emotions that determines our subsequent behavior. Valence is a concept that was originally defined in psychology and corresponds to the value we assign to the perceptions of our external and internal environments (1). Valence varies from negative, when we are afraid or anxious, to positive, when we are happy or peaceful. In the case of the morning alarm, if your emotional state has a positive valence you might jump out of bed, eager to engage with whatever is motivating you. Conversely, if your emotional state has a negative valence, you might choose to stay in bed to Avoid the causes of your negative emotions.