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Mapping the Hedonic Treadmill

2017-11-01, Coriander V. Pines


Many psychologists characterize emotional response using three dimensions: valence, arousal, and approach-avoidance; this paper will focus solely on valence. At its most basic, valence contrasts positive and negative emotional states ranging from anger and sadness to ambivalence to happiness and joy.

At the core foundation of this model is the notion of the hedonic treadmill: the tendency for individuals to quickly return to a baseline emotional state despite major events or life changes. This baseline state is referred to as the hedonic setpoint, and its effects are readily-felt: barring major trauma, individuals tend to recover from negative events and perceive diminishing returns from positive ones. Following recent research suggesting that the hedonic setpoint is more variable than previously thought, I seek to create a mathematical model of the effects of emotional events on long-term perception.

In this paper, I propose a set of axioms governing emotional processing as it relates to valence and the hedonic treadmill. From there, I propose a simple second-order dynamic model and explore its properties in various scenarios. Nonlinearities are added to this model and their effects discussed.

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