1 March 2023: Motivation for emotional pleasure and pain in psychopathology

Yael Milgram
Department of Psychology
Harvard University

Emotion regulation deficits contribute to many mental health disorders. Most research sought to understand these deficits by investigating how people regulate emotions – specifically, which emotion regulation strategies people use and how effectively they implement them. However, emotion regulation strategies are used at the service of attaining desired emotional states. Therefore, people who struggle with psychopathology might differ not only in the strategies they use, but also in the emotional states they desire. In this talk, I will present evidence suggesting that some clinical populations differ from non-clinical populations in the degree to which they are motivated to experience painful and pleasant emotions, with an emphasis on Major Depressive Disorder. I will then present studies testing the implications of these differences for the use of emotion regulation strategies, emotional experiences, and mental health. Finally, I will offer a new perspective for understanding these findings, according to which motivation to experience painful emotions in psychopathology might reflect a form of emotional self-harm.

View a recording of this session here.