Valence Conversion and the Hedonic Equation: A New Framework for Understanding the Consumption of Aversive Experiences
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I propose two new theories to explain the consumption of aversive experiences: valence conversion and the hedonic equation. The principle of valence conversion asserts that discrete emotions that share a similar set of cognitive appraisals and level of arousal, but are of opposite valence, can be quickly converted from one to the other contingent on internal cognitions, goals and cues from the environment. I propose that fear and excitement meet these conditions; thus, an aversive stimulus that is not too extreme as to prevent the activation of goals related to positive affect can also be interpreted as exciting. The hedonic equation postulates that across four time points (anticipatorily, in the moment, residually, and remembered), if the sum of excitement is greater than the sum of fear, an individual will choose to re-consume an aversive stimuli while controlling for other non-emotive motivations. These two theories together explain why some individuals willingly consume aversive experiences, even if at some points they are unpleasant.