Upward spirals of positive emotions counter downward spirals of negativity: insights from the broaden-and-build theory and affective neuroscience on the treatment of emotion dysfunctions and deficits in psychopathology

Clin Psychol Rev. 2010 Nov;30(7):849-64. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.002. Epub 2010 Mar 12.


This review integrates Fredrickson's broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions with advances in affective neuroscience regarding plasticity in the neural circuitry of emotions to inform the treatment of emotion deficits within psychopathology. We first present a body of research showing that positive emotions broaden cognition and behavioral repertoires, and in so doing, build durable biopsychosocial resources that support coping and flourishing mental health. Next, by explicating the processes through which momentary experiences of emotions may accrue into self-perpetuating emotional systems, the current review proposes an underlying architecture of state-trait interactions that engenders lasting affective dispositions. This theoretical framework is then used to elucidate the cognitive-emotional mechanisms underpinning three disorders of affect regulation: depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. In turn, two mind training interventions, mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation, are highlighted as means of generating positive emotions that may counter the negative affective processes implicated in these disorders. We conclude with the proposition that positive emotions may exert a countervailing force on the dysphoric, fearful, or anhedonic states characteristic of psychopathologies typified by emotional dysfunctions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology