Perceiving Social Pressure not to Feel Negative is Linked to a More Negative Self-concept

Egon Dejonckheere*, Brock Bastian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The current cultural standard in western societies expects people to be happy and not sad. While the pursuit of positive emotion is strongly encouraged in modern societal discourse, occasionally feeling negative is easily considered maladaptive or abnormal. It is in our human nature to comply with social expectations, and the extent to which we are able to do so has important consequences for how we view or present ourselves, generally referred to as our self-concept. Here, we investigate how the perception of the societal norm to avoid negative emotions relates to people's self-concept. In an online survey (n = 98), we assessed people's perceived social expectancies not to experience feelings such as anxiety or depression. We evaluated the emotional quality of participants' self-concept via an open-response 15-statements task in which they freely described themselves, and from which we extracted the positive and negative emotion words using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software. We found that people's perceived social expectancies not to experience negative affect related to more negative and less positive self-descriptions. Furthermore, multiple linear regression revealed that this association was independent of people's desire to socially conform, but a function of their actual emotion/symptom levels. Together, these findings further support the premise that today's societal standard to avoid negative affect is unattainable, inevitably disclosing discrepancies between people's actual occasional negative feelings and the desired emotion norm. Because this process is associated with negative self-evaluations, this may lead to an ironic amplification of these unwanted negative states.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-679
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Happiness Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Social expectancies
  • Emotion norms
  • Cultural standards
  • Self-concept
  • Negative affect
  • NEED


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