Emotional Valence is the value associated with a stimulus, typically measured on a continuum from pleasant (positive) to unpleasant (negative) or from attractive to aversive.
Valence is also used to describe the attractiveness of specific emotions. For example, emotions often referred to as "negative", such as anger and fear, have "negative valence". Joy, on the other hand, has "positive valence."
Emotions with positive valence are roused by positive valence events, objects, or situations.
Valence is also used to describe the hedonic tone of certain behaviors; such as, approach and avoidance, goal attainment or nonattainment, and conformity with or violation of norms.
Daniel Goleman, in his best selling book Emotional Intelligence, wrote, "in memory, the amygdala and hippocampus work hand-in-hand; each stores and retrieves its special information independently. While the hippocampus retrieves information, the amygdala determines if that information has any emotional valence" (2007, location 678).
Emotions are understood here as people’s valence (positive or negative) reactions to events. Lisa Feldman Barrett PhD explains that "your affect is always some combination of valence and arousal" (2018).
Affect is the general sense of feeling that you experience throughout each day. It is not emotion but a much simpler feeling with two features. The first is how pleasant or unpleasant you feel, which scientists call valence. The pleasantness of the sun on your skin, the deliciousness of your favorite food, and the discomfort of a stomachache or a pinch are all examples of affective valence. The second feature of affect is how calm or agitated you feel, which is called arousal (Barrett, page 72).
While much of the valence is predetermined by biology, the interpretations we give the events and corresponding feelings can enhance or abate arousal, or, even, transform the affect all together.
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Barrett, L. F. (2018). How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Mariner Books; Illustrated edition.
Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Random House Publishing Group; 10th Anniversary edition.