Pleasure and displeasure

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Chapter 4 endnote 1, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Pleasure and displeasure feel qualitatively different.

The psychologist Gerald Clore refers to pleasure and displeasure as a “sixth sense” because, like you, every person on the planet (barring illness) can tell them apart.[1]

Sometimes pleasure or displeasure is intense and takes center stage, drawing your attention away from sights, sounds, and other features of your experience. At other times, these feelings are so mild that you don’t even notice them.[2] You also may feel ambivalent, which is a sort of summary of your pleasure and displeasure over time.

Inaccurate terminology

Pleasure and displeasure are sometimes called "positive affect" and "negative affect" or simply "good" and "bad." But pleasantness is not always positive or good, and unpleasantness is not always negative or bad. For example, it's good to exercise hard, even if it feels unpleasant. (Think of the U.S. Marines slogan, "Pain is weakness leaving the body.") In general, exertion feels unpleasant.[3]

Scientifically speaking, if you equate pleasure/displeasure with terms like positive, good, negative, and bad, you confuse description with evaluation:[4][5]

"How does this feel?"
"Is this desirable? Is it what I want?"

Notes on the Notes

  1. Clore, Gerald L., and Simone Schnall. 2005. "The influence of affect on attitude." In The Handbook of Attitudes, edited by Dolores Albarracin, Blair T. Johnson, and Mark P. Zanna, 437-489. Mahwah: Erlbaum. 
  2. Lebrecht, Sophie, Moshe Bar, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Michael J. Tarr. 2012. "Micro-valences: Affective valence in 'neutral' everyday objects." Frontiers in Perception Science 3: 107. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00107. 
  3. Inzlicht, Michael, Bruce D. Bartholow, and Jacob B. Hirsh. 2015. "Emotional foundations of cognitive control." Trends in Cognitive Sciences 19 (3): 126-132.
  4. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 1996. "Hedonic tone, perceived arousal, and item desirability:  Three components of affective experience."  Cognition and Emotion 10 (1): 47-68.
  5. Fossum, Thyra, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2000. "Distinguishing evaluation from description in the personality-emotion relationship." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 26 (6): 669-678.