In the field of psychology, emotion research is heavily focused on negative emotions and the action tendencies that they encourage. However, recent work in positive psychology incorporates the study of determination as a positive emotion that pushes individuals toward action and results in important outcomes such as perseverance and the development of coping mechanisms
Emotions researchers continue to search for specific physiological patterns associated with discrete positive emotions; however, the frequent blending of emotions makes drawing such distinctions difficult. In relation to challenge and determination, psychologists have concluded it is best to focus on physiological activation in relation to the individual’s intended actions (what he/she is determined to do) rather than how the individual subjectively feels.
Researchers associate effort (action tendency) with challenge and determination; thus, a challenged/determined individual should experience physiological arousal that reflects effort. By focusing on the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), systolic blood pressure (SBP) can be used to measure activation that subsequently indicates increased effort. This means that, individuals who are introduced to a challenging task will experience an increase in SBP when they become determined to complete said task. Furthermore, this increased cardiac output is coupled with lowered total peripheral resistance; meaning, while the heart is pumping faster, the vasculature is relaxed. This finding displays an important distinction between the physiological reaction of an individual motivated by challenge and one motivated by threat or fear. Ultimately, there seems to be a specific physiological pattern associated with determination. The identification of said pattern is valuable as it may be used in research aimed at eliciting and studying the antecedents and consequences of this common positive emotion
Research using direct brain stimulation showed that electrical stimulation to the anterior midcingulate cortex elicits a response that mirrors the emotional experience of determination. In this case study of two epileptic seizure patients, participants reported feeling determined to overcome an approaching challenge; this emotion was reported to feel pleasant, rather than unpleasant. Following electrical stimulation, participants exhibited elevated cardiovascular activity and reported a warm feeling in their upper chest and neck. This work supports the idea that determination is a positive emotion that prepares an individual to overcome obstacles.
Another study compared determination and pride to see how these two positive emotions differentially influenced perseverance in the context of a mathematical problem-solving task. Using a directed imagery task in which participants listened to and imagined a particular scenario, emotion was differentially induced in participants. The results suggested that determination enhanced task engagement and perseverance, with participants in this group spending significantly more time on the most difficult problem in the task.
In contrast, pride decreased task engagement and perseverance relative to a neutral condition, with participants in this group spending significantly less time on the most difficult problem in the task. This research further supports the notion that determination motivates perseverance, perhaps more so than other positive emotions that have been theorized to be associated with perseverance.