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The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions: A Meta-Analytic Review


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The undoing hypothesis proposes that positive emotions serve to undo sympathetic arousal related to negative emotions and stress. However, a recent qualitative review challenged the undoing effect by presenting conflicting results. To address this issue quantitatively, we conducted a meta-analytic review of 16 studies ( N = 1,220; 72 effect sizes) measuring sympathetic recovery during elicited positive emotions and neutral conditions. Findings indicated that in most cases, positive emotions did not speed sympathetic recovery compared to neutral conditions. However, when a composite index of cardiovascular reactivity was used, undoing effects were evident. Our findings suggest the need for further work on the functions of positive emotions.
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The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions: A
Meta-Analytic Review
Maciej Behnke
, Magdalena Pietruch
, Patrycja Chwiłkowska
Eliza Wessel
, Lukasz D. Kaczmarek
, Mark Assink
and James J. Gross
Faculty of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Wielkopolskie, Poland
Research Institute of Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland,
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States
The undoing hypothesis proposes that positive emotions serve to undo sympathetic arousal related to negative emotions and stress.
However, a recent qualitative review challenged the undoing effect by presenting conicting results. To address this issue quanti-
tatively, we conducted a meta-analytic review of 16 studies (N=1,220; 72 effect sizes) measuring sympathetic recovery during eli-
cited positive emotions and neutral conditions. Findings indicated that in most cases, positive emotions did not speed sympathetic
recovery compared to neutral conditions. However, when a composite index of cardiovascular reactivity was used, undoing effects
were evident. Our ndings suggest the need for further work on the functions of positive emotions.
undoing effect, positive emotions, positive affect, cardiovascular recovery
Advocates of functional perspectives on emotion have long
struggled to say what functions positive emotions might
serve, if any. Whereas it seems easy to specify candidate
functions for negative emotions such as fear, disgust, or
anger, it has seemed less obvious what functions positive
emotions might serve. One promising candidate was
offered by Levenson (1988) when he suggested that positive
emotions might serve to "undo" negative emotions by facili-
tating recovery from the high-activation states often asso-
ciated with negative emotion.
Since this undoing hypothesis was rst proposed,
dozens of studies have sought to test this hypothesis, but
ndings to date have been mixed (Cavanagh & Larkin,
2018). In the present review, we employ a meta-analytic
technique to quantitatively synthesize the literature on the
undoing effect of positive emotions, examining the rela-
tionship between positive emotions and autonomic
nervous system (ANS) recovery from negative emotions
and stress.
The Undoing Hypothesis
In the late nineteen eighties, Levenson (1988) proposed that
one function of positive emotions (e.g., happiness) might be
to undo the physiological arousal related to negative emo-
tions. To test this "undoing" hypothesis, Fredrickson and
Levenson examined whether positive emotions quiet the
sympathetic arousal associated with negative emotions and
facilitate recovery from distress the restoration of homeo-
stasis (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998).
Sixty female students viewed a fear-eliciting lm clip and
then were randomly assigned to view a second lm (eliciting
contentment, amusement, sadness, or a neutral state).
Cardiovascular recovery was measured using a composite
index of cardiovascular responding consisting of heart
period, nger pulse amplitude, and pulse transit times to
ear and nger (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). The recovery
was operationalized as the amount of time it took participants
to return to their initial baseline level after responding to a
Corresponding author: Maciej Behnke, Faculty of Psychology and Cognitive Science. Adam Mickiewicz University, 89 Szamarzewskiego Street, 60-658 Poznan, Poland.
Emotion Review
Vol. 0, No. 0 (May 2022) 118
©The Author(s) 2022
DOI: 10.1177/17540739221104457
fear-eliciting lm clip. Fredrickson and Levenson (1998)
found that participants in contentment and amusement condi-
tions recovered faster than participants in neutral and sad
conditions. In a conceptual replication of this initial study,
Fredrickson and Levenson (1988) showed participants a
sadness-eliciting lm clip and measured the number of
smiles during lm viewing. Participants who smiled at
least once during the sad lm clip recovered about 20 s
faster than non-smilers, suggesting that positive emotion
was associated with accelerated cardiovascular recovery.
Taken together, these studies provided initial support for
the undoing effect of positive emotions. Since this founda-
tional paper was published, the undoing effect has been repli-
cated using a variety of negative stimuli (Fredrickson et al.,
2000; Kaczmarek et al., 2019; Tugade & Fredricksn, 2004;
Yuan et al., 2010). However, other studies have not found
support for the undoing hypothesis, and a recent qualitative
review concluded that ndings were mixed and that there
was substantial methodological variability between studies
examining the undoing effect (Cavanagh & Larkin, 2018).
Broader Perspectives on the Undoing
Emotions and ANS Reactivity
The undoing hypothesis stems from an initial observation
that, in contrast to negative emotions, "positive emotions
such as happiness, amusement, and contentment did not
seem to move autonomic levels away from their baseline
states" (Levenson, 1999, p. 494). It is important to note
that this observation which motivates the undoing hypoth-
esis is agnostic as to whether different negative emotions or
groups of emotions elicit unique ANS reactivity (for reviews,
see Kreibig, 2010, p. 2014; Mendes, 2016, Siegel et al.,
2018). The only requirement would seem to be that negative
emotions share a tendency to move autonomic levels away
from baseline states.
Although our meta-analysis does not address whether dif-
ferent emotions elicit different patterns of ANS reactivity,
current perspectives on how different emotions inuence
the ANS suggest different expectations regarding the
undoing effect. Some theorists have argued for specicity
of ANS reactivity in discrete emotions (Ekman & Cordaro,
2011; Stemmler, 2004), and some have argued for more gen-
erality (Barrett, 2013, 2017; Cacioppo et al., 2000; Quigley
& Barrett, 2014; Siegel et al., 2018) (for a full discussion,
see Mendes, 2016). If emotions evolved to deal with funda-
mental life tasks (e.g., restoring homeostasis), they might
involve specic ANS reactivity necessary for optimal
responding (Ekman & Cordaro, 2011; Tooby & Cosmides,
1990). This perspective suggests the possibility of an
undoing effect in which some discrete positive emotions
should decrease sympathetic activity caused by negative
On the other hand, ndings from two large-scale
meta-analyses on ANS reactivity to emotions revealed that
emotions might be best thought of as highly variable categor-
ies constructed within individuals and lacking specic pat-
terns of ANS reactivity (Behnke et al., 2022; Siegel et al.,
2018). These ndings are consistent with views of construc-
tionists, which hold that ANS responses to emotion are spe-
cic to the demands of the particular situation in which
emotion occurs, rather than the emotion itself. In its strong
form, this perspective might mean that whether or not a
given negative or positive emotion moved autonomic levels
away from baseline states would depend upon the context,
meaning that affective scientists would not be able to
detect global undoing effects of any specic emotion or
class of positive emotions.
To address this debate, previous reviews focused on the
specicity and consistency of ANS responses (Quigley &
Barrett, 2014; Siegel et al., 2018). Meta-analyses showed
that at least some categories of emotions display different
autonomic responses (Behnke et al., 2022; Cacioppo et al.,
2000; Lench et al., 2011; Siegel et al., 2018).
Meta-analyses that tested the consistency of responses
within specic emotion categories showed moderate to
high heterogeneity of effect sizes within emotion categories
(low consistency). This suggests that the association
between emotions and ANS activity might be moderated
by additional factors, e.g., situations (Cacioppo et al.,
2000; Lench et al., 2011; Siegel et al., 2018). However,
tests of expected moderators failed (Behnke et al., 2022;
Siegel et al., 2018), leaving neither side supported.
Positive Emotions and Stress
The undoing hypothesis ts into the broader literature linking
positive emotions with health and tness. Theorists suggest
that positive emotions evolved to facilitate the pursuit and
acquisition of psychosocial resources (material, social, and
informational) and promote health and tness (Folkman,
2008; Fredrickson, 2013; Shiota et al., 2017). Research has
shown that positive emotions are related to improved cardio-
vascular health (Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012; Pressman et al.,
2019; Steptoe, 2019), healthier hormonal responses (Miller
et al., 2016; Sin et al., 2017), reduced inammation (Jones
& Graham-Engeland, 2021), and lower morbidity
(Pressman & Cohen, 2005).
Positive emotions have been proposed to buffer against
adverse health outcomes of stress and negative emotions
(van Steenbergen et al., 2021). For instance, positive emo-
tions protect from experiencing intense psychological stress
symptoms (Zander-Schellenberg et al., 2020), sadness
(Brummett et al., 2009), anxiety, and anger (Demorest,
2020). Furthermore, trait and state positive emotions
reduce physiological reactivity to different physical stressors,
including pain (Ong et al., 2015), inammation (Steptoe
et al., 2008), as well as to stressful social situations (Ong
2Emotion Review Vol. XX No. XX
& Isen, 2010). Positive emotions also tend to lessen negative
emotions in response to chronic stressors and everyday life
events (Ong et al., 2006; Zautra et al., 2005).
Interventions that effectively promote positive emotions
support health and well-being (Lyubomirsky & Layous,
2013; Moskowitz et al., 2021). It is proposed that positive
emotions trigger upward spiral dynamics that might
counter the downward spiral dynamics of negativity
observed in emotion dysfunctions and decits in psychopath-
ology (Fredrickson, 2013; Garland et al., 2010). For instance,
the cultivation of positive emotions through interventions
helps individuals with cancer (Bränström et al., 2010),
heart disease (Huffman et al., 2016), and diabetes (Cohn
et al., 2014). Furthermore, positive emotions contribute to
undertaking behavioral health-related interventions (Shiota
et al., 2021). When people associate positive emotions with
health behaviors, they are more likely to engage in the inter-
ventions (Kiviniemi & Duangdao, 2009; Rhodes & Kates,
In sum, the presented research suggests that positive emo-
tions help with the detrimental effects of stress. With this
project, we aimed to test whether undoing the sympathetic
activity related to stress might be one of the possible path-
ways linking positive emotions and health.
Moderators of Undoing Effect of Positive
A recent qualitative review presented mixed support for the
undoing effect of positive emotions (Cavanagh & Larkin,
2018). The mixed effects suggest the possibility that there
might be moderators of the undoing effect. Candidate mod-
erators include differences between studies among: positive
emotions induced, operationalizations of recovery, physio-
logical measures, emotion-elicitation methods of positive
positive emotions, emotion-elicitation methods of stress
and negative emotions, sampled individuals age, sampled
individuals sex, and year of publication. In addition,
several other methodological characteristics were consid-
ered, as noted below.
Differences among Positive Emotions
Over the years, affective scientists have become increasingly
interested in differences among positive emotions. For
instance, models that focus on motivational tendencies
propose differences between high-approach and low-
approach positive emotions in terms of ANS reactivity
(Gable & Harmon-Jones, 2010; Harmon-Jones et al.,
2013). Some positive emotions, such as excitement or enthu-
siasm, are characterized by strong goal-attainment, approach
tendencies, and increases in sympathetically mediated
arousal across cardiac, vascular, and electrodermal systems
(Kreibig et al., 2010; Shiota et al., 2017). In contrast, other
positive emotions, such as awe or contentment, are
characterized by preparation for stillness and withdrawal of
sympathetic inuence on the heart (Kreibig, 2010). These
ndings indicate that there may be differences among dis-
crete positive emotions that could inuence their impact on
physiological recovery from negative states. Indeed, in
their initial paper on the undoing effect, Fredrickson and
Levenson (1988) proposed (but did not test) the idea that dis-
crete positive emotions might not all show the undoing effect
(Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998).
Different Ways of Operationalizing Recovery
Physiological recovery is operationalized and analyzed in the
literature in two dominant ways, namely the change score
approach and the continuous measurement approach
(Gruber et al., 2011). The change score approach uses the dif-
ference between two static time points (e.g., watching a sad
lm clip and the recovery). Change scores are computed
by subtracting physiological recovery levels from the reactiv-
ity or baseline level, with lower numbers indicating greater
recovery. Furthermore, based on the two static time points,
some researchers calculated residual change scores, in
which the recovery score is regressed on its baseline and/or
reactivity levels and saved as regression residuals
(Kaczmarek et al., 2019). Residualized change scores
inform whether individuals recovered faster or slower than
based on expectations from their baseline and/or reactivity.
The continuous measurement approach uses the time
needed to return to or stay at the baseline level. The "time
to baseline" index of recovery is calculated for each partici-
pant using physiological baseline level (mean of baseline
period plus and minus one standard deviation) and the time
needed to return to the individual physiological baseline
level and remain at that level for at least ve of six consecu-
tive seconds (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). The "time in
baseline" index uses the total number of seconds each partici-
pant remained at the baseline level during the emotional
manipulation (Gilbert et al., 2016). In contrast to the "time
to baseline," the "time in baseline" accounts for the possibil-
ity that individuals may re-exit the baseline level and never
fully recover once recovery is reached. The continuous and
xed-point methods have not previously been used in a
single study, making it difcult to infer their complementar-
ity. The use of either method might be a reason for mixed
effects in the literature.
Different Physiological Measures
Initial studies of the undoing effect used a composite index of
cardiovascular recovery constructed from multiple measures,
including heart period, nger pulse amplitude, pulse transit
times to ear and nger, and systolic and diastolic blood pres-
sure (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998; Fredrickson et al.,
2000). The motivation for using a broad-band composite
index of cardiovascular recovery was that it provides a
Behnke et al. The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions 3
larger window onto sympathetic activation than does any
single index (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998; Fredrickson
et al., 2000). However, more recent studies have used separ-
ate measures (Kaczmarek et al., 2019; Quin et al., 2019).
These differences in physiological assessment strategy
might play a role in mixed ndings. Furthermore, there
might be differences between the studies that has been
focused on pre-ejection period, electrodermal activity, total
peripheral resistance, nger pulse amplitude, and pulse
transit time, all measures thought to have primarily sympa-
thetic drivers (Boucsein, 2012; Giassi et al., 2013; Shiota
& Danvers, 2014; Zou et al., 2004), rather than heart
period and blood pressure, which are the result of a combin-
ation of sympathetic and parasympathetic inuences (Shiota
& Danvers, 2014).
Different Elicitation Methods of Positive Emotions
Among studies of the undoing effect, the two most common
means of inducing positive emotions are pictures (Cavanagh,
2016; Kaczmarek, 2009; Kaczmarek et al., 2019) and lm
clips (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998; Fredrickson et al.,
2000; Gilbert et al., 2016; Hannesdóttir, 2007). A recent
meta-analysis suggests that the most effective methods to
elicit positive emotions are watching lm clips, reading
stories, and watching pictures of facial expressions (Joseph
et al., 2020). However, other meta-analyses suggest no dif-
ferences among elicitation methods regarding ANS reactivity
(Behnke et al., 2022; Lench et al., 2011; Siegel et al., 2018).
Differences in elicitation methods between studies could
inuence the strength of the undoing effect of positive
Different Elicitation Methods of Negative Emotions or
Researchers have also used multiple methods to elicit nega-
tive emotions and stress, including speech-preparation tasks
(Fredrickson et al., 2000; Hannesdóttir, 2007; Kaczmarek
et al., 2019), lm clips (fear, Fredrickson & Levenson,
1998; sad, Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998), pictures
(Sokhadze, 2007); arithmetic tasks (Cavanagh, 2016;
Kaczmarek, 2009; Medvedev et al., 2015), and writing
about sad experience (Soenke, 2014). These differences in
elicitation methods of negative emotions or stress might
play a role in mixed ndings.
Differences in ParticipantsAge
Younger individuals are expected to experience more intense
emotions than older individuals (Charles & Carstensen,
2008; Steenhaut et al., 2018). However, a meta-analysis
did not support this view (Behnke et al., 2022; Lench
et al., 2011). Thus, it is not clear whether participant age
moderates the undoing effects.
Differences in ParticipantsSex
Sex is an individual characteristic that is viewed as a potential
moderator of ANS recovery related to positive emotions.
Women are generally viewed as being more emotionally
reactive than men (Bradley et al., 2001). Yet, recent
meta-analyses do not support this notion, showing no differ-
ences between men and women in response to positive emo-
tions (Behnke et al., 2022; Joseph et al., 2020; Siegel et al.,
2018). Therefore, it is not clear whether participantssex
moderates the undoing effects of positive emotion on recov-
ery from negative emotion.
Differences in the Year of Publication
The decline effect(Schooler, 2011) or the law of initial
results(Ioannidis, 2005) proposes that the strength of the
effect sizes within a specic paradigm declines over time.
This trend can be explained by the increasing number of
rigorous studies with larger samples, leading to regression
to the mean over time. The signicant inuence of the pub-
lication year can also be interpreted as an indicator of bias
in the existing literature.
Differences in Other Methodological Characteristics
In addition to the eight candidate moderators noted above,
ve other methodological characteristics of studies were con-
sidered as possible moderators. These include: emotion
elicitation duration for positive emotions, emotion elicitation
duration for stress or negative emotions, number of reported
ANS measures, sample size, and study quality (e.g., presence
of manipulation checks). However, the previously tested
variables did not consistently inuence the size of the
mean ANS reactivity to emotions (Behnke et al., 2022;
Siegel et al., 2018). It is therefore not clear whether methodo-
logical characteristics moderate the undoing effects.
Overview of the Present Investigation
The goal of the present study was to synthesize and evaluate
ndings from past research, in which experimentally induced
positive or neutral emotional states followed experimentally
induced negative emotions or stress, and physiological mea-
sures were obtained. Experimental manipulation of emotions
was important to ascertain causality from positive emotion to
physiological recovery. Experimental manipulation of nega-
tive emotions or stress was important to ascertain that sympa-
thetic arousal was produced and that there was potential for
recovery. Inclusion of neutral condition was important to
ascertain that the function of quieting the sympathetic
arousal was related to the onset of positive emotions rather
than the termination of negative emotions. Measuring physi-
ology was important to enable objective assessment of the
undoing effect of positive emotions.
4Emotion Review Vol. XX No. XX
We focused on the signicance and consistency of the
mean effect size and possible moderators of ANS recovery
from negative emotions in response to positive emotions.
First, we tested the consistency with which positive emotions
accelerate the physiological recovery from negative emotions
and stress. We calculated pooled mean effect sizes for the dif-
ference between the effect of positive emotions and neutral
conditions on the recovery measure. Second, we tested 13
potential moderators - i.e., differences among positive emo-
tions (e.g., amusement vs. contentment), different ways of
operationalizing recovery (e.g., time to baseline vs. change
score), different physiological measures (e.g., composite
index of cardiovascular recovery vs. heart rate), different
elicitation methods of positive emotions (e.g., pictures vs.
lm clips), different elicitation methods of stress or negative
emotions (e.g., speech-preparation tasks vs. lm clips), dif-
ferences in participantsage (e.g., whether the effect is stron-
ger in youth-dominated studies), differences in participants
sex (e.g., whether the effect is stronger in female-dominated
studies), differences in the year of publication (whether the
strength of the effect decline over the time), and whether
the size of the mean effect is related to other methodological
characteristics (e.g., whether the effect is stronger in studies
with longer positive elicitation periods, or whether the effect
is stronger in studies with longer stress or negative emotions
elicitation periods, or whether the effect is stronger in studies
with longer emotion elicitation periods or lower number of
reported ANS measures, or larger sample sizes, or higher
study quality). These variables might explain whether and
why positive emotions do not facilitate physiological recov-
ery in some contexts or under specic circumstances.
Based on the theoretical model (Fredrickson & Levenson,
1998; Fredrickson et al., 2000), we expected that positive
emotions would facilitate the physiological recovery from
negative emotions and stress compared to neutral conditions.
In light of recent studies (Kaczmarek et al., 2019; Qin et al.,
2019), we expected to nd differences among discrete posi-
tive emotions in ANS recovery, e.g., high-approach positive
emotions (e.g., excitement or enthusiasm) versus low-
approach positive emotions (e.g., amusement or content-
ment). We expected that positive emotions characterized by
a strong approach tendency would slow down the recovery
compared to positive emotions characterized by a weak
approach tendency. Examining these effects quantitatively
is essential for clarifying the empirical status of the
undoing hypothesis and for more clearly specifying bound-
ary conditions and moderators of this effect.
Selection of Studies
We performed a systematic literature search using EBSCO,
PsycINFO, PubMed, ProQuest, Google Scholar, and Open
Access Theses and Dissertations, covering the period from
January 1872 to September 2021. We used the following
terms: ["undoing hypothesis" OR "undoing effect" OR
"physiological down-regulation "OR "cardiovascular recov-
ery "AND "positive emotions" OR "positive affect"]. We
also cross-checked the references in the studies that we
retrieved. We contacted 22 authors who had published arti-
cles or dissertations on the undoing effect and asked for
any unpublished material. Of nine authors who responded
to the request (41%), none reported any unpublished mater-
ial. We also posted the call for data among members of the
Society for Affective Science and the International Society
for Research on Emotion.
We selected potentially eligible studies in two phases.
First, four research team members (MB, MP, PC, and EW)
screened the titles and abstracts. Next, we screened the full
text of the articles with a relevant title and/or abstract. All
of the identied studies as potentially eligible during the
rst selection phase were then reassessed in the second selec-
tion phase.
The inclusion criteria for eligible studies were: 1) experi-
mentally induced positive emotions or neutral emotional
states following experimentally induced negative emotions
or stress; 2) non-clinical participants; and 3) ANS recovery
was measured during elicitation of positive emotions and
during the neutral conditions. The exclusion criteria were:
1) emotion regulation rather than spontaneous responses to
positive stimuli; 2) additional manipulations that affected
physiological or emotional responses (e.g., exercising
before emotion manipulation or priming during a cognitive
task); or 3) available data did not allow us to calculate
effect sizes. The inter-rater agreement on which studies met
the eligibility criteria and could thus be included was high
(Krippendorffsα=.90). Any disagreement between the
coders were resolved through discussion. Figure 1 sum-
marizes the search procedure. Table S1 presents the studies
included in this meta-analysis with study characteristics.
Data Extraction
Coding. Based on methodological considerations
(Levenson, 2014) and results from previous meta-analyses on
ANS reactivity and emotions (Behnke et al., 2022; Lench
et al., 2011; Siegel et al., 2018), the following potential modera-
tors were coded: 1) the positive emotion that was studied; 2)
recovery calculation methods (e.g., time to baseline, change
score from stress; residual change score); 3) type of physio-
logical measure; 4-5) type of experimental manipulation
methods for positive emotions or neutral conditions, and nega-
tive emotion or stress elicitation (i.e., autobiographical recall,
behavioral manipulation, lm, memory recall, music, picture
presentation, reading text); 6) mean age of the sampled partici-
pants (in years); 7) sex of the sampled participants (percentage
of females); and 8) publication year. We also coded the studies
for several additional characteristics: 9-10) positive emotions
or neutral conditions, and negative emotion or stress elicitation
Behnke et al. The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions 5
duration (in seconds); 11) number of ANS measures used in ana-
lysis in a given study; 12) sample size; 13) study quality (05).
The study quality index comprises scores from six criteria: a)
provision of exclusion criteria related to physiological activity,
e.g., BMI, physical health, drug use (yes =1, no =0); b) report
on artifacts, outliers, and missing data (yes =1, no =0); c) the
presence of a manipulation check for positive emotion (e.g.,
an increase of positive valence or behavioral indexes of positive
affect; yes =1, no =0); d) the presence of a manipulation check
for neutral conditions (e.g., no difference from baseline; yes =1,
no =0); e) the presence of a manipulation check for self-reported
negative emotion and stress (e.g., an increase of negative
valence; yes =1, no =0); and f) the presence of a manipulation
check for physiological activity related to negative emotion and
stress (e.g., an increase of HR; yes =1, no =0). The inter-rater
agreement for codes was acceptable and ranged from
Krippendorffsα=.72toKrippendorffsα=.88. Any disagree-
ment between the coders was resolved through discussion.
When coding for the positive emotion, we compared the
emotion label designated by the primary study authors with
the list of discrete positive emotions described in the litera-
ture (e.g., Cowen & Keltner, 2017). In 13 cases (48%), we
relabeled the original names according to information in
the Methods section of the primary study. The reason for
relabeling was that 1) the stimulus was assigned a broad cat-
egory (e.g., pictures eliciting high-approach positive affect)
Figure 1. Flow diagram of the search procedure.
Note. SAS =Society of Affective Science, ISRE =International Society for Research on Emotion, ANS =autonomic nervous system.
6Emotion Review Vol. XX No. XX
although a specic positive emotion was elicited (e.g., pic-
tures of delicious food to craving; Qin et al., 2019), or 2)
the stimulus was not assigned to any emotion (e.g., the
sound of the ocean).
When coding for ANS measures, we included indicators
of sympathetic activity related to negative emotions and
stress. The following measures were included: heart rate
(HR), a composite index of cardiovascular reactivity
(CVR), pre-ejection period (PEP), stroke volume (SV),
cardiac output (CO), nger pulse amplitude (FPA), diastolic
blood pressure (DBP), systolic blood pressure (SBP), total
peripheral resistance (TPR), skin conductance level (SCL),
skin conductance response (SCR), and skin temperature. A
detailed description of included ANS measures can be
found in reviews focusing on ANS reactivity to emotions
(e.g., Behnke et al., 2022; Berntson et al., 1991; Cacioppo
et al., 2000; Larsen et al., 2008; Siegel et al., 2018).
Finally, because increased sympathetic activation is asso-
ciated with shortened PEP values, we multiplied the effects
of PEP by 1.
Effect size extraction. To calculate effect sizes, we com-
puted the difference in recovery between the neutral condi-
tion and positive emotions. For most studies, the authors
reported means and standard deviations of the ANS levels
during neutral conditions and emotion elicitation. For
studies reporting other metrics (e.g., adjusted/partial correla-
tions or regression coefcients), we sent requests to the
authors to provide us with the means of the relevant
periods. Of the seven authors we contacted, three responded
to our inquiry (43%), and of these, all sent us the requested
data (100%). No authors denied us access to the requested
data. We used Cohensdas the common effect size
measure. We used Cohensd
for the between-subject
study design, whereas for the within-subject study design,
we used Cohensd
(Lakens, 2013). We used Cohens
because the primary articles did provide enough data to
calculate the Cohensd
or Cohensd
. We interpreted
the magnitude of the effect sizes using conventional stan-
dards (small, d=0.20; medium, d=0.50; large, d=0.80;
Cohen, 1992).
Meta-Analytic Procedures
We ran meta-analytic procedures, using R(R Core Team,
2017) with the metafor package (Viechtbauer, 2010) follow-
ing meta-analysis recommendations (Assink & Wibbelink,
2016; Harrer et al., 2021; Viechtbauer, 2010). Expecting
high heterogeneity of the effects (Siegel et al., 2018), we
used the random-effects model. Several theorists have
argued in favor of adopting random-effects models for
meta-analysis as these models are optimal in terms of allow-
ing the generalization of corrected effect sizes to the popula-
tion (Field & Gillett, 2010; Hunter & Schmidt, 2000; Schmidt
& Hunter, 2014). Furthermore, the simulation studies show
that applying separate three-level models for a different type
of outcome is the only approach that consistently gives
adequate standard error estimates (Fernández-Castilla et al.,
2021a). We used restricted maximum likelihood estimation
to estimate the pooled mean effect sizes.
Most of the included studies (k=13) provided multiple effect
sizes of ANS recovery for one or more positive emotions. Thus,
we used a three-level meta-analytic approach to account for
dependency between effect sizes (Assink & Wibbelink, 2016;
Viechtbauer, 2010). Three-level meta-analytic models consider
three sources of variance: variance in effect sizes extracted
from different studies (i.e., between-study variance) at level
three of the model, variance in effect sizes extracted from the
same study (i.e., a within-study variance that used two ANS
measures) at level two of the model, and sampling variance of
the extracted effect sizes at level one of the model (Cheung,
2014; Hox, 2002; Van den Noortgate et al., 2013, 2014).
Magnitude and consistency of the undoing effect. We
aimed to examine a pooled mean effect size of the undoing
effect of positive emotion versus neutral. We ran a
meta-analysis for all ANS measures together because we
focused our analysis on the factors (e.g., elicitation method)
that may explain variability in the undoing effect (all mea-
sures) of positive emotions rather than the variability of spe-
cic ANS measures (e.g., HR). We interpret the results
considering two parameters, namely, ANS recovery magni-
tude (signicant vs. non-signicant) and its consistency (no/
low heterogeneity vs. high heterogeneity). Heterogeneous
effect sizes may indicate that: a) the average ANS recovery
is not consistent for positive emotions in the population; b)
the average ANS recovery is moderated by different types
of characteristics (e.g., elicitation method); or c) the size of
the effect reects real, contextual changes in ANS recovery.
We tested whether the calculated mean effect sizes were
homogeneous (consistent) using I
-statistic. The rejection
of the null hypothesis indicates the presence of possible
methodological or population differences that may lead to
variation between studies. Furthermore, we used the
-statistic, which can be compared across meta-analyses
(Higgins et al., 2003). The I
- statistic allows for examining
the amount of variance in effect sizes extracted from the same
study (meta-analytic models level two) and variance
between studies (level three). The sum of the I
-statistics at
levels two and three indicates the amount of variability
with the value of 0% indicating an absence of dispersion,
and larger values indicating the following levels of hetero-
geneity: 040% =might not be important; 3060% =may
represent moderate heterogeneity; 5090% =may represent
substantial heterogeneity; 75100% =represents consider-
able heterogeneity (Higgins et al., 2019). We examined the
signicance of the variance at levels two and three by calcu-
lating two separate one-tailed log-likelihood-ratio tests. In
these tests, the deviance of the full model was compared to
Behnke et al. The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions 7
the deviance of the model, excluding one of the variance
Publication bias. We performed several publication bias
analyses to investigate whether null or weak results were
likely to be systematically suppressed from publication
(Schmidt & Hunter, 2014). Assessing potential bias in the
effect sizes that are synthesized is vital because studies
with non-signicant or negative results are less likely to be
published in peer-reviewed journals (Borenstein et al.,
2011). Our bias assessment strategy comprised ve
methods, including a visual inspection of the funnel plot, a
rank correlation test, Eggers regression test (Egger et al.,
1997), the trim-and-ll analysis (Duval & Tweedie, 2000),
and a moderator test in which the publication year of
studies is tested as a moderator of the overall effect (see,
for instance, Assink et al., 2018, 2019 for similar bias assess-
ment strategies). In our strategy, we used standard methods
for two-level meta-analysis because no techniques have
been developed and tested yet for detecting bias in 3-level
meta-analyses (Fernández-Castilla et al., 2021b).
First, we visually inspected a funnel plot in which effect
sizes are plotted against their standard error around an esti-
mated summary effect (Egger et al., 1997). In contrast to
large studies, studies using small samples tend to produce
effect sizes of different magnitude due to increased variability
in their sampling errors. Thus, effect sizes from smaller
studies are expected to scatter widely at the bottom of the
funnel plot, whereas effect sizes from larger studies are
expected to be more concentrated at the top of the plot. As
null or weak results are likely to be systematically suppressed
from publication, an asymmetric distribution of effect sizes
may be expected in the sense that effect sizes may be
missing at the (bottom) left of the estimated summary effect
in the funnel plot. In contrast, a symmetric effect size distribu-
tion with effect sizes equally distributed to the left and right of
a summary effect would suggest the absence of bias.
Second and third, we assessed publication bias using an
adapted version of the Eggers regression test and the Begg
and Mazumdars rank-order correlation test (Assink et al.,
2018; Assink et al., 2019; Begg & Mazumdar, 1994; Egger
et al., 1997; Sterne et al., 2000). In the adapted Eggersregres-
sion test, we regressed the effect sizes on their standard errors
in a three-level meta-analytic model. Contrary to the classical
Eggers test, this adapted test accounted for effect size depend-
ency stemming from the fact that multiple effect sizes were
extracted from individual primary studies. For Eggerstest,
the signicance of the slope is indicative for bias, whereas
for the Begg and Mazumdars rank-order test the signicance
of the rank association is indicative for bias (Begg &
Mazumdar, 1994; Egger et al., 1997; Sterne et al., 2000).
Fourth, we examined bias-corrected effect sizes with the
trim-and-ll method (Duval & Tweedie, 2000). If funnel
plot asymmetry is detected, the trim-and-ll method
imputes effect size estimates from "missing" studies and
restores the funnel plot symmetry. Fifth, we tested whether
the magnitude of the effect sizes declines over time by regres-
sing the summary effect on publication year of primary
studies. The tendency for positive results to get smaller
over time may indicate a "decline effect" (Schooler, 2011)
which is referred to as "law of initial results" by Ioannidis
Moderator analyses. Finally, to examine potential mod-
erators that may inuence the undoing effects of positive
emotions, we ran 13 separate moderator analyses. We deter-
mined whether the undoing effect differentiates within (cat-
egories of) the factor by interpreting the results of an
omnibus test, in which a signicant Fvalue indicates differ-
ences in undoing effect within (categories of) the factor
(moderator). To account for Type I error for multiple com-
parisons (e.g., testing 13 different moderators on the same
dataset) that is frequent in meta-analyses (Cafri et al.,
2010), we adjusted probability values using the false discov-
ery rate (FDR) formula (Benjamini & Hochberg, 1995). This
resulted in adjusting p-values to balance Type I and Type II
errors. Next, we considered the undoing effect as signicant
in one sub-group (e.g., ANS recovery to amusement) when
condence intervals of the mean effect size in a given mod-
erator sub-group did not include zero. We interpreted the
mean effect of the moderator category when there were at
least three studies per category.
Descriptive Analyses
We included 15 articles with 16 studies and 27 elicited emo-
tions, presenting 72 effect sizes obtained from 1,220 partici-
pants with ages ranging from 16 to 60 years (M=22.03
years, SD =3.13) (Figure 1). Most participants (74%) were
female. The included studies were published between 1998
to 2019, with the median publication year of 2012. The
mean duration of physiological recording for positive emo-
tions was 186.39 (SD =137.71) seconds and for negative
emotions and stress 149.46 (SD =101.22) seconds.
The most frequently studied positive emotion was con-
tentment (n=10 cases; 37.0%), followed by amusement (8;
29.6%), mix of positive emotions (5; 18.5%), craving (1;
3.7%), joy (1; 3.7%), mix of high-approach positive emo-
tions (1; 3.7%), and mix of low-approach positive emotions
(1; 3.7%). The most frequent method of positive emotion
elicitation was presenting lm clips to participants (n=11
cases; 40.7%), followed by picture presentation (8; 29.6%),
music (6, 22.2%), autobiographical recall (1; 3.7%), and
reading a text (1; 3.7%). The most frequent method of nega-
tive emotion and stress elicitation was speech preparation (n
=11 cases; 40.7%), followed by arithmetic task (6; 22.2%),
autobiographical recall (3; 11.1%), lm clips (2, 7.4%),
8Emotion Review Vol. XX No. XX
Stroop task (2, 7.4%), reward sensitivity task (2, 7.4%), and
picture presentation (1, 4.7%). The most frequent method of
recovery calculation was time to baseline (n=11 cases;
40.7%), followed by mean change from stress (7, 25.9%),
mean change from baseline (5; 18.5%), residual change
score (2, 7.4%), and time in baseline (2; 7.4%). The most fre-
quent physiological measure was HR (n=20 effect sizes;
27.8%), followed by DBP (11; 15.3%), SBP (11; 15.3%), a
composite index of cardiovascular reactivity (6; 8.3%),
SCL (5; 8.3%), CO (4; 5.6%), PEP (4; 5.6%), TPR (4;
5.6%), SV(2; 2.8%), skin temperature (2; 2.8%), FPA (2;
2.8%), and SCR (1; 1.4%).
The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions
Overall, we found that positive emotions did not facilitate
autonomic nervous system recovery relative to neutral condi-
tion, d=0.05, 95% CI [-0.11, 0.21], p=.51, k=72
(Figure 2). Furthermore, as for heterogeneity in effect sizes
in the model, we found signicant within-study variance
(level 2) χ2 (1) =13.55, p < .001, but not between-study
(level 3) variance χ2 (1) =2.77, p=.10. A breakdown of
the total variance into the variance distributed at the three
levels of the model revealed that 37.53% could be attributed
to sampling variance, 50.46% to within-study variance, and
12.00% to between-study variance. Thus, we rejected the
null hypothesis of effect size homogeneity and found that
the true effect size was moderately heterogeneous and was
likely to vary within the studies from effect size to effect
size. This indicates that the effect sizes should not be
treated as estimates of one common effect size, and thus,
moderator analyses are justied to search for variables that
can explain the heterogeneity of the overall undoing effect
of positive emotions.
Publication Bias
We investigated outliers by calculating studentized residuals,
which identify effect sizes that disproportionately contribute
to the overall heterogeneity and the results. No effect size
was identied as problematic, with all Zs < 1.93 (Figure 3).
As for the bias assessment results, we found mixed evidence
that the distribution of effect sizes was asymmetrical. The
trim-and-ll analysis did not impute any "missing effects".
Also, a visual inspection of the funnel plot as well as the
results of the rank order correlation test (τ=.07, p=.35)
did not suggest an asymmetrical distribution of effects.
Only the adapted Eggers regression test produced indica-
tions for an asymmetrical distribution of effects and specic-
ally publication bias, β=3.33, p=.03. Further, we found a
negative association between publication year and size of
the ANS reactivity, β=-.04, 95% CI [-.06, -.02], p< .001,
k=72, indicating that the magnitude of effect sizes decreases
over time, meaning that more recent studies showed smaller
effect sizes. In sum, two out of the ve bias assessment
methods that were applied provided indications for bias in
the studies that were synthesized in this meta-analysis, so
the results of the meta-analysis might have been affected
by bias.
Moderator Analyses
The moderator analysis showed that under most conditions,
positive emotions do not "undo" ANS reactivity more ef-
ciently than neutral states, that is, the undoing effect of posi-
tive emotions was not affected by most variables tested as
moderators; Table 1 presents the results of the omnibus test
of the moderator analyses. We did observe that the
undoing effect of positive emotions was moderated by the
type of ANS measure used in primary studies to calculate
the recovery. We found that only studies using a composite
index of cardiovascular recovery showed the undoing
effect of positive emotions in comparison to neutral condi-
tions. Furthermore, using a composite index of cardiovascu-
lar recovery showed bigger effect sizes than other ANS
measures, including HR Δd=0.79, 99% CI [0.33, 1.25],
DBP Δd=0.71, 96% CI [0.30, 1.11], SBP Δd=0.72, 97%
CI [0.29, 1.14], SCL Δd=0.77, 98% CI [0.28, 1.25], CO
Δd=0.58, 95% CI [0.16, 1.00], PEP Δd=0.60, 96% CI
[0.15, 1.05], TPR Δd=0.97, 99% CI [0.39, 1.55].
In this project, we used meta-analytic procedures to synthe-
size ndings from past research on the undoing effect of posi-
tive emotions. Overall, we did not nd support for the
undoing effect. We observed a non-signicant effect of posi-
tive emotions on ANS recovery relative to the neutral condi-
tion. However, in the moderator analyses, we found that
studies which employed a composite index of cardiovascular
reactivity showed signicant effects of positive emotions
relative to the neutral condition. We also found support for
the "decline effect" (Schooler, 2011) or the "law of initial
results" (Ioannidis, 2005) in the undoing literature, as the
strength of the effect sizes declined over time. Thus, our
work supports the conclusions of the previous qualitative
systematic review that evidence for improving physiological
recovery by positive emotions is insufcient (Cavanagh &
Larkin, 2018). However, our ndings suggest that there
may well be specic conditions under which positive emo-
tions serve to undo sympathetic arousal associated with nega-
tive emotions and stress.
Across all studies, we found that positive emotions were
not more benecial than neutral states in their effects on
ANS recovery after stress or negative emotions.
Nonetheless, positive emotions might still offer respite
from stress or negative emotions in other contexts
(Lazarus et al., 1980; Monfort et al., 2015) or via other
mechanisms (Pressman & Cohen, 2005; Pressman et al.,
2019). Before answering complex questions about the link
Behnke et al. The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions 9
between positive emotions and health, affective scientists
might wish to focus on answering more basic questions
that still remain, e.g., which affect induction procedure is
the most effective, on which ANS measure do positive emo-
tions have the greatest impact, or how ANS changes should
be operationalized.
Figure 2. Forrest plot of the effect sizes included in the meta-analysis.
Notes. The square boxes represent Cohensdand sample sizes (the larger the box, larger the sample size, contributed more to the total effect size) in each study.
The lines represent 95% condence intervals. The diamonds represent the pooled effect size and the 95% condenceintervals. HR =heart rate, CVR =composite
index of cardiovascular reactivity, PEP =pre-ejection period, CO =cardiac output, FPA =nger pulse amplitude, DBP =diastolic blood pressure, SBP =systolic
blood pressure, TPR =total peripheral resistance, SCL =skin conductance level, SCR =skin conductance response, Temp =ngertip skin temperature.
10 Emotion Review Vol. XX No. XX
More generally, our ndings suggest the need for add-
itional work on the functions of positive emotions. A
recent meta-analysis on ANS activity during positive emo-
tions found that the eld of psychophysiology of positive
emotions has not matured yet and that much needs to be
learned (Behnke et al., 2022; Shiota, 2017). Although
researchers may believe that the psychophysiological corre-
lates of positive emotions have been established, recent nd-
ings in affective science suggest that much remains to be
learned about the psychophysiological correlates and func-
tions of positive emotions (if any). Researchers may
develop new hypotheses about the psychophysiological
functions of some positive emotions or test propositions
from existing theoretical frameworks (e.g., Shiota et al.,
2017). For instance, it will be important to clarify whether
and how enthusiasm might support the fast, active pursuit
of tangible resources and how contentment might facilitate
physical rest and digestion (Shiota et al., 2017).
Under What Conditions Do Positive Emotions Undo
ANS Reactivity?
We investigated several variables that we thought might
inuence the undoing effect. We observed that only studies
using the composite index of cardiovascular recovery
showed signicant differences between positive emotions
and neutral conditions (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998;
Fredrickson et al., 2000). This nding is consistent with
the idea that this physiological composite provides a
broader window onto sympathetic activation and recovery
of the cardiovascular system than does any single cardiovas-
cular index (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998; Fredrickson
et al., 2000).
Contrary to our expectations, we did not nd that the
strength of the undoing effect is inuenced by discrete posi-
tive emotions or groups of positive emotions. We expected
that positive emotions that differ along the dimension of
approach motivation would also inuence the recovery
from stress and negative emotions differently (Gable &
Harmon-Jones, 2010; Harmon-Jones et al., 2013) or, even
more specically, that discrete positive emotions would
produce specic adaptive changes in physiology (Ekman &
Cordaro, 2011; Kreibig, 2010; Levenson, 2011). However,
our non-signicant result is consistent with ndings from
previous meta-analyses that challenge the specicity of
ANS responses to positive emotions (Behnke et al., 2022;
Siegel et al., 2018). The current ndings may be interpreted
as being consistent with a constructionist view of ANS
reactivity on emotion, at least with respect to positive emo-
tions (Barrett, 2013, p. 2017; Quigley & Barrett, 2014).
Constructionists view the ANS response to emotions as
being a specic response to the demands of the situation in
which the emotion occurs rather than the emotion itself. On
this view, whether or not a certain positive emotion
inuences autonomic levels depends upon the context in
which the emotion occurs.
Similarly, the recovery operationalization method was not
a signicant moderator. Further, we did not observe the inu-
ence of age, sex proportion, and participant number on
physiological recovery. As previous meta-analyses already
revealed (Behnke et al., 2022; Lench et al., 2011), we
found no support of participantsage effects on the physio-
logical response to emotion. However, this may be due to
imbalanced age distribution (with samples skewed to
young participants), meaning we did not have sufcient stat-
istical power to detect age differences. A thorough examin-
ation of how age inuences emotions effect on recovery
from negative emotions and stress requires additional
research with older participants. Furthermore, in line with
previous meta-analyses, we found no sex differences in the
physiological response to positive emotions (Behnke et al.,
2022; Joseph et al., 2020; Siegel et al., 2018).
In our bias assessment strategy that comprised ve
methods for detecting bias, we found mixed indications of
bias in the studies that were synthesized. A visual inspection
of the funnel plot of effect sizes, the rank order correlation
test, and the trim-and-ll analysis did not provide indications
for bias. However, the adapted Eggers regression test did
reveal that the standard error was a signicant and positive
predictor of effect sizes, which is indicative for publication
bias. As this adapted Eggers test was the only method
taking effect size dependency into account, one may argue
that more weight should be put on the results of this test rela-
tively to the results of the other techniques that were part of
our bias assessment strategy. However, the Eggers test just
like many other available techniques for bias assessment -
assumes homogeneity in effect sizes (e.g., Nakagawa &
Santos, 2012; Terrin et al., 2003; See also Limitations and
Future Directions section) which was violated in the
present meta-analysis as we found signicant within-study
variance in effect sizes pointing towards effect size hetero-
geneity. This implies that the results of this regression test
should be interpreted cautiously as well. Unexpectedly,
more effect sizes were published in the literature that
opposes the undoing effect than support it. This is puzzling
because a potential publication bias would be marked by
the overrepresentation of studies supporting the hypothesis.
This imbalance may stem from more recent studies present-
ing multiple effect sizes of ANS recovery (Kaczmarek et al.,
2019; Qin et al., 2019), in contrast to early studies which pre-
sented a single effect for a physiological composite
(Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998; Fredrickson et al., 2000;
Hannesdóttir, 2007). Regardless of the results of our bias
assessment, this latter nding suggests that the body of pub-
lished evidence for the undoing effect might be biased in
some way.
Finally, we found that the strength of the undoing effect
reported in studies declined over time. This might support
the publication "decline effect" (Schooler, 2011) or the
Behnke et al. The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions 11
"law of initial results" (Ioannidis, 2005), which is observed in
scientic research. This declining trend might be explained
by the increasing number of studies with larger samples,
leading to regression to the mean over time. A large replica-
tion project found that the replicated effects were usually half
the size of those reported in the original papers (Open
Science Collaboration, 2015). Although the signicant inu-
ence of publication year can be interpreted as an indicator of
bias in the existing literature, we found that studies using the
same methodology as original studies (Fredrickson &
Levenson, 1998; Fredrickson et al., 2000) supported the
undoing effect of positive emotions (Gilbert et al., 2016;
Hannesdóttir, 2007). The fact that we found support from
direct or close replications (high degree of methodological
similarity; Brandt et al., 2014; Simons, 2014) rather than
from conceptual or more distant replications (different meth-
odologies; Crandall & Sherman, 2016) suggests the possibil-
ity that there may be denable boundary conditions for this
effect. Thus, we do not rule out the possibility that the
decline observed in our project might result from factors
other than the law of initial results.
Limitations and Future Directions
This meta-analytic review has a number of strengths, includ-
ing its systematic examination of a wide array of candidate
moderators. However, this review also has several limitations
that bear noting.
First, we found that a relatively small number of studies were
eligible for inclusion in this review. Consequently, some com-
parisons and analyses were based on a small number of effect
sizes. It is recommended that at least two studies are needed
for meta-analysis (Valentine et al., 2010), with ve or more
studies recommended to reasonably consistently achieve
power from random-effects meta-analyses (Jackson & Turner,
2017). The review of meta-analyses indicates that the median
number of studies included in the cardiovascular meta-analyses
is four and that ninety percent of cardiovascular meta-analyses
included less than 14 studies (Davey et al., 2011). Thus, it is jus-
tied to synthesize the literature on the undoing effect of posi-
tive emotions with a meta-analytic technique based on the 72
effects sizes from 16 studies.
One puzzle is why we were able to nd only 16 studies
that examined the undoing effect, as this effect is well
known and has been around for decades. This small
number of studies resulted from using quite stringent inclu-
sion criteria, which we felt were needed given the previous
literature review that found mixed support for the undoing
effect (Cavanagh & Larkin, 2018). In our quantitative syn-
thesis of primary research on the undoing effect, we aimed
to include studies that were relatively close replications of
the original study (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). Thus,
we only included studies in which experimentally induced
positive states followed experimentally induced negative
emotions or stress. Experimental manipulation of emotions
was important to ascertain causality from positive emotion
to physiological recovery. Nonetheless, the relatively small
number of included studies limits our ability to draw robust
conclusions on specic aspects of the positive emotions
undoing effect, for instance potential moderating variables
inuencing this effect.
Second, we found that the undoing effect of positive emo-
tions is moderately heterogeneous. The usual way to address
effect size heterogeneity is to test variables as potential mod-
erators. Contrary to our expectations, we did not identify
many factors signicantly inuencing the undoing effect.
This does not necessarily mean that there are no moderators
of the undoing effect, as low statistical power may have
driven our non-signicant results in our moderator analyses.
The posterior power analysis showed that we could detect
medium-sized effects at most, with more than 80% power in
the sample and distribution of effect sizes that we synthesized
(Grifn, 2020). Thus, our moderator analyses may provide an
insight into the size of the differences between conditions, but
their signicance should be interpreted in light of the limited
statistical power. Furthermore, we found signicant within-
study but not between-study - heterogeneity. This is an
encouraging nding because variables that are more likely to
vary within versus between studies are the most promising mod-
erators for future researchers to examine. Thus, a future high-
powered secondary analysis could examine much of the within-
study heterogeneity that we identied in the current review.
Third, we found that primary studies have not sampled
broadly across ANS measures and did not sample across mul-
tiple discrete positive emotions. This review examined the
effects of only four discrete emotions (amusement, content-
ment, craving, and joy). Recent research has been able to
identify 1317 positive emotions at the subjective level
Figure 3. Funnel plot of the effect sizes included in the meta-analysis.
12 Emotion Review Vol. XX No. XX
Table 1. Results of moderator analyses.
FdfkMean Effect Size 95% CI
Emotion 0.853 7, 65
Amusement (RC) 14 0.152 0.112, 0.417
Contentment 24 0.057 0.146, 0.260
Craving 3 0.231 0.626, 0.164
Joy 1 0.599 1.471, 0.274
High-approach Positive Emotions 7 0.169 0.386, 0.723
Low-approach Positive Emotions 7 0.159 0.396, 0.713
Mixed Positive Emotions 16 0.040 0.192, 0.273
Recovery Operationalization 0.891 5, 67
Mean Change from Baseline (RC) 11 0.018 0.377, 0.341
Mean Change from Stress Level 18 0.073 0.397, 0.252
Residual Difference Score 14 0.164 0.432, 0.760
Time in Baseline 3 0.150 0.647, 0.347
Time to Baseline 26 0.204 0.072, 0.479
ANS Measure 3.076** 12, 60
CO (RC) 4 0.083 0.179, 0.345
CVR 6 0.666*** 0.324, 1.008
DBP 11 0.039 0.226, 0.148
Fingertip Temperature 2 0.392* 0.737, 0.047
FPA 2 0.340 0.123, 0.803
HR 20 0.124 0.274, 0.027
NS SCR 1 0.600 0.031, 1.232
PEP 4 0.065 0.227, 0.356
SBP 11 0.053 0.239, 0.134
SCL 5 0.099 0.342, 0.145
SV 2 0.129 0.230, 0.488
TPR 4 0.302* 0.565, 0.039
Elicitation Method Positive Emotion 0.605 5, 67
Article (RC) 1 0.162 0.745, 1.069
Film 19 0.230 0.071, 0.530
Memory Recall 1 0.075 0.809, 0.661
Music 13 0.023 0.324, 0.370
Picture 38 0.076 0.375, 0.222
Elicitation Method Negative Emotion 0.961 7, 65
Arithmetic Task (RC) 16 0.112 0.436, 0.213
Disgust/Fear Picture 2 0.429 0.267, 1.124
Fear Film Clip 2 0.840 0.045, 1.635
Recall 15 0.005 0.474, 0.484
Reward Sensitivity Task 6 0.012 0.595, 0.618
Speech 27 0.070 0.207, 0.348
Stroop task 4 0.045 0.653, 0.563
Age 1.077 1, 61 63 0.021 0.019, 0.061
Percentage of Females 0.299 1, 70 72 0.003 0.012, 0.007
Publication Year 12.852*** 1, 70 72 0.038*** 0.059, 0.017
Time Positive Emotion 1.200 1, 69 71 0.001 0.002, 0.001
Time Negative Emotion 4.777* 1, 69 71 0.002 0.003, 0.000
Number of ANS Measures 0.690 1,70 72 0.034 0.117, 0.048
NParticipants 2.806 1, 70 72 0.003 0.006, 0.001
Study Quality Index 0.067 1, 70 72 0.023 0.152, 0.197
Note. Bolded =Signicant at adjusted p-level for FDR. k=number of effect sizes; Effect sizes =for continuous moderators, the effect sizes represent
meta-regression coefcient, for factor moderators, the effect size represents mean Cohensd. RC =reference category. CO =cardiac output, CVR =a composite
index of cardiovascular reactivity, DBP=diastolic blood pressure, FPA =nger pulse amplitude, HR =heart rate, NS SCR =non-specic skin conductance
response, PEP =pre-ejection period, SBP =systolic blood pressure, SCL =skin conductance level, SV =stroke volume, TPR =total peripheral resistance.
Number of ANS Measures =number of ANS Measures used in analysis in a given study.
p< .001,
p< .01,
p< .05.
Behnke et al. The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions 13
(Cowen & Keltner, 2017; Tong, 2015; Weidman & Tracy,
2020). More studies that include multiple ANS measures and
multiple discrete positive emotions with diverse samples are
required to strengthen broad inferences about the undoing
effect of positive emotions, including positive emotions that
have not been explored yet, such as pride, enthusiasm, or love.
Fourth, we used a univariate meta-analytic approach to
analyze the difference in ANS recovery between positive emo-
tions and neutral conditions, whereas a multivariate approach
might be considered. The multivariate and univariate
meta-analytic models produce similar point estimates, but the
multivariate approach usually provides more precise estimates
(Pustejovsky & Tipton, 2021). The advantages of using multi-
variate meta-analysis of multiple outcomes are greatest when
the magnitude of correlation among outcomes is large, which
was not the case for most of our analyses, thus, the benets
of a multivariate meta-analysis would be small (Riley et al.,
2017). Furthermore, several factors militated against using a multi-
variate approach. First, a previous meta-analysis found that multi-
variate pattern classiers did not provide strong evidence of a
consistent multivariate pattern for any emotion category (Siegel
et al., 2018). Second, a multivariate meta-analysis requires a cor-
relation matrix between the ANS measures. This was not possible
to obtain because the articles included in our investigation did not
report correlations between ANS measures. Along similar lines,
two or more ANS measures were never observed jointly in the
same study. However, future studies might benet from collecting
multiple physiological measures when studying ANS reactivity to
emotions (Cacioppo et al., 2000) to provide data that allows for
more robust multivariate analyses.
Fifth, we performed ve analyses to examine bias in the
effect sizes. However, the major limitation of the presented
approach is that we mostly used standard methods for two-
level meta-analysis. No techniques have been developed
and tested for detecting bias in 3-level meta-analyses
(Fernández-Castilla et al., 2021b). The results of simulation
studies on publication bias indicate that no method works
well across all conditions. Performance depends on the popu-
lation effect size value and the total variance of 3-level
meta-analytic models (Fernández-Castilla et al., 2021b).
This might explain why the studies that introduce and
explain multilevel meta-analysis omit the recommendations
for estimating or correcting selection bias (e.g., Cheung,
2014; Fernández-Castilla et al., 2021a; Van den Noortgate
et al., 2013, 2015). Existing techniques assume that mean
effect sizes are independent and homogenous (Nakagawa
& Santos, 2012; Terrin et al., 2003). These assumptions are
often not met in a 3-level meta-analysis. Along similar
lines, the asymmetric funnel plots do not necessarily imply
a bias resulting from the publication practices. Asymmetry
can result from high heterogeneity in the meta-analytic data
or a relation between the size of the study and the types of
used manipulations (Egger et al., 1997; Ioannidis, 2005;
Terrin et al., 2003). In summary, the results of the bias ana-
lyses must be interpreted with caution.
Sixth, we compared the effects of positive emotions with
neutral states. In all studies, positive emotions procedures eli-
cited more positive emotions or positive affect than neutral
states. However, most studies did not test for the neutrality of
the control condition. From the studies included in the
meta-analysis, only two studies tested for the neutrality of the
neutral condition, indicating that the neutral state was slightly
negative compared to baseline (Gilbert et al., 2016) or was
neutral (Fredrickson et al., 2000). The second group of
studies did not test for emotions in a neutral state but presented
descriptive data of emotion levels in the neutral state showing its
neutrality (Radstaak et al., 2011, 2014; Qin et al., 2019), mild
positivity (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998; Hannesdóttir,
2007; Kaczmarek, 2009; Kaczmarek et al., 2019, unpublished),
and mild negativity (White, 2013). The third group did not
present data on emotion in a neutral state (Medvedev et al.,
2015; Soenke, 2014; Sokhadze, 2007). Our observation sup-
ports the complexity of neutral states used in affective research
(Gasper, 2018; Gasper et al., 2019). Future studies might
address this issue to provide optimal neutral stimuli.
This meta-analytic review addressed whether positive emo-
tions facilitate autonomic nervous system recovery from
negative emotions and stress. This reviews novelty stems
from its being the rst quantitative review of the undoing
effect of positive emotion. Overall, we found no support for
the general undoing effect of positive emotions. However,
moderator analyses suggested that undoing effects may, in
fact, be evident when broad-band cardiovascular composites
are employed. Our ndings suggest the value of a
meta-analytic approach in directing researchers toward poten-
tially more versus less fruitful lines of enquiry. In the case of
the undoing hypothesis, we hope that this review encourages
renewed attention to this seminal hypothesis, which remains
one of the few attempts to empirically dene the physio-
logical functions of positive emotions.
Author Note
The data and the code reported in the manuscript are available as supplemen-
tary materials and on the Open Science Framework project website https://
Declaration of Conicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conicts of interest with respect to the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following nancial support for the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was sup-
ported by the Narodowe Centrum Nauki, (grant number UMO-2017/25/N/
14 Emotion Review Vol. XX No. XX
Maciej Behnke
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Supplemental material for this article is available online.
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... Experiencing positive affect at the same time as high negative affect is likely to be beneficial, particularly at times of high stress (Ong et al., 2006;Quoidbach et al., 2014). Theoretically, Fredrickson's (2001) broadenand-build theory proposes that positive affect facilitates recovery from the negative impacts of negative affect (Behnke et al., 2022), the dynamic model of affect proposes that positive affect 1 Co-occurrence is also referred to in the literature as covariation (O'Toole et al., 2020) or by its measurement term, correlation (Dejonckheere, Mestdagh, et al., 2019). All are measured as the correlation between negative and positive affect across measurement occasions, ranging from -1 to +1. ...