Hostname: page-component-84b7d79bbc-dwq4g Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-25T09:29:30.410Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Disentangling Emotions during the Coronavirus Outbreak in Spain: Inner Emotions, Descriptive Feeling Rules and Socioemotional Conventions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 March 2022

Amparo Caballero
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain)
Sergio Villar*
Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (Spain)
Itziar Fernández
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Spain)
Verónica Sevillano
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain)
Pablo Gavilán
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain)
Pilar Carrera
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain)
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sergio Villar. Universidad Internacional de La Rioja, Departamento de Psicología de la Educación y Psicobiología. 26006 Logroño (Spain). E-mail:,


For constructionism, language is the link among different levels of analysis of emotional events, from individual to interpersonal and macrosocial. The interaction among these emotional levels allows us to construe an emotional episode and label it with an emotion word, coordinate with the emotions perceived in others, and represent events as a society. Across two studies, we found similarities and differences among inner emotions experienced (individual level), emotions perceived in others (descriptive feeling rules, interpersonal level) and emotions shared on the internet (socioemotional conventions, macrosocial level), with all these emotional targets focused on the COVID–19 outbreak. The results indicate a similarity between the emotional meaning of COVID–19 in society and the descriptive feeling rules, whereas the reported inner emotions were clearly distinct: Joy was irrelevant at the interpersonal and macrosocial levels but clearly important at the individual level. A mismatch also appeared for fear and hope. While fear was the most predominant emotion at the interpersonal and macrosocial levels during most of the phases, it was moderately predominant at the individual level. Hope followed the opposite pattern, being the most relevant emotion at the individual level but less relevant at the interpersonal and macrosocial levels. Each level might have different consequences: Mixed emotions at the individual level might promote resilience; fear perceived in other people might motivate protective behaviors; and sadness socially shared during Christmas might generate greater empathy. These results support the complexity of emotional concepts and the suitability of exploring them at different levels of analysis.

Research Article
© Universidad Complutense de Madrid and Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos de Madrid 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Acknowledgement: We wish to thank Víctor García Carrera for designing the searching program employed in Study 2.

Funding Statement: This research was funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation in Spain (PC & AC, grant number PGC2018–093821–B–I00, FEDER, MICINN).

Conflicts of Interest: None.


Aslam, F., Awan, T. M., Syed, J. H., Kashif, A., & Parveen, M. (2020). Sentiments and emotions evoked by news headlines of coronavirus disease (COVID–19) outbreak. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 7(23) Scholar
Balluerka Lasa, N., Gómez Benito, J., Hidalgo Montesinos, M. D., Gorostiaga Manterola, A., Espada Sánchez, J. P., Padilla García, J. L., & Santed Germán, M. A. (2020). Las consecuencias psicológicas de la COVID–19 y el confinamiento. Informe de Investigación [The psychological consequences of COVID-19 and lockdown. Research report]. Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad del País Vasco. Scholar
Barrett, L. F. (2014). The conceptual act theory: A précis. Emotion Review, 6(4), 292297. Scholar
Briñol, P., Petty, R. E, Stavraki, M., Lamprinakos, G., Wagner, B., & Díaz, D. (2018). Affective and cognitive validation of thoughts: An appraisal perspective on anger, disgust, surprise, and awe. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 114, 693718. Scholar
Carrera, P., Caballero, A., & Muñoz, D. (2012). Future‐oriented emotions in the prediction of binge‐drinking intention and expectation: The role of anticipated and anticipatory emotions. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 53, 273279. ScholarPubMed
Cecchini, J. A., Carriedo, A., Fernández-Río, J., Méndez-Giménez, A., González, C., Sánchez-Martínez, B., & Rodríguez-González, P. (2021). A longitudinal study on depressive symptoms and physical activity during the Spanish lockdown. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 21, Article 100200. ScholarPubMed
Chen, S. X., Lam, B. C. P., Liu, J. H., Choi, H.-S., Kashima, E., & Bernardo, A. B. I. (2021). Effects of containment and closure policies on controlling the COVID–19 pandemic in East Asia. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 24, 4247. ScholarPubMed
Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A., & Reno, R. R. (1991). A focus theory of normative conduct: A theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role of norms in human behavior. In Berkowitz, L. (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 201234). Academic Press. Scholar
Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Buchner, A., & Lang, A.-G. (2009). Statistical power analyses using G*Power 3.1: Tests for correlation and regression analyses. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 11491160. ScholarPubMed
Fernández-Dols, J.-M., Carrera, P., Hurtado de Mendoza, A., & Oceja, L. (2007). Emotional climate as emotion accessibility: How countries prime emotions. Journal of Social Issues, 63, 339352. Scholar
Fernández, I., Carrera, P., Sánchez, F., Páez, D., & Candia, L. (2000). Differences between cultures in emotional verbal and nonverbal reactions. Psicothema, 12(1), 8392Google Scholar
Fiske, A. P., Seibt, B., & Schubert, T. (2019). The sudden devotion emotion: Kama muta and the cultural practices whose function is to evoke it. Emotion Review, 11, 7486. Scholar
Ford, B. Q., & Tamir, M. (2012). When getting angry is smart: Emotional preferences and emotional intelligence. Emotion, 12(4), 685689. ScholarPubMed
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. Crown Publishers/Random House.Google Scholar
Garcia, D., & Rimé, B. (2019). Collective emotions and social resilience in the digital traces after a terrorist attack. Psychological Science, 30(4), 617628. ScholarPubMed
Giner-Sorolla, R. (2018). A functional conflict theory of moral emotions. In Gray, K. & Graham, J. (Eds.), Atlas of moral psychology. Guildford Press.Google Scholar
Gross, J. J. (2015). Emotion regulation: Current status and future prospects. Psychological Inquiry, 26(1), 126. Scholar
Hochschild, A. R. (1979). Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure. American Journal of Sociology, 85(3), 551575. Scholar
Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. University of California Press.Google Scholar
Idoiaga, N., Berasategi, N., Eiguren, A., & Picaza, M. (2020). Exploring children’s social and emotional representations of the Covid–19 pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, Article 1952. ScholarPubMed
Idoiaga Mondragon, N., Berasategi Sancho, N., Dosil Santamaria, M., & Eiguren Munitis, A. (2021). Struggling to breathe: A qualitative study of children’s well-being during lockdown in Spain. Psychology & Health, 36, 179194. ScholarPubMed
Idoiaga Mondragon, N., Gil de Montes, L., & Valencia, J. (2017). Understanding an Ebola outbreak: Social representations of emerging infectious diseases. Journal of Health Psychology, 22(7), 951960. ScholarPubMed
Jetten, J., Bentley, S. V., Crimston, C. R., Selvanathan, H. P., & Haslam, S. A. (2021). COVID–19 and social psychological research: A silver lining. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 24, 3436. ScholarPubMed
Joffe, H. (2011). Public apprehension of emerging infectious diseases: Are changes afoot? Public Understanding of Science, 20(4), 446460. ScholarPubMed
Lindquist, K. A. (2017). The role of language in emotion: Existing evidence and future directions. Current Opinion in Psychology, 17, 135139. ScholarPubMed
Parkinson, B. (2011). Interpersonal emotion transfer: Contagion and social appraisal. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 428439. Scholar
Porat, R., Halperin, E., & Tamir, M. (2016). What we want is what we get: Group-based emotional preferences and conflict resolution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(2), 167190. ScholarPubMed
Russell, J. A. (2003). Core affect and the psychological construction of emotion. Psychological Review, 110(1), 145172. ScholarPubMed
Russell, J. A., & Feldman-Barrett, L. F. (1999). Core affect, prototypical emotional episodes, and other things called emotion: Dissecting the elephant. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(5), 805819. ScholarPubMed
Sandín, B., Valiente, R. M., García-Escalera, J., & Chorot, P. (2020). Impacto psicológico de la pandemia de COVID–19: Efectos negativos y positivos en población española asociados al periodo de confinamiento nacional [Psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: Negative and positive effects in Spanish population during the mandatory national quarantine]. Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Psychology/Revista de Psicopatología y Psicología Clínica, 25 (1), 122. Scholar
Smith, E. R., Mackie, D. M. (2016). Representation and incorporation of close others’ responses: The RICOR model of social influence. Personal and Social Psychology Review, 20(4), 311331. ScholarPubMed
Tamir, M., Mitchell, C., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Hedonic and instrumental motives in anger regulation. Psychological Science, 19(4), 324328. ScholarPubMed
Trnka, R., & Lorencova, R. (2020). Fear, anger, and media-induced trauma during the outbreak of COVID–19 in the Czech Republic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(5), 546549. ScholarPubMed
van der Linden, S. (2021). Some recommendations for doing high-impact research in social psychological science. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 24, 3741. Scholar
Vázquez, C., & Hervás, G. (2010). Terrorist attacks and benefit finding: The role of positive and negative emotions. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 154163. Scholar