Is a sigh “just a sigh”? Sighs as emotional signals and responses to a difficult task


Karl Halvor Teigen, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, PO Box 1094, Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway. Tel: (+47) 22 84 51 87; fax: (+47) 22 84 51 75; e-mail:


Sighing and the interpretation of sighs in everyday life seem never to have been the subject of psychological research. A questionnaire study of sighing showed that people associate sighing mainly with negative, low-intensity and deactivated emotional states. A second study investigated self/other differences in the interpretation of sighs in four hypothetical situations, revealing that sighs in other people are primarily perceived as signs of sadness, whereas own sighs are more often believed to express a state of “giving up” something or somebody. In a third experimental study participants worked on difficult (insoluble) puzzles, which generated many futile solution attempts, often accompanied by sighs. It is concluded that sighs are often unintentional expressions of an activity, plan or desire that has to be discarded, creating a pause before it can be replaced by a novel initiative.