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Abstract

How do people feel when they experience bittersweet events comprised of pleasant and unpleasant aspects (e.g., good news accompanied by bad)? Just as acids immediately neutralize bases, some have suggested that bittersweet events' pleasant aspects might neutralize their unpleasant aspects, thereby resulting in fairly neutral emotional reactions. Some contemporary theorists also contend that happiness and sadness are mutually exclusive. We review research on the alternative possibility that bittersweet events can elicit pairs of opposite-valence, mixed emotions, with particularly close attention to the growing body of evidence that people can feel happy and sad at the same time while watching films, listening to music, and experiencing meaningful endings. We also review evidence that people sometimes experience other types of mixed emotions, including disgust accompanied by amusement and fear by enjoyment. Taken together, these data indicate that positive and negative affect are separable in experience.