WHAT BREXIT TAUGHT US ABOUT HUMAN EMOTION
This post by our CEO Kate Unsworth originally appeared on The Memo and explores a collaboration with our friends at Vent.
When Britain and Europe woke up to the news of Brexit, a global emotional turmoil ensued. The EU referendum, one of the biggest democratic exercises in British history, had generated a result that left the world in flux.
The media called it an ‘emotional vote’ and one that would leave a wake of strong emotions. Social media feeds were plastered with emotional reactions. The stock market plummeted in reaction to the news. And for weeks, mainstream media has been awash with emotionally-charged debate.
How could such an abstract event with unclear repercussions make the world feel so many feelings and create so many rifts? Was this kind of emotional tidal wave unavoidable, despite the results?
At VINAYA, our mission is to create tools that can enhance ‘connection to self’ in the digital age.
With this interest in studying emotions on an individual and macro level, the Brexit ‘hangover’ presented a unique case study. Particularly as a London-based company made up of largely millennial European expats, the atmosphere on the day following the vote at our Shoreditch headquarters was exceptionally emotionally charged.
But beyond the realms of our research Lab and our metropolitan London bubble, we wanted to find out more about how the world felt.
Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt
By partnering with our friends at VENT, an emotion-sharing app where users share more than 3 million emotions (or ‘vents’) each month, we gained a wider snapshot based on real emotional data. From a sample of 50k Vents predominantly from the United Kingdom, as well as the United States, Germany and France, we found some compelling insights into how the world felt day before and after Brexit:
- 10 times as many emotions were shared the day after Brexit compared to the day before
- Major shift from ‘fear’ to ‘anger’ and ‘sadness’
- Emotion states shifted from anticipatory feelings such such as ‘afraid’ and ‘worried’ to ‘disgusted’, ‘furious’ and ‘shock’.
- Positive emotions under the banner of ‘happiness’ decreased by more than half in the snapshot
We’d all like to think that love, compassion and logic are the emotions that steer us to make decisions. But in reality, fear is a primal source in our human decision making process: a type of ‘fight or flight’ acute stress response to our surroundings.
In our modern information-overloaded and hyper-connected reality, it is often difficult to realise where our own private thoughts and emotions begin and end.
Emotional Intelligence Could Combat Fear
How often do we pause and reflect in order to actually identify how we’re feeling, and how this might be impacting our day to day lives? Our subjective experience of emotions can never exist independently, because they are always reflected in our physiological reactions as well as being shaped socially.
When speaking of ‘emotional wellbeing’, we recognise the importance of turning our awareness inwards, understanding our emotions and being aware of the significant role they play in the choices we make everyday. Failing to do so could mean being less in control of our own lives, and therefore acting more out of a reactive place that’s likely to be powered by fear and uncertainty.
Beyond helping us understand how we feel as individuals, could a future powered by emotional data allow us to see beyond our own bubbles and gain a better understanding of the sentiments of entire populations?
With this kind of collective understanding, perhaps we could build toward a future where such important decisions are based on love and knowledge, over fear.