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Toward a general psychological model of tension and suspense

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number79
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>11/02/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Frontiers in Psychology
Number of pages11
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Tension and suspense are powerful emotional experiences that occur in a wide variety of contexts (e.g., in music, film, literature, and everyday life). The omnipresence of tension and suspense suggests that they build on very basic cognitive and affective mechanisms. However, the psychological underpinnings of tension experiences remain largely unexplained, and tension and suspense are rarely discussed from a general, domain-independent perspective. In this paper, we argue that tension experiences in different contexts (e.g., musical tension or suspense in a movie) build on the same underlying psychological processes. We discuss key components of tension experiences and propose a domain-independent model of tension and suspense. According to this model, tension experiences originate from states of conflict, instability, dissonance, or uncertainty that trigger predictive processes directed at future events of emotional significance. We also discuss possible neural mechanisms underlying tension and suspense. The model provides a theoretical framework that can inform future empirical research on tension phenomena.