If you’ve ever claimed to feel “all the feels!!!” it turns out you might be overestimating just how many feels you’re feeling. According to a new study, feeling “all the feels” is, in up to 85% of cases, simply one dominant feel, coupled with one or two sub-feels; nowhere near the rumored combination of all known feels.
“This wasn’t at all what we thought was going to happen,” says lead investigator Carla Schwenk, PhD, professor of feels studies at Yale University. “When people say ‘all the feels,’” she explains, “as a researcher, you kind of expect there to be more than two. That’s what we were expecting, a whole spectrum of feels—basically every emotion.”
“What we found is that in many cases, people should be saying, ‘I’m feeling one feel’ or ‘I’m feeling up to three different feels’” she said. “Some day we may get to the point where people themselves are able to identify with accuracy what specific feels they’re feeling. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s taken us awhile just to get this far.”
Schwenk and a team of investigators recruited 265 participants, who were then separated into two rooms. The intervention group watched Dirty Dancing, while the control group watched a golf tournament for the same period of time. At the end of the viewing session, both groups were asked how many feels they had experienced.
According to cranial electrode placement and skin-temperature testing, among participants who had viewed the golf tournament, 73% experienced only one feel: boredom. Another 21% experienced two feels: boredom and despair. Five percent experienced boredom, despair, and suicidal thoughts, and 1% experienced only ecstatic glee. But when asked which feels they had experienced, the control group all self-reported no feels at all. “In a sense, they were reporting rate of change of feel, which is useful for our purposes,” says Dr. Schwenk.
Among participants who watched Dirty Dancing, on the other hand, 98% self-reported having felt “all the feels.” But according to the same testing methods, the Dirty Dancing group experienced at most three feels, in different combinations: joy, wistfulness, and horniness. 35% experienced pure joy, 42% experienced joy and wistfulness, 17% experienced joy and horniness, 4% experienced wistfulness and horniness, and 2% experienced nothing but raw horniness.
“‘Feeling all the feels’ may be a phrase that allows a person to convey that they are having feelings, but without requiring them to specify which feelings they are,” says Dr. Schwenk. In these cases, wrote the investigators, saying “all the feels” may allow the speaker to convey emotion without introducing potential error.
“I, on the other hand,” says Schwenk, “am having two very distinct feels right now. I know exactly what they are. And yet I don’t feel like telling you. So let’s just say I’m having all of them,” she concludes, before backing out of the room.