Affect in Psychology: Definition & Types

In this lesson, you will learn the definition of affect in psychology as well as the five different types of it. You will also learn how affect is often used as a measurement of someone’s emotional and mental health, and about cultural differences in expression of affect.
Definition of Affect
Angela’s father passed away suddenly, and although she cried constantly, she laughed in nervousness during the funeral. Friends and family looked at her in shock and disbelief. Although Angela was feeling immense grief on the inside, the outward appearance of emotion, or affect, indicated happiness, which was quite confusing and concerning to others.
Affect is the outward expression of feelings and emotion. Affect can be a tone of voice, a smile, a frown, a laugh, a smirk, a tear, pressed lips, a crinkled forehead, a scrunched nose, furrowed eyebrows, or an eye gaze. Its really any facial expression or body movement that indicates emotion. Affect is what people use in communication with each other to decipher the way another person feels about something.
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘poker face?’ This usually relates to someone who can mask their affect despite how they are feeling. Poker face gets its name due to the importance of masking affect while playing poker; you don’t want players to know if you have a good or bad hand of cards.
Types of Affect
Affect is a term that is widely used in psychology, especially when describing the way someone with a mental disorder presents themselves during therapy sessions. When psychologists or therapists write notes after a session, they will always document the person’s affect. There are different types of affect, and we will discuss those now.
Broad Affect
This is the affect of a psychologically healthy individual. This person is able to express a wide variety of affects to display sadness, excitement, happiness, fear, embarrassment, etc.
Ability to display emotion through various facial expressions is an indicator of healthy social skills and mental health
Various facial expressions
Restricted or Limited Affect
This denotes a limited range of affects that a person can demonstrate. When speaking of something that they are excited about, they may not outwardly smile or become wide-eyed, affects that usually indicate excitement.
Blunted Affect
This is when restricted or limited affect becomes more severe and when the expression of emotion becomes even more absent. For example, someone may react to news that a death in the family has just occurred with a monotonous tone or an extremely apathetic appearance.
Flat Affect
This is a restriction of all expression of emotion. A person with flat affect will not express emotion through facial expressions or body movement.
Labile Affect
This is affect that is unstable or out of proportion to the situation. Perhaps a therapist will say something mildly funny, and the reaction of the patient is uncontrollable and boisterous laughter for 20 seconds. Labile affect is often inappropriate to the situation.
Affect as an Indicator of Mental Illness
Affect is often noted by psychologists and therapists because it can be a major indicator of mental illness. For example, those with schizophrenia may sometimes have blunted or flat affect. Those with bipolar disorder may have labile affect and get overly excited if they are experiencing an episode of mania. Those with depression may show a restricted or limited affect.
In this 1889 self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, he accurately portrayed his depression through his affect just before he committed suicide
Vincent Van Gogh self portrait
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