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Relief is a type of pleasure that arises following the cessation of an aversive stimulus or in the event that an unpleasant stimulus is expected but does not occur.

Scholars disagree regarding at least one aspect of relief. Schopenhauer (1994) argued that relief is simply a temporary decrease in unhappiness. However, Frijda (2001) contends that it is often more than that; joyOpens in new window often follows relief, expressed as smiling, sighing, laughter, and in other ways.

One type of relief that follows the termination of something unpleasant is bodily relief pleasures, as identified by Kubovy (1999). They include sneezing, spitting, coughing, belching, orgasm, urination, defecation, and passing gas. Relief following the ending of something unpleasant has also been studied in other species such as rats.

Over many decades, behaviorists (psychologists who study behavior only, without considering inner processes such as thought and emotions) investigated reinforcement in the form of cessation of electric shock. If an animal is subjected to a shock and must perform a behavior for the shock to cease, the behavior it performs is reinforced by the termination of the shock.

Reinforcement means that in the future, the animal is likely to repeat that behavior that produced the termination of shock since it led to agreeable consequences. Often, the purpose of these studies was to learn more about the nature of reinforcement, but researchers at the same time observed relief in the animals, and some studies produced the added benefit of increasing our understanding of relief as an emotion.

In a study specifically designed to investigate relief in rats, researchers found that after an unpleasant stimulus ceases, rats produce a vocalization that is apparently a sigh (Soltysik & Jelen, 2005).

Relief that involves a comparison between what has happened (something good) and what could have happened (something bad) engages higher-order thinking and has been studied in humans. For instance, Kray and Gelfand (2009) studied relief that occurs in salary negotiations with a new employer.

People experienced relief when their offer was accepted. In particular, Kray and Gelfand (2009) found that women experienced more relief when their first offer was accepted than did men, which they interpreted as being related to the higher social cost that women face from negotiating salaries—that women are more concerned than men that salary negotiation will harm relationships with people in the workplace.

See also:
  1. Frijda, N.H. (2001). The nature of pleasure. In J.A. Bargh & D.K. Apsley (Eds.), Unraveling the complexities of social life: A foestchrift in honor of Robert B. Zajonc (pp. 71 – 94). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  2. Kray, L., & Grelfand, M. (2009). Relief versus regret: The effect of gender and negotiating norm ambiguity on reactions to having one’s first offer accepted. Social Cognition, 27, 418 – 436.
  3. Kubovy, M. (1999). On the pleasures of the mind. In D. Kahneman, E. DIener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 134 – 154). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  4. Schopenhauer, A., & Schirmacher, W. (1994). Philosophical writings. New York: Continuum International.
  5. Soltysik, S., & Jelen, P. (2005). In rats, sighs correlate with relief. Physiology & Behavior, 85, 598 – 602.