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The dualistic model of passion

Dr. Simon Moss

Overview

Many individuals feel passionate about their work. They enjoy their role. For many people, this passion can promote wellbeing and satisfaction with life. But, for other people, this passion can actually culminate in burnout and dissatisfaction.

The dualistic model of passion can explain this observation (Vallerand, 2008, 2010). According to this model, some people experience harmonious passion. That is, they feel they have chosen to embark in this career or pursuit. Consequently, they also feel they can engage or disengage from this passion whenever they choose. Consistent with self-determination theory, this sense of choice tends to promote wellbeing.

Other people, however, may experience obsessive passion. They feel almost compelled to pursue this passion. That is, if they resist this passion, they feel they will experience negative consequences, such as a decline in their status or self-esteem. Consequently, they cannot choose to disengage from this passion. Indeed, this passion may even conflict with their other needs or goals, ultimately compromising their wellbeing.

Indeed, many studies indicate that harmonious passion is positively associated, and obsessive passion is negatively associated, with various indices of wellbeing. These relationships tend to persist even after related states, such as commitment or workaholism, are controlled.

Definition of harmonious and obsessive passion

Harmonious passion

According to self-determination theory, some activities or pursuits are inherently enjoyable and interesting called intrinsic motivation. Other activities or pursuits may not be inherently enjoyable and interesting but, over time, become entrenched within the identity of individuals. That is, these activities or pursuits become aligned to all the inclinations and goals of individuals. When people engage in activities and pursuits that are inherently enjoyable or aligned to their identity, they feel they have chosen these endeavors. This sense of choice, coupled with enjoyment or alignment, underpins harmonious passion (Vallerand et al., 2003).

When individuals experience harmonious passion, they enjoy their tasks, but feel they can disengage whenever necessary (Vallerand, 2008, 2010). If they experience harmonious passion at work, for example, they feel engaged in the workplace but willing to leave at a reasonable time to interact with their family.

Harmonious passion overlaps with engagement, commitment, serious play, and personal interest. Yet, unlike some of these states, harmonious passion is always favorable. In contrast, some other states, such as engagement, can sometimes promote excessive work.

Obsessive passion

Sometimes, people undertake an activity to attract some reward& the activity may not be enjoyable or integrated with their identity. If they do not complete this activity, these individuals may feel guilty or be punished, for example. When people feel compelled to undertake these activities, they experience obsessive passion (Vallerand et al., 2003).

If individuals experience obsessive passion, they feel obliged to complete these activities (Vallerand, 2008, 2010). Indeed, if people do not perform well on the tasks that evoke obsessive passion, their self-esteem plummets (Mageau, Carpentier, & Vallerand, 2011). They cannot, therefore, disengage whenever necessary. Consequently, these tasks often disrupt their other goals.

Obsessive passion seems to overlap with workaholism. Yet, unlike workaholism, when people experience obsessive passion, they may enjoy the task. Problems instead emanate from the likelihood this task will impede the pursuit of other needs, such as their family life.

Consequences and correlates of harmonious and obsessive passion

Flow and burnout

Research has shown that harmonious passion is positively, and obsessive passion is negatively, related to a state of flow or similar experiences, in which individuals feel immersed in their activity (Lavigne, Forest, & Crevier-Braud, 2012& Vallerand et al., 2003& see also Philippe, Vallerand, Andrianarisoa, & Brunel, 2009). If individuals experience harmonious passion, they feel unfettered by the demands that are imposed in their environment. They do not need to be vigilant and, therefore, can immerse themselves in their activity. In contrast, if individuals experience obsessive passion, they do not feel as unfettered or liberated but instead tend to be vigilant rather than absorbed in their task.

This state of flow is natural and uplifting, diminishing exhaustion and burnout. Consequently, harmonious passion is negatively, and obsessive passion is positively, associated with exhaustion and burnout. Indeed, in one cross-sectional and one longitudinal study, Lavigne, Forest, and Crevier-Braud (2012) showed that flow mediates the association between passion and burnout. Specifically, harmonious passion is positively associated with flow, which in turn is negatively associated with burnout. In this study, however, obsessive passion, although positively related to burnout, was not significantly related to flow.

Wellbeing

Similarly, research has shown that harmonious passion is positively, and obsessive passion is negatively, associated with wellbeing. When individuals experience harmonious passion, they tend to report positive emotions but few negative emotions (Mageau, Vallerand, Rousseau, Ratelle, & Provencher, 2005) as well as demonstrate other indices of wellbeing (Rousseau & Vallerand, 2003, 2008). Obsessive passion tends to exhibit the opposite pattern of results. Furthermore, when individuals experience obsessive passion, they often ruminate excessively (Ratelle, Vallerand, Mageau, Rousseau, & Provencher, 2004) and fail to disengage from risky or unsuitable tasks (Vallerand et al., 2003).

Interestingly, harmonious passion is positively associated with positive emotions even after controlling intrinsic motivation (Vallerand et al., 2003). Harmonious passion, therefore, cannot be reduced to intrinsic motivation.

Gambling

Many studies have shown that obsession, rather than harmonious, passion towards gambling often culminates in problem gambling and other problems. This problem was first reported by Ratelle, Vallerand, Mageau, Rousseau, and Provencher (2004) but replicated in other studies (e.g., Philippe & Vallerand, 2007).

Creativity

Liu, Chen, and Yao (2011) proposed, and then demonstrated, that harmonious passion should be related to creativity. Specifically, when people experience harmonious passion, they feel they are liberated rather than constrained by their environment. That is, harmonious passion is negatively related to the need to comply with rigid demands. Consequently, in this state, individuals are willing to explore novel possibilities. In addition, harmonious passion seems to elicit the energy and excitement that can spark creative processes.

Consistent with this possibility, if employees reported harmonious passion, their supervisors was more likely to claim their suggestions were novel and useful. Other studies have also confirmed that harmonious, but not obsessive, passion tends to foster creativity (e.g., Luh & Lu, 2012).

The pursuit of other opportunities

When individuals experience harmonious passion, they commit to activities that align to their other goals and needs. Consequently, they do not feel their roles and responsibilities conflict with each other (Thorgren & Wincent, 2013). Because their roles and responsibilities do not conflict with each other, they feel energized enough to seek other opportunities. They are therefore more willing to consider and explore other role, job, and career opportunities. In contrast, when people experience obsessive passion, they often commit to activities that impede their other goals and needs. They feel too deflated to pursue other roles (Thorgren & Wincent, 2013).

Thorgren and Wincent (2013) reported some results that attest to this proposition. The positive relationship between harmonious passion and the pursuit of other role opportunities was mediated by limited levels of role conflict. Conversely, obsessive passion was positively associated with role conflict, which in turn was negatively associated with the pursuit of other role opportunities. In addition, role overload was negatively associated with harmonious passion, positively associated with obsessive passion, but unrelated to the pursuit of other role opportunities.

Neglect of alternative goals

As Belanger, Lafreniere, Vallerand, and Kruglanski (2013) showed, when people experience obsessive rather than harmonious passion, they are more inclined to neglect alternative goals, called goal shielding. That is, they fixate their attention to their existing goal or task and shun distractions. This inclination can enhance persistence but can also compromise the capacity of people to disengage from tasks when necessary.

Presumably, when individuals experience obsessive passion, they feel their tasks to which they are committed may conflict with other goals and needs. Consequently, they often feel distracted by other inclinations. To inhibit these inclinations, and to persist on some task, they need to shield their pursuits from other distractions.

Belanger, Lafreniere, Vallerand, and Kruglanski (2013) uncovered evidence that attests to this possibility. In general, when participants reported obsessive passion, but not harmonious passion, they exhibited the hallmarks of goal shielding. Specifically, in one study, participants considered the degree to which they experience harmonious or obsessive passion about an important task. In addition, the participants specified another task they feel is important. Finally, they completed a lexical decision task, in which they needed to decide whether strings of letters were indeed legitimate words. These strings followed masked primes--words that appeared too rapidly to be recognized consciously.

On some trials, the masked prime related to the first important task. The target string related to the second important task. If participants had reported they experienced obsessive passion towards the first task, they did not recognize words associated with the second important task as rapidly. Presumably, they had inhibited this second important task or goal, reflecting goal shielding.

Subsequent studies replicated and extended these findings. For example, experimental procedures that primed obsessive passion, by diminishing a sense of autonomy, also provoked goal shielding. Finally, goal shielding was shown to deplete mental energy.

Antecedents of harmonious and obsessive passion

Signature strengths

As Forest, Mageau, Crevier-Braud, Bergeron, Dubreuil, and Lavigne (2012) showed, when people are inspired to recognize and then to utilize their strengths and talents, they are more likely to experience harmonious passion. Specifically, in this study, an intervention was organized, in which participants completed a survey that identified five of their key strengths. Participants were then encouraged to utilize two of their strengths in ways they had not before. Furthermore, they were told to imagine the benefits they would enjoy if they utilized these strengths.

After this intervention, participants were more likely to report harmonious passion. Furthermore, this passion was associated with wellbeing and satisfaction with life.

Autonomy support

According to Mageau, Vallerand, Charest, Salvy, Lacaille, Bouffard, and Koestner (2009), when individuals feel they are granted choice and shown respect, called autonomy support, they are more likely to experience harmonious rather than obsessive passion. For example, students were more likely to experience harmonious instead of obsessive passion towards music if granted autonomy support from adults.

Indeed, as Liu, Chen, and Yao (2011) showed, harmonious passion could explain the association between autonomy and creativity. When individuals are granted autonomy, they are more likely to experience harmonious instead of obsessive passion, and this harmonious passion enhances creativity.

Manipulations of harmonious and obsessive passion

Researchers have developed protocols that can be used to prime either harmonious or obsessive passion. For example, to prime harmonious passion, Belanger, Lafreniere, Vallerand, and Kruglanski (2013) instructed participants to write, as vividly as possible, about a time in which their favorite activity was harmonized with other facets of themselves and enabled them to enjoy a variety of experiences. To prime obsessive passion, participants were instructed to write, as vividly as possible, about a time in which they could not control an urge to complete their favorite activity and felt this task was the only pursuit they enjoyed. As predicted, obsessive but not harmonious passion impeded disengagement from the existing goal.

Measures of harmonious and obsessive passion

The passion scale, developed and validated by Vallerand et al. (2003), is often administered to measure harmonious and obsessive passion. Six of the items gauge harmonious passion, such as "My work is in harmony with other activities in my life" and "My work allows me to live a variety of experiences". Six of the items gauge obsessive passion, such as "I have difficulties controlling my urge to work" and "This work is the only thing that really turns me on". They showed that Cronbach's alpha for the two scales is .86 and .73 respectively.

Many studies have examined the factor structure of this scale. These studies have corroborated the distinction between harmonious and obsessive passion (e.g., Rousseau et al., 2002& Vallerand et al., 2010& Vallerand & Houlfort, 2003). Furthermore, researchers sometimes adapt words like "work" to reflect other domains (e.g., Ratelle et al., 2004).

References

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