MoodCounts: How to Read ETM Survey

ETM survey is a self-assessment tool designed to track dominant moods and identify ambivalent attitudes we display in various life domains. The survey tracks 200 e-motions or emos – motions and actions revealing our affective responses in 10 different areas where our affect registers a spike or takes a nose dive. These areas or domains refer to mood, energy, self-confidence, generosity, playfulness, verbal dexterity, political engagement, civility, charisma, and power. All emos are divided into four families – Joy, Serenity, Anger, and Fear, each containing 50 emos. You will see these families in the four columns of the ETM printout which shows how emotions manifest themselves in different life domains. Four families of e-motions and ten dimensions produce forty cells, each one containing five characteristic emos ranging in intensity from the weakest (#1) to the strongest (#5).

At the top of the printout you find an R number assigned to each new respondent taking the survey, and a password for those who chose to have one. Each emo in the printout is visually coded, depending on how frequently it occurs in the person’s life. Emos marked in the survey as “Always” are bolded, “Very often” – bolded and italicized, “Often” – italicized, “Sometimes” – printed in regular case, “Rarely” – eamarked by a star, and “Very rarely” – carry a circle. The emos marked “Never” are distinguished by a black dot. If you left the question unanswered, you will see “?” against such an item. The key to frequency coding is located at the bottom of the printout page.

The first you notice on the page with 200 emos are the bolded items. These are the most characteristic e-motions in the person’s or group’s profile. Next, you can check the emos marked by a black dot – these are templates completely lacking in a given emotional profile. The respondent disclaims such feelings altogether. E-motions earmarked “Sometimes” indicate that they may or may not appear on any given occasion. Items tagged with a star or a circle are low frequency e-motions, emo templates uncharacteristic for a given profile. By scanning the entire Emotion Template Matrix, you will see which emos stand out in your profile and identify areas/domains where your affect surges upward and where it dies down. You can also spot the positive affect emos in the Joy and Serenity columns that have direct counterparts on the negative affect side captured in the Anger and Fear columns.

The second page of the ETM printout lists 51 indexes that provide further insight into one’s “emotional blood work.” Indexes 1 through 36 register how affect rises or falls in one of the ETM cells shown on page one. Each cell is given a name and a brief description, e.g., “Civility – treating people with courtesy,” “Subordination – feeling dependent on powerful people,” “Anxiety – feeling persistently alarmed,” and so on. ETM Index Table will help you see how each individual index is grounded in a particular cell of the Emotion Template Matrix. Indexes 37 through 51 present a cumulative picture of affective life. In particular, they reveal our interpersonal skills, spiritual yearnings, community involvement, energy level, anger control, depression management, and self-regard. “Agentic Affect” is a meta-index that averages scores in cumulative indexes 37 through 43 and that hints at an overall emotional wellbeing. Agentic Affect appears in the printout as index 44.

There are a few more cumulative indexes that take cut across all four families of emotions, all positive or all negative emos. Such meta indexes include the “Positive-Negative Affect Ratio” that measures the ratio of Joy-Serenity to Anger-Fear emos; “Negative Affect Recognition” and "Positive Affect Recognition" that indicate how many emos out of all possible are present in one’s emotional palette; “Ambivalence” that shows how many positive emos have a match on the negative side; “Negative Volatility” that reveals the tendency to flip from fear to anger and from anger to fear; “Overall Affect Strength and Persistency” that averages the respondent’s total affect across all four families of emos; and "Outwardly-Inwardly Directed Affect Ratio" that compares the strength of Joy/Anger emos with the strength of Serenity/Fear emos.

The ETM printout displays the scores of a person or a group alongside the average scores for the entire database – all those who have taken the survey so far. Individual scores appear on the right side of the second page and database mean scores appear on the left. Except for the last two indexes calculated as a ratio, indexes 1 through 49 range from 0 (minimum) to 10 (maximum). To compare your index scores with the database averages, you can check the rank or percentile column (the last one on page two). For instance, if your rank is 90% on a particular index, you scored in the top 10 percentile of the entire database, i.e., 90% of all respondents scored lower than you. If your rank is 10%, then you are at the bottom 10% of the database, i.e., 90% of all respondents scored higher than you on this item. Z-score that appears in the second column from right shows the difference between the database mean and your individual score for a given index (plus or minus sign indicates whether you scored below or above the database average). Page three of the printout shows how each of your 51 indexes is related to the database mean scores in terms of standard deviation.

You need to be aware that the current ETM sample is skewed toward younger people with college education. Here are a few more clues that will help you interpret your individual or group profile:

The ETM survey measures emotional attitudes and behavioral tendencies self-reported by a person or a group, and self-perception does not necessarily predict how one acts in real life. The relationship between affective attitudes and overt behavior is complex. The persistent gap between the way we feel and the way we act tends to lower our emotional wellbeing.

Each person has a somewhat different internal scale on which he or she assesses the intensity and frequency of one's e-motional states. What is “Often” for one person might be “Very often” for another. Individuals with a lower overall affect strength tend to have lower individual index scores. When you look at a particular score, therefore, you want to compare it not just to the database average but also to the rest of your scores.

Emotional wellness is directly related to positive affect. At the same time, it is correlated with affect recognition, especially negative affect recognition, measured as a percentage of Anger/Fear emos present in your e-motional palette out of the total 100 negative emo templates in the ETM matrix. A high overall positive attitude (Agentic Affect) that goes with low negative affect recognition may signal the tendency to repress negative emotions.

As you go over your survey results, avoid reading too much into any individual e-motion. Strong emos clustered in a given ETM cell may signal a persistent mood, but it can be misleading outside the larger context. A meta index based on several individual indexes, especially if it differs substantially from the database average, suggests an affective pattern. More important still are the mood swings, affective ambivalence, and positive/negative affect ratio which encompass the full range of your e-motions. The ETM Survey achieves its aim only when it encourages you to count your moods, recognize your ambivalent attitudes, and take seriously your affective life.

One final word is about cultural biases against certain emos and the need to exercise caution using the term "positive/negative affect" in an evaluative sense. A joyful disposition is welcome, but the excess of cheerfulness may signal an emotional obtuseness, a failure to recognize suffering. Serene attitudes and spiritual yearnings are ennobling, except when they morph into sanctimony and conceal repressed desires. For all its destructive potential, anger may be instrumental in mobilizing agency for a righteous struggle. And melancholy, though poisonous in its extreme form, is known to correlate with compassion and creativity. What matters ultimately is how perceptive we are about our moods, subtle in labeling our affects, honest in communicating our feelings, and creative in bringing about the world that is emotionally sane.