Researchers identify key features of the emotional state of ‘being moved’

Being moved is at the heart of the human experience. While art strives to move people, psychologists have yet to define the construct of ‘being moved.’ A German study on PLoS ONE published in early June of this year examines this experience through three studies.

Experiment 1 focused on identifying “eliciting scenarios, prototypical emotional ingredients (RQ2), cognitive appraisal patterns, affective valence, and intensity (RQ1) of emotional responses that are perceived as moving, touching, or stirring” through the use of a questionnaire at a German university. Participants described an emotionally moving, stirring, or touching event in a few sentences, and then answered questions about emotional state related to the event.

Participants described their emotional responses in their own words, and then indicated from a list which emotions they had experienced in the emotional episode they described. The two most prevalent eliciting scenarios were relationship events and life events, like birth, death, marriage, and separation. Participants experienced sadness and joy most frequently as emotions during their instance of being moved, with these emotions being rated very high in intensity.

The second experiment explored how closely related the synonyms of moving, touching, and stirring are, as well as deeply moving, while still being distinguishable from each other. Participants were recruited from the same German university, and wrote down their emotions when they experienced an emotional state of either moving, touching, stirring, deeply moving, gripping, exciting, shattering, or elevating, using only nouns.

Using multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analysis, researchers determined that touching, deeply moving, moving, gripping, and stirring were the closest to each other, and the three remaining terms were clustered together but relatively separate from the first set of experiences. Again, sadness and grief were the two most common responses.

In Experiment 3, the qualitative properties of being moved were examined. Participants completed a survey about a moving experience by choosing from sets of 40 semantically opposite adjectives (fine and coarse, warm and cold, wide and narrow). The experience of being moved was consistently described as “wide rather than narrow, elevating rather than depressing, fine rather than coarse, warm rather than cold, open rather than closed, soft rather than hard, round rather than angular, feminine rather than masculine, and pleasant rather than unpleasant.”

Researchers conclude with a framework for the concept of being moved. Firstly, that it includes a significant relationship and/or critical life event. Sadness and joy are the two most common emotions associated with being moved. However, the researchers make a point to say that moving experiences are not confined to experiencing sadness or joy; being moved is an experience with many layers of characteristics. This study was conducted as a preliminary exploration of defining the concept of being moved.


  1. Hanan Parvez on

    “Not limited to sadness and joy” That’s very true. I think “being awed” also is a form of “being moved”

    • Agreed! As also being disappointed, being shocked to silence or better known as speechless, being moved to tears through pride or what about the overwhelming moved to tears of empathy? There are more moods than sadness and joy. Would have been great to have read more about the research on more rather than a general intro.