Faculty in Focus: Gruber explores dark side of happiness

February 12, 2016 •

At some point you’ve likely heard that too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

June Gruber has used science to prove this old adage true. Gruber, a professor of psychology and neuropsychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, studies emotional extremes and the upper limits of human positivity.

Leaders in her field are taking note of Gruber’s groundbreaking research. Gruber was recently honored as a 2016 recipient of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions. The award lauds “the creativity and innovative work of scientists who represent the future promise and potential of psychological science.” And, she was invited to present her research on emotional extremes recently at the 17th annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) in San Diego, California.

We wanted to know more about Gruber’s research so we asked her some questions.

Why is this area of research important to you personally? To the greater community?

Emotions are an essential ingredient of what makes us human. But surprisingly, there are still a lot of mysteries as to what emotions are and how we can harness them to improve mental health outcomes and lead happier lives.

In particular, I study the intersection of emotion and psychopathology where I work to shed insight into emotional difficulties among those diagnosed with severe psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression and psychosis.

What was the most surprising finding to you related to extreme emotion?

For me, I have been surprised by how complex the human mind is. And more specifically, that there appear to be many different sides to even our own positive feelings.

In a recent talk at the SPSP conference this January, I presented work describing a counterintuitive but powerful set of findings emerging from our lab suggesting that when positive emotions are experienced too intensely, at the wrong time, or without a proper dose of negative emotions, that such extremes in positivity may predict worsened psychological health and functional outcomes. This includes increased severity and risk for clinical symptoms of mania, depression and anxiety as well as potential physical health ailments including an increased number of visits to the doctor.

In sum, there can sometimes truly be too much of a good thing, which is in itself a surprising finding!

How can people learn more about your research?

There are a few easy ways to learn more about this work. In the spirit of enhancing dissemination and accessibility about the science of human emotion, I’ve created a few free online resources, including an interview series from over 50 scholars around the country about the science behind our deepest feelings (called the “Experts in Emotion Interview Series”), as well as online courses in human emotion I created at Yale University and made freely available through YouTube and iTunes U.

I welcome any questions about this material or resource requests at. Email me at june.gruber@colorado.edu.

You haven’t been here long. What is your favorite thing about working for CU-Boulder? 

I moved to CU-Boulder in 2014 from Yale University where I had been working as an assistant professor of psychology. CU is a vibrant and welcoming community, with a lot of energy and creative ideas abounding.

I am honored to be here and excited to be working in a place at the center of major discoveries in the field of psychology, and where we are beginning to address some of the biggest and unanswered questions about emotion. I couldn’t be happier about the move and have not once looked back!

If someone reading this is moved by the work you’re doing, what can they do to support you?

Please consider contributing to the work we do in our lab through a donor website on our lab webpage. This financial support goes toward research, instruction, travel, education and training of my students. I deeply appreciate any and all support. You can get more information on this CU Advancement website.