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Valence, or hedonic tone, is the affective quality referring to the intrinsic attractiveness/"good"-ness (positive valence) or averseness/"bad"-ness (negative valence) of an event, object, or situation. The term also characterizes and categorizes specific emotions. For example, emotions popularly referred to as "negative", such as anger and fear, have negative valence. Joy has positive valence. Positively valenced emotions are evoked by positively valenced events, objects, or situations. The term is also used to describe the hedonic tone of feelings, affect, certain behaviors (for example, approach and avoidance), goal attainment or nonattainment, and conformity with or violation of norms. Ambivalence can be viewed as conflict between positive and negative valence-carriers.
Theorists taking a valence-based approach to studying affect, judgment, and choice posit that emotions with the same valence (e.g., anger and fear or pride and surprise) produce a similar influence on judgments and choices. Suffering is negative valence and the opposite of this is pleasure or happiness. Suffering can mean all unpleasant emotions.
The use of the term in psychology entered English with the translation from German ("Valenz") in 1935 of works of Kurt Lewin. The original German word suggests "binding," and is commonly used in a grammatical context to describe the ability of one word to semantically and syntactically link another, especially the ability of a verb to require a number of "additions" (eg subject and object) to form a complete sentence. The word has been used in the hard sciences to describe the mechanism by which atoms bind to one another since the nineteenth century (see chemical valence).
Valence is one criterion used in some definitions of emotion. The possible absence of valence is cited as a reason to exclude surprise from the list of emotions, though some would include it.
Valence could be assigned a number and treated as if it were measured, but the validity of a measurement based on a subjective report is questionable. Measurement based on observations of facial expressions, using the Facial Action Coding System and microexpressions (see Paul Ekman) or muscle activity detected through facial electromyography, or on modern functional brain imaging may overcome this objection. The perceived emotional valence of a facial expression is represented in the right posterior superior temporal sulcus and medial prefrontal cortex.