- The persuasive power of emotions: Effects of emotional expressions on attitude formation and change
- Journal of Applied Psychology
- Volume | Issue number
- 100 | 4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Despite a long-standing interest in the intrapersonal role of affect in persuasion, the interpersonal effects of emotions on persuasion remain poorly understood—how do one person’s emotional expressions shape others’ attitudes? Drawing on emotions as social information (EASI) theory (Van Kleef, 2009), we hypothesized that people use the emotional expressions of others to inform their own attitudes, but only when they are sufficiently motivated and able to process those expressions. Five experiments support these ideas. Participants reported more positive attitudes about various topics after seeing a source’s sad (rather than happy) expressions when topics were negatively framed (e.g., abandoning bobsleighing from the Olympics). Conversely, participants reported more positive attitudes after seeing happy (rather than sad) expressions when topics were positively framed (e.g., introducing kite surfing at the Olympics). This suggests that participants used the source’s emotional expressions as information when forming their own attitudes. Supporting this interpretation, effects were mitigated when participants’ information processing was undermined by cognitive load or was chronically low. Moreover, a source’s anger expressions engendered negative attitude change when directed at the attitude object and positive change when directed at the recipient’s attitude. Effects occurred regardless of whether emotional expressions were manipulated through written words, pictures of facial expressions, film clips containing both facial and vocal emotional expressions, or emoticons. The findings support EASI theory and indicate that emotional expressions are a powerful source of social influence.
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