4. Emotional Self
Emotion, Emotion Regulation, and Psychophysiology
My research in this area investigates the intersection of emotion, emotion regulation, and human physiology in the context of decision-making. First, I was inspired by Adam Smith's theory of moral sentiment (1759), which posited that morality is beyond our deliberation and something that is innate. I seek to identify cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that influence one's moral decision-making. Second, I examine the effect of emotion, emotion regulation, and human physiology on one's social, political, and economic decision-making.
Most of what is known about how emotions influence decision-making is based on laboratory experiments. This paper argues for an alternative quasi-field experiment methodology, in which participants complete experimental tasks after as-if-random real-world events determine their emotional state. We begin by providing the first critical review of this emerging literature. Our review shows that real-world events provide emotional shocks that are at least as strong as what can ethically be induced under laboratory conditions. However, most previous quasi-field experiment studies use statistical techniques that may result in biased estimates. We propose a more rigorous approach, and illustrate it using two studies of how negative emotion affects risk-taking behavior. In Study 1, undergraduate students completed a risk elicitation task immediately after learning their midterm exam grades. In Study 2, sports fans completed risk-elicitation tasks immediately after watching high-stakes NFL games. Overall, we argue that that the quasi-field experiment methodology represents a promising direction for research on emotions and decision-making.
While emotions are widely regarded as integral to the “behavioral approach” to International Relations (IR), a host of fundamental problems have delayed the integration of affective influences into traditional models of IR. We do so by focusing on commitment problems, a body of work that contains strong theoretical predictions about how individual decision-makers will and should act. Across two lab experiments, we use a novel experimental protocol that includes a psychophysiological measure of emotional arousal (skin conductance reactivity) to study how individuals react to changes in bargaining power. While we find support for one key pillar of IR theory — individuals do reject offers when they expect the opponent’s power to increase — we also find that physiological arousal tampers with individuals’ ability to think strategically in the manner predicted by canonical models. We also present a followup experiment that mimics the elements of institutional solutions to commitment problems and find support for their efficacy on the individual level. Our novel findings suggest that when individuals face large power shifts, emotional arousal short-circuits their ability to “think forward and induct backwards,” suggesting that emotionally-aroused individuals are less prone to commitment problems.
Expressing distress at work can have negative consequences for employees: observers perceive employees who express distress as less competent than employees who do not. Across five experiments, we explore how reframing a socially inappropriate emotional expression (distress) by publicly attributing it to an appropriate source (passion) can shape perceptions of, and decisions about, the person who expressed emotion. In Studies 1a-c, participants viewed individuals who reframed distress as passion as more competent than those who attributed distress to emotionality or made no attribution. In Studies 2a-b, reframing emotion as passion shifted interpersonal decision-making: participants were more likely to hire job candidates and choose collaborators who reframed their distress as passion com- pared to those who did not. Expresser gender did not moderate these effects. Results suggest that in cases when distress expressions cannot or should not be suppressed, reframing distress as passion can improve observers’ impressions of the expresser.
It is by now well known that political attitudes can be affected by emotions. Most earlier studies have focused on emotions generated by some political event (e.g., terrorism or increased immigration). However, the methods used in previous efforts have made it difficult to untangle the various causal pathways that might link emotions to political beliefs. In contrast, we focus on emotions incidental (i.e., irrelevant) to the decision process, allowing us to cleanly trace and estimate the effect of experimentally induced anxiety on political beliefs. Further, we build upon innovative new work that links physiological reactivity (Hatemi, McDermott, Eaves, Kendler, & Neale, 2013; Oxley et al., 2008a) to attitudes by using skin conductance reactivity as a measure of emotional arousal. We found that anxiety—generated by a video stimulus—significantly affected physiological arousal as measured by tonic skin-conductance levels, and that higher physiological reactivity predicted more anti-immigration attitudes. We show that physiological reactivity mediated the relationship between anxiety and political attitudes.
Cognitive scientists, behavior geneticists, and political scientists have identified several ways in which emotions influence political attitudes, and psychologists have shown that emotion regulation can have an important causal effect on physiology, cognition, and subjective experience. However, no work to date explores the possibility that emotion regulation may shape political ideology and attitudes toward policies. Here, we conduct four studies that investigate the role of a particular emotion regulation strategy – reappraisal in particular. Two observational studies show that individual differences in emotion regulation styles predict variation in political orientations and support for conservative policies. In the third study, we experimentally induce disgust as the target emotion to be regulated and show that use of reappraisal reduces the experience of disgust, thereby decreasing moral concerns associated with conservatism. In the final experimental study, we show that use of reappraisal successfully attenuates the relationship between trait-level disgust sensitivity and support for conservative policies. Our findings provide the first evidence of a critical link between emotion regulation and political attitudes.
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