By Emily Reynolds
Emotional states can be fleeting and somewhat inexplicable – you can feel great one minute and in the garbage dumps the next, sometimes for no apparent reason. It follows that opinions based on emotions are likely to be just as fleeting: if you are in a bad mood when you take a survey or rate a product, the attitudes measured and recorded are certainly just as transitory.
However, according to a series of studies by Matthew D. Rocklage of the University of Massachusetts at Boston and Andrew Luttrell of Ball State University, this is not the case. Instead, they report in Psychological scienceAttitudes based on emotions are real More stable: the more emotional an opinion is, the less it changes over time.
In the first study, participants were asked to think about three gifts they had recently received before choosing their attitude towards the gift from a list of adjectives, some of which were overtly negative, some overtly positive, and some of which were neutral, such as “amazing “,” Boring, “” “Terrifying,” or “Valuable.” Participants reported gifts that ranged from electric toothbrushes to Star Wars characters.
A month later, participants were asked to think about the same gifts and again select adjectives that represented their feelings for them. After the second part of the study, the adjectives selected by the participants were coded for positive or negative valence, extremity and emotionality. (Although these may seem similar, emotionality refers to how much an attitude is emotionally based, while extremity measures the extent to which an attitude is positive or negative; for example, “outstanding” has high emotionality but low extremity.)
Those participants who chose more extreme adjectives, positive or negative, were less likely to see a change in the weight of the adjectives used to describe their gifts at the second point in time. The more an attitude was based on emotion, the less it changed. A second study looking at attitudes toward brands also found that emotional attitudes changed less over time.
The third study looked at attitudes in a more naturalistic setting: reviews of products published online. The team received all ratings for all Chicago restaurants over a twelve-year period, including only reviewers who had more than one rating for the same establishment. The team then analyzed both the emotional value of the reviews and the differences in the number of stars that the reviewers gave the restaurants at each point in time.
As in previous studies positive Emotionality consistently predicted fewer changes in attitudes over time, but negative emotionality did not. Positive extremities also predicted fewer changes in attitude, while negative extremities predicted more.
A final study looked at whether exposure to messages intended to evoke emotions increased the likelihood that people would develop fixed attitudes. To do this, the team assigned two conditions to the participants. In one they saw a message about a fictional aquatic animal called “Lemphur”, which was supposed to evoke high emotions, and read about a touching underwater encounter between the creature and a diver. In a state of low emotion, the participants read a fact-based message about the Lemphur, similar to an encyclopedia entry.
After reading the text, the participants indicated their attitude towards the animal and chose from the same list of adjectives used in the first study. In follow-up studies, the participants selected adjectives again over the next few days.
Unsurprisingly, those who were in a high-emotion state were more likely to point towards a more emotional response to the animal than those who were in a low-emotion state, and also showed more extreme Answer. Those who were in a state of high emotion also saw fewer changes in their attitude towards the creature over time.
Overall, emotional responses were associated with stronger attitudes. Positive emotionality, in particular, had a particularly powerful effect that can be useful in creating public health messages or other attempts to change attitudes. Inducing positive emotions instead of negative emotions like shame can be more beneficial. It remains to be seen whether positive emotions have a similar effect on actual behavior, and not just attitudes.
– Attitudes based on feelings: fixed or fleeting?
Emily Reynolds is an associate at BPS Biomedarticles