Emotions as sources of social information

July 12th Room 4
Ursula Hess (Humboldt-University of Berlin) & Shlomo Hareli (University of Haifa)

In recent years, a growing body of research regarding the information that observers deduce from others' emotion expressions has accumulated. Much of this research has been conducted within a very limited social context, typically focusing only on one or two trait inferences. In four talks, the symposium attempts to move beyond this research in several respects. In the first talk, Brian Parkinson shifts the focus from the perceiver to the expresser, attempting to map some of the motivations underling the communication of emotions to others. In addition, he presents data depicting how emotions are used in communication during real-time interactions. Konstantinos Kafetsios demonstrates how cultural norms shape emotional responses to different events. The talk stresses how emotions signal the expressers' culturally and personally aligned response to the situation. Ursula Hess discusses the bi-directional link between expressions of emotions and context exemplifying how social perceivers use both as an important source of information for their inferences. Finally, Shlomo Hareli presents some conclusions about the characteristics of inferences drawn from emotions. In this context the discussion focuses on the informativeness of emotions, when such information may be ignored by its observers and what aspects of the expression may inform observers' inferences.

Why that face? The influence of another person’s emotion expressions on situation perception 

Shlomo Hareli & Ursula Hess

Research on the relationship between context and facial expressions generally assumes a unidirectional effect of context on expressions. However, according to the model of the meaning of emotion expressions in context (MEEC) the effect should be bidirectional. Specifically, according to appraisal theories of emotion, facial expressions result from the appraisal of events according to the values, motives and resources of the emoter. Hence, a third party who is aware of the facial reaction of a person who experiences an event, can reverse engineer this process to deduce information on both the emoter and the situation. These social appraisals should then influence the observer’s own appraisal of the same situation. Two studies will be presented in which an onlooker’s facial expression was shown alone, or in combination with a scene. Participants appraised the scene either by itself or while also seeing the onlooker’s expression. In both studies, scene appraisal was systematically influenced by the onlooker’s expression. These results confirm the MEEC and show that the meaning of scenes is malleable and affected by the way that people are seen to react to them.

What's beyond appraisals in inferences drawn from perceived emotions? 

Shimon Elkabetz, Ursula Hess & Shlomo Hareli

Perceivers use the emotion expressions of others to draw inferences about the expressers and/or the situation. Much of the information drawn from these expressions is linked to the appraisal pattern typical for the emotion expressed. That is, the meaning of the typical situation that elicits a specific emotion. In the present talk, we move beyond this basic idea. Specifically, we will discuss and present evidence for the following characteristics of inferences drawn from emotions: (1) Different types of emotions differ in how informative they are. (2) Even if an observer grasps the meaning conveyed by a specific emotion, they may not always act on this understanding, because the risk of missing potentially threatening information is too high. (3) Certain inferences drawn from expression of emotions are based on a single appraisal associated with the emotion rather than the full pattern of appraisals. (4) Other characteristics of the expression beyond appraisals can inform inferences drawn from the emotion. We will back these ideas by relevant findings from our laboratories.

Emotions as strategies for social influence 

Brian Parkinson

A person’s emotions provide information about their evaluative orientation to objects, events and other people. Social appraisal research mainly focuses on perceivers’ responses to this information, and pays less attention to factors and processes that lead to the presentation of emotional information in the first place, including the communicator’s active attempts to formulate the relational meaning of the current transaction and to influence the perceiver’s complementary or conflicting orientation. In the present paper, I review studies that have investigated the interpersonal effects of emotion in real-time interactions between people. In these settings, emotional information may consolidate from a prior interpersonal process where relational meanings are negotiated and calibrated, or it may be presented strategically for the specific purpose of influencing another person’s appraisal of what is happening. In either case, the delivery of emotion communication is likely to be dynamically responsive to the interpersonal feedback that it solicits. When both parties to an exchange are simultaneously attempting to influence each other in discrepant ways, the regulated interpersonal feedback they both provide may lead to mutual misinterpretation and other dysfunctional consequences for the relationship between them.

Anger vs. Sadness: Cultural norms and individual differences determine reactions to negative events 

Konstantinos Kafetsios & Ursula Hess

The study tested differences in angry vs. sadness regulatory emotion reactions in Greece and Germany. These countries differ in levels of interdependence, which in turn influences display norms and reactions to anger vs sadness events in social contexts (Hareli, Kafetsios, & Hess, 2015; Hess, Blaison, & Kafetsios, 2016). Participants (225 Germans, 71 men, and 245 Greeks, 46 men) read a vignette describing either car vandalism or a lost luggage situation, encountered either in the presence of family or acquaintances. Previous research suggests that both anger and sadness reactions can be appropriate in these situations. Participants were asked to choose a drawing of a facial expression that depicted either emotion and to then indicate the intensity of the expression which they would consider appropriate in this context. Individual differences in social orientation and habitual emotion regulation strategies were assessed. Greek participants had higher interdependence than the German participants as expected. Greeks chose more sadness reactions for car vandalism than for the lost luggage scenario, whereas the inverse was true for Germans, as well as more sadness for distant relationships than more personal relationships. Overall, participants higher in interdependence chose higher intensity reactions and those higher on habitual reappraisal chose more angry expressions. The results suggest that choice of emotion is determined by cultural display rule at the country effect whereas intensity levels seem attributable to individual differences in social orientation and emotion regulation.