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Chapter from Emotional Intelligence and Everyday Life
by Joseph V. Ciarrochi, Joseph P. Forgas, John D. Mayer

(reprinted with permission of author)

Affective intelligence:
Towards understanding the role of affect in social thinking and behavior

Joseph P. Forgas
University of New South Wales,
Sydney, Australia

 

This work was supported by a Special Investigator award from the Australian Research Council, and the Research Prize by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The contribution of Joseph Ciarrochi, Stephanie Moylan, Patrick Vargas and Joan Webb to this project is gratefully acknowledged. Please address all correspondence in connection with this paper to Joseph P. Forgas, at the School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney 2052, Australia; email jp.forgas@unsw.edu.au. For further information on this research project, see also website at www.psy.unsw.edu.au/~joef/jforgas.htm .

Introduction

It is a bright sunny day outside, and you are in an excellent mood. As you stop for cappuccino on your way to work, a person in the bar reminds you of a childhood friend, and happy memories about your school years come flooding back. At work, you are on a selection committee, and as you interview the first applicant, you notice with delight what a pleasant person he is. As you discuss your decision with your colleagues, you act in a cooperative and friendly way. What role does mood play in the way people think and act in such everyday situations? How and why do mild affective states influence our thoughts, memories and behaviors? This chapter reviews recent evidence documenting the pervasive influence of affect on social thinking and behavior, and argues that emotional intelligence necessarily involves knowing how, when and why such effects occur.

Arguably, affect remains perhaps the ‘last frontier’ in our quest to understand the dynamics of human behavior. Although most of us intuitively know that our feelings and moods can have a crucial influence on our mental life and actions, until recently we did not fully understand how and why these influences occur. A critical – and so far rather neglected – component of ‘emotional intelligence’ is to be aware of how affective states will influence our thoughts and behaviors. Most of these effects are subtle, subconscious and difficult to detect introspectively. It is only as a result of the recent impressive growth of experimental research on affect that we begin to understand the multifaceted influence of feelings on everything that we think and do. An important aspect of ‘emotional intelligence’ is to know how these affective influences function, and to know how to control and manage them.

The issues covered here are not only of interest to psychologists, but to everyone who wants to understand the complex role that affect plays in human affairs. This chapter presents an integrative review of past and present ideas about the role of subconscious mood states in how we think and behave in everyday social situations. Moods, unlike emotions, are relatively low-intensity, diffuse and enduring affective states that are often subconscious and have no salient cause. Because moods tend to be less subject to conscious monitoring than more intense emotions, paradoxically, their effects on social thinking and behavior tend to be potentially more insidious, enduring, and subtle. The main message of this chapter is simple. Although affect may color everything we think and do, it only does so in certain circumstances that require us to think in on open, constructive way. It is only this kind of thinking style that invites incidental affect infusion. The chapter surveys recent empirical evidence for affect infusion into thoughts, judgments and behaviors, and highlights the conditions that facilitate or inhibit these effects.

Surprisingly, most of what we know about the role of affect in social cognition and behavior has only been discovered during the past two decades. Recent studies showed that affect and cognition are not separate, independent faculties of the mind as often assumed by philosophers and psychologists alike. Rather, there is a fundamental interdependence between feeling and thinking in human social life. Our affective experiences are integrally linked with the way information about the world is stored and represented. In turn, experiences of even mild moods have a profound influence on the memories we retrieve, the information we notice and learn, and the way we respond to social situations. Affect can influence both the process of thinking (how we deal with social information), and the content of thinking, judgments and behavior (what we think and do). It is these effects we want to explore in this chapter. However, we will first take a brief look at some historical ideas about the role of affect in human affairs.

Emotional thought: sometimes intelligent, sometimes not?

Since the dawn of human civilization, philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, St. Augustine, Descartes, Pascal and Kant have been fascinated by the role of affect in thinking and behavior. Plato was among the first who thought that affect constitutes a more primitive, animal aspect of human nature that is incompatible with reason. The idea that affect subverts rational thinking survives to this day thanks to the speculative ideas of Freud and others. Writers such as Arthur Koestler (1978) even suggested that our inability to know and control our violent affective reactions is due to a fatal ‘flaw’ in the way our central nervous system developed, an evolutionary mistake that threatens the very survival of our species.

However, recent research in psychology and neuroanatomy suggests a radically different picture. According to these views, affect is often a useful and even essential component of an adaptive response to a social situation. Research with brain damaged patients shows that people who cannot experience affective reactions due to isolated frontal lobe damage also tend to make disastrous social decisions and their social relationships suffer accordingly, even though intellectual abilities remain unimpaired. Indeed, Adolphs and Damasio (2001) believe "affective processing to be an evolutionary antecedent to more complex forms of information processing; …higher cognition requires the guidance provided by affective processing" (p. 45). Thus, we have two diametrically opposed views of the role of affect in human affairs: as an essential component of effective responses to social situations; or, as a dangerous, invasive influence on rational thinking that contributes to judgmental errors, and produces maladaptive responses. Neither of these positions is entirely true. Rather, affect may either facilitate, or impair effective thinking and responses depending on the circumstances involved. Thus emotional thought can be either intelligent or unintelligent, adaptive or maladaptive. A key tasks of contemporary research – and this review - is to help us to understand how, when and why such affective influences occur.

Affect and predicting the future

How happy would you be, and for how long, if you won the lottery? And how devastated would you feel if your current romantic relationship ended? Many of our everyday choices are made on the basis of expected emotional reactions to possible future events. However, such ‘affective forecasting’ can be subject to serious distortions. Winning the lottery may not make you as happy and for as long as you expected, and the end of a relationship may not be as traumatic as anticipated. Most people overestimate the intensity and duration of their anticipated positive and negative reactions to future events. Daniel Gilbert at Harvard University coined the term ‘miswanting’ to describe the common mistake of wanting things that will not make us nearly as happy as we hope, and avoiding things that will not be as bad as we fear (Gilbert & Wilson, 2000). Why do these mistakes of affective forecasting occur?

We can go wrong because we often focus on the wrong (non-representative) details when imagining a future event, and then misunderstand and misread our own likely reactions. When thinking about winning the lottery, we focus on having all that money – but don’t think about the difficult investment decisions we’ll have to take, how our relatives might react, and what being much richer than our friends it might do to our relationships. Such focalism (focussing on the salient features of emotional events and ignoring the rest) produces unrealistic expectations and subsequent disappointment. Many fervently desired consumer acquisitions leave us less happy than we expected. It is for such reasons that people keep on buying goods they will never use such as exercise equipment or dieting products. They focus on the positive feelings linked to having a beautiful body, but fail to forecast the pain, exhaustion and hunger that necessarily goes with the purchase.

Similarly, negative events are often less traumatic than we expect. We have many spontaneous and subconscious cognitive strategies – a psychological ‘immune system’ - for coping with problems, and people typically underestimate and neglect to consider this when anticipating adversity. Distraction, self-affirmation and rationalization are just some of the highly effective and spontaneous strategies that make up the psychological immune system. ‘Immune neglect’ – ignoring the immune system – leads to an overestimation of negative affective reactions. Numerous experiments now confirm that actual emotional reactions to both positive and negative events are far less intense and enduring than people expect (Gilbert & Wilson, 2000). How can we avoid these mistakes? Emotional intelligence requires that we consider all features of a future event and not just its focal aspects, and take into account the proven efficacy of our psychological immune system. Consumer decisions in particular should always be based on a skeptical assessment of real utility outcomes, rather than just subjective feelings that many advertisers prefer us to focus on.

Affect infusion: Feeling good, and thinking good.

Perhaps the most universal influence of affect is that it colors our thoughts and responses. When we feel good, we tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses. When depressed, everything appears bleak and gloomy. Some sixty years ago Razran (1940) found that people who were made to feel bad by an aversive smell also made more negative judgments about unrelated issues than those who felt good after receiving a free lunch. Such ‘affect congruence’ appears to be a very common and reliable everyday phenomenon (Mayer, 2001). Why exactly do these effects occur, and what can we do about them?

Psychodynamic theories suggested that affective impulses will invade and ‘infuse’ unrelated thoughts unless sufficient ‘pressure’ is exerted to control them. Indeed, attempts to suppress affect can sometimes increase the ‘pressure’ and the likelihood affect infusion. Thus, people who feared electric shocks and were trying to suppress their fear were more likely to see fear to others (Feshbach & Singer, 1957). Alternative, conditioning theories maintained that such dynamic assumptions are not necessary. According to this view, affect will spontaneously attach itself to unrelated thoughts and judgments due to simple temporal and spatial conditioning. For example, when people are made to feel bad because of the excessive heat and humidity in a room, they will form more negative impressions of people they meet due to a conditioned association between their affect and the target person (Clore & Byrne, 1974). However, neither psychoanalytic theories, nor theories based on ‘blind’ conditioning principles could explain the apparent situation- and context-sensitivity of affect infusion. In contrast, contemporary theories emphasize cognitive, information processing mechanisms that link affect to thinking and behavior.

Affect appears to play a key role in how our memory representations about the world are organised and activated, and it is this link that drives affect infusion into thinking and behavior. When in a positive mood, we are significantly more likely to access and recall positive information and information that was first encountered in a previous happy mood state (as did the hero in our introductory paragraph while reminiscing about happy childhood memories when feeling good). In contrast, negative mood selectively facilitates the recall of negative information. According to the associative network model developed by Gordon Bower (1981), affective states are closely linked to any information we store and recall. Recent neuroanatomical evidence provides strong convergent "evidence for the inseparable relation between emotion and other aspects of cognition. Our everyday experience also clearly shows that affect influences essentially all other aspects of cognitive functioning, including memory, attention, and decision making" (Adolphs & Damasio, 2001, p. 44).

Affective influences on memory have widespread consequences for the way people think and behave. This occurs because we can only make sense of complex events by calling on our memories and prior experiences to interpret them. Surprisingly, the more complex or unusual a social event, the more likely that we will have to search our memories to make sense of it, and the greater the likelihood that affect will influence the ideas we access and the interpretations we make. In other words, affect infusion increases when an open, constructive thinking style is adopted to deal with difficult, unusual situations, as only this kind of thinking promotes the incidental use of affectively primed information (Forgas, 1995a). Ironically, it is for this reason that people may be much more influenced by their mood when thinking about difficult personal problems in their romantic relationship, but mood effects are much weaker when less difficult issues are considered (Forgas, 1994).

This is not the only way that affect infusion can occur, however. Sometimes, people respond to situations without any careful or elaborate consideration of the evidence, relying on simple and readily available cues to produce a response (Clore, Schwarz & Conway, 1994). When this happens, instead of "computing a judgment on the basis of recalled features of a target, individuals may... ask themselves: 'How do I feel about it? /and/ in doing so, they may mistake feelings due to a pre-existing state as a reaction to the target" (Schwarz, 1990, p. 529). Such simplified or ‘heuristic’ thinking is most likely when people lack sufficient interest, motivation or resources to produce a more elaborate response. For example, in a street survey people will often give more positive responses immediately after they have just seen a happy movie, and make more negative responses when they saw a sad film (Forgas & Moylan, 1987). This probably occurs because the simplest way to respond in such a situation is to rely on a ‘how do I feel about it?’ heuristic, using the prevailing affective state to infer a quick reaction. As such decisions are by definition of limited importance we will devote little further attention to them, other than noting that affect can indeed function as a useful heuristic cue in some situations.

Affect infusion into memory and judgments.

Perhaps the most fundamental influence that affective states have is on our memories. People in a happy mood remember more positive memories from their childhood, recall more happy episodes from the previous week, and remember better words they have learnt in a matching mood state (Bower, 1981). It is for this reason that in a positive mood all seems well with the world and we predominantly think about and remember happy, joyful experiences. Negative mood in contrast triggers a stream of negative thoughts and ideas, depressing us even further. Becoming aware of these subtle memory effects is an important component of emotional intelligence. However, these effects are not universal. They are most likely to occur when people think in an open, constructive manner. Mood effects can be quite easily eliminated and even reversed. For example, when people’s attention is directed towards themselves they become more aware of their own affective states, and this simple manipulation often seems sufficient to reduce affect congruency (Berkowitz et al., 2000). Thus, simply becoming aware of such mood effects is in itself an important step towards increasing our emotional intelligence. Once we know how and why these effects occur, we are in a much better position to predict and manage their consequences.

Affective states can also influence many other tasks that require the use of memory-based ideas. For example, when people are asked to look at pictures depicting ambiguous social scenes (such as two people having an animated conversation), happy persons construct more cheerful, positive stories, and those in a sad mood respond by constructing negative stories (Bower, 1981). Ultimately, affect can also impact on real social judgments about people.

For example, observing others and interpreting what their actions mean is one of the most fundamental judgmental tasks we face in everyday life. Affect seems to have a profound influence even on such very basic judgments. We looked at this possibility by asking happy or sad participants to observe and rate their own and their partner’s behaviors on a videotaped social encounter (Forgas, Bower & Krantz, 1984). As predicted, happy people ‘saw’ significantly more positive, skilled and fewer negative, unskilled behaviors both in themselves and in their partners than did sad subjects. These effects occur because affect directly influences the kinds of thoughts and memories that come to mind as observers try to interpret complex and inherently ambiguous social behaviors.

In other words, the same smile that is seen as warm and friendly by a person in a good mood can easily be judged as condescending or awkward by somebody in a bad mood. These kinds of mood effects also influence how we interpret our own behaviors and our successes and failures in real-life tasks such as passing an exam (Forgas, Bower & Moylan, 1990). Part of the reason for these judgmental effects may be that people also tend to selectively focus of mood-consistent rather than inconsistent information (Forgas & Bower, 1987). Thus, affect appears to influence what we notice, what we learn, what we remember, and ultimately, the kinds of judgments and decisions we make. However, this kind of spontaneous affect infusion is rather a fragile process, and can be easily reversed once people become aware of their mood states. An important aspect of emotional intelligence is thus to know how, when and why these effects occur.

A paradoxical effect: Thinking more increases affect infusion?

A surprising result confirmed in recent research is that affect infusion is significantly greater when people engage in more extensive and elaborate thinking that increases the opportunity of using memory-based information. In fact, it was a real-life episode that first suggested the idea for experiments testing this prediction. While sitting in a restaurant on one occasion, I found myself noticing an unusual couple: a young, beautiful woman and a rather old and not-so attractive man were showing all the usual signs of intense romantic involvement at a neighboring table. As I surreptitiously observed them, I found myself wondering about their relationship. It occurred to me that the more I try to make sense of this ‘unusual’ couple, the more I am forced to rely on my own memory-based ideas and associations to interpret what I see, and the greater the likelihood that my current mood could influence the ideas I come up with, and the kind of judgments I form. I decided to test this prediction in a series of experiments. For example, in a controlled replication of the above restaurant scenario, we made participants feel happy or sad after showing them standard mood induction films, and then presented them with images of well-matched or badly matched couples. Their judgments showed significant affect infusion: happy participants formed more positive impressions than did sad participants. Critically, when the couples were unusual and badly matched, affect had a much greater effect on judgments than for couples that were typical and well matched (Forgas, 1993, 1995b). When we looked at just how long people took to deal with this information, we found that badly matched couples indeed required more lengthy and extensive thinking. Paradoxically, it was precisely this more elaborate thinking that increased affect infusion. The conclusion is clear: the more we need to think about something, the more likely that our affective state may influence our thoughts, memories and eventually, our responses.

This pattern has been confirmed in a number of other studies. For example, affect had a greater influence on judgments about more unusual, mixed-race rather than same-race couples. In other studies, we simultaneously manipulated both the physical attractiveness and the racial match of observed couples, and so created well matched (same race, same attractiveness), partly matched (either race, or physical attractiveness matched), and mismatched, unusual couples (different race, different attractiveness). Affect had the greatest influence on judgments about mismatched couples, had a weaker effect when they were partly matched, and the smallest effect when they were well matched (Forgas, 1995b). The same kind of results are also obtained when people make judgments about themselves: affect has a greater influence when judging less familiar, peripheral aspects of the self, but these effects are reduced when central, familiar features are judged (Sedikides, 1995).

What happens when we are thinking about our intimate partners and relationships? Commonsense suggests that such personal and highly familiar judgments should be more resistant to affective biases. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Surprisingly, when we asked people who were feeling happy or sad to think about their own intimate relationships, mood effects were consistently greater when more extensive thinking was required to deal with more complex and serious rather than simple, everyday interpersonal issues (Forgas, 1994). In a way, the more we know about a person or an issue, the richer and more extensive the number of relevant memories we can call upon, and the more likely that affect may have a strong selective influence on what comes to mind and the kind of judgments we make.

This might explain the remarkable effect that people may make extremely positive or extremely negative judgments about the same personal relationship at different times, despite having very detailed and extensive knowledge about their intimate partners. When feeling good, we selective access memories about happy, positive events and the relationship seems fabulous. When in a negative mood, all that comes to mind is problems and difficulties, and the same relationship seems hardly worth having. Such affective biases in relationship judgments can be very dangerous especially if couples get caught up in each other’s affective states (see also chapter by Fitness, this volume). It is an important component of emotional intelligence to know that affect can have a profound influence on memories and judgments. Becoming aware of these effects is a helpful first step in controlling and eliminating the cycle of negative affectivity that can otherwise often spiral out of control.

Affect and thinking styles.

Affect influences not only the content of cognition and behavior (what we think and do), but also the process of cognition, that is, how individuals think. It was initially thought that positive mood simply produces a more lazy, relaxed and superficial thinking style, as if good mood ‘informed’ us that no particular effort is required and bad mood was a warning to be more careful and attentive. However, more recent evidence suggests that positive affect doesn’t just make people ‚lazy‘ thinkers. Rather, feeling good seems to produce a thinking style that gives greater rein to our internal thoughts, dispositions and ideas. In this mode of thinking individuals tend to pay less attention to external information, and tend to assimilate external details into their preexisting knowledge about the world. Negative affect in contrast produces a more externally focussed thinking style where accommodation to the demands of the external world takes precedence over internal ideas (Bless, 2000; Fiedler, 2001).

These differences in thinking style are consistent with evolutionary ideas the suggest that affect signals appropriate ways of responding to different situations. Positive affect tells us that the environment is benign and that we can rely on our existing knowledge in responding. Negative affect is more like an alarm signal, alerting us that the environment is potentially dangerous and that we need to pay close attention to external information. Understanding these subtle processing consequences of affect is again likely to be an important feature of emotional intelligence. We now know that feeling good and feeling bad does make us deal very differently with the same social situation, as the studies below show.

Feeling bad - but thinking carefully?

Beyond infusing the content of our thoughts, the kind of vigilant, systematic attention to stimulus details typically recruited by negative moods can also influence how we deal with social information. For example, when responding to persuasive messages happy people seem to be more influenced by superficial details such as the attractiveness or status of the communicator. In contrast, those in a negative mood tend to scrutinize the message more carefully and respond more in terms of message quality (Petty, DeSteno & Rucker, in press). Feeling bad may also help us to see things more accurately. Some clinical research suggests that those feeling depressed are actually more realistic in how they see the world and themselves, and it is ‘normal’ people who tend to distort reality in a positive direction.

There is also some experimental evidence suggesting that negative mood may help us to avoid certain judgmental mistakes, such as the ‘fundamental attribution error’ (FAE). The FAE occurs because people mistakenly assume that most actions are internally caused and ignore external influences on behavior. In several studies we asked happy or sad people to judge others based on an essay written by them that advocated either desirable or undesirable attitudes on topical issues such as student fees. Judges were also told that this topic was either freely chosen or was assigned to the writer (Forgas, 1998c). Happy persons tended to ignore this information, and simply assumed that the essay reflected the writer’s attitudes, thus committing the FAE. Negative mood reduced this bias. Those feeling bad paid better attention to the available information, and tended to discount coerced essays as indicative of the writer’s real views.

Emotional intelligence should clearly include some attention to, and awareness of these effects. Many decisions in everyday life – including important organizational decisions - are made in very similar circumstances. For example, in a series of recent studies Stephanie Moylan (2000) showed that positive mood tends to increase, and negative mood tends to decrease the incidence of a variety of errors and distortions in performance assessment judgments. To be emotionally intelligent means knowing about these effects, and knowing how to avoid or correct them.

Affect and eyewitness memory.

Eyewitness memories play an important role in everyday social behavior, and are even accorded special evidential status in the legal system. However, remembering observed social events may also be influenced by affect (Forgas, 2000b). To evaluate this, we asked people to witness complex social events presented on videotapes (such as a wedding scene, or a robbery). A week later, we used films to induce good or bad mood and then questioned subjects about what they saw; the questions either included, or did not include ‘planted’, misleading information about the scenes. When subjects’ memory for the incidents was later tested, those in a positive mood when the misleading information was presented were much more likely to incorporate this ‘false’ information into their memory as correct. Negative mood reduced this memory distortion. The same effects were also observed in a field study, where students were asked to observe and later recall a staged incident during a lecture (Forgas, 2000b). Knowing that mild mood states can produce such memory biases is an important component of emotional intelligence.

Coping with stress and the ‘neurotic cascade’

However, more intense negative affect can also have debilitating consequences for our thinking. In certain individuals, extreme stress and anxiety can produce a dangerous ‘neurotic cascade’ of reverberating negative affect and negative thinking (Suls, 2001). In such a state, even minor problems tend to be magnified out of all proportion. ‘Awfulisation’ refers to the tendency to overdramatise negative outcomes by highly stressed persons, leading to thoughts such as ‘I wouldn’t cope if I lost this deal’ or ‘I couldn’t survive for a week without my girlfriend’. ‘Overgeneralization’ is another faulty thought pattern often found in this negative state. For example, the loss of a partner (‘she doesn’t love me’) will be overgeneralized to indicate that ‘nobody loves me’. In such a state, people sometimes set unrealistic and unreasonable goals for themselves, show decreased flexibility in adjusting their goals, and so inadvertently produce more negative experiences. In order to break this cycle of negative affectivity, it is important to make a conscious effort to become aware of, and analyze our thoughts, determine whether they are rational or not, and to discard irrational ones. It may also be useful to question how others might respond to the same situation, and ask ourselves whether it is helpful to maintain such negative ideas.

Affect infusion and behavior

So far we focussed on affective influences on thinking. As social interaction necessarily involves many rapid, constructive but largely subconscious cognitive decisions about alternative actions, affect is also likely to influence how people behave in social situations. We may expect that people in a positive mood may behave in a more friendly, skilled and constructive way than do those in a negative mood. This prediction was confirmed when we asked female undergraduates to interact with a confederate immediately after they were made to feel good or bad as a result of watching a mood induction film (Forgas & Gunawardene, 2000). The interaction was subsequently rated by trained observers who were not aware of the mood manipulation. Happy students communicated more and did so more effectively, used more engaging nonverbal signals, were more talkative and disclosed more about themselves. They were seen as acting in a more poised, skilled and rewarding manner. Sad participants in contrast were seen as being less friendly, confident and relaxed than were happy participants. It seems then that affect will infuse not only people’s thoughts and judgments, but also their real-life social interactions. Again, there are clear implications for our understanding of emotional intelligence: to be emotionally intelligent means realizing that even mild mood states can fundamentally alter the way we behave and appear to others. People are not usually aware of these effects. When questioned, students in this study did not realize that their behavior was in any way influenced by their moods. It requires a conscious effort and awareness to correct for these effects if we want to increase our ‘emotional intelligence’.

In real life, we often have to respond almost instantaneously to social situations, yet affect still may still have a major influence on how we behave. Such a pattern was observed (Forgas, 1998b) when people had to respond to an unexpected request in a university library. Affect was manipulated by leaving pictures (or text) designed to induce positive or negative mood on unoccupied library desks. A few minutes after students read these materials, they were approached by another student (in fact, a confederate) who made an unexpected polite or impolite request for several sheets of paper. Soon afterwards, a second confederate explained that the situation was in fact staged, and asked them to complete a brief questionnaire about the request and the requester. The mood induction had a strong influence on responses. Students who felt bad responded with a critical, negative evaluation of the request and the requester and complied less than did those in a positive mood. Interestingly, these mood effects were greater when the request was unusual and impolite. As unusual and impolite requests violate normal expectations, they should elicit more a more elaborate and open thinking style and increase the chances for affective primed ideas to influence the response. In fact, impolite requests were considered in greater detail and were remembered better than conventional requests. Do these effects also occur when people carefully and extensively think about their social moves, such as when they formulate an interpersonal request?

Asking nicely? Affective influences on requesting

Asking people to do something for us – requesting – is one of the more difficult and problematic tasks we all face in everyday life. Requesting usually involves psychological conflict, as people must phrase their request so as to maximise the chances of compliance (by being direct), yet avoid the danger of giving offence (by not being too direct). Affect may influence request strategies, as the greater availability of positive thoughts in a happy mood may produce a more confident, direct requesting style. This prediction was confirmed in a number of experiments that found that happy persons used more direct, impolite requests, while sad persons used more cautious, polite request forms. Further, these mood effects on requesting were much stronger when the request situation was demanding and difficult, and required more extensive thinking (Forgas, 1998b; 1999a). Again, these effects also occur in real-life tasks. In one study, we recorded the requests made by subjects who were asked to get a file from a neighboring office after receiving a mood induction (Forgas, 1999b, Exp. 2). Even in this ‘real’ situation, negative mood produced more polite, cautious and hedging requests than did positive mood.

The implications of such studies clearly extend to many real-life situations. Imagine that you are planning to ask for a raise from your boss, and are thinking about how to phrase your request. The particular form of words used – and their success - will partly depend on the current mood state: when happy, people might prefer more confident and direct approaches. When feeling down, more cautious and polite forms will be used. Emotional intelligence requires that we know about these effects if we want to increase our interpersonal effectiveness.

Affect and persuasion

Requesting is not the only strategy we can use to influence others. Mild everyday mood states may also influence how well we do when trying to persuade others. Imagine that you are trying to produce persuasive arguments either for, or against propositions such as (a) student fees should be increased, and (b) nuclear testing in the Pacific. When we asked subjects to do this immediately after a mood induction (Forgas, Ciarrochi & Moylan, 2000a), those in a negative mood came up with higher quality persuasive arguments than did happy persons. The same effects were also obtained in a second study, when happy or sad people were asked to persuade a friend for or against Australia becoming a republic, and for or against the populist Australia First party. In a further experiment, individuals produced their persuasive arguments in interacting with a ‘partner’ through a computer keyboard as if exchanging emails. Half the participants were promised a significant reward (movie passes) if they were successful. Those in a negative mood again thought of higher quality arguments. However, the provision of a reward reduced the size of mood effects by imposing a strong motivational influence on how the task was approached. These results suggest that mild negative mood promotes a more careful, systematic processing style that is more attuned to the requirements of a given situation. However, a strong motivation to do well will override these mood effects. The implications for emotional intelligence are obvious. If a task is performed without any thought or awareness of mood effects, affect is likely to influence our thinking style and the quality of the response. However, becoming aware that these effects occur, and being motivated to overcome them is likely to be a highly effective control strategy.

Feeling good and getting your way? Affect infusion into bargaining behaviors.

Bargaining and negotiation by definition involve a degree of unpredictability and require careful planning and preparation. We found in several studies that happy persons set themselves higher and more ambitious negotiating goals, expect to succeed more, and make plans and use strategies that are more optimistic, cooperative and integrative than do people in a neutral, or negative mood people (Forgas, 1998a). Most interesting was the finding that positive affect actually helped people to do better. They were more successful and achieved better outcomes for themselves that did sad participants. These findings have striking implications for our understanding of emotional intelligence. They suggest that even small changes in affective state due to a completely unrelated prior event can have a marked influence the way people plan and execute strategic interpersonal encounters.

Why do these effects occur? Uncertain and unpredictable social encounters such as bargaining require open, constructive thinking. Positive affect may selectively bring to mind (prime) more positive thoughts and ideas that lead to more optimistic expectations and the adoption of more cooperative and integrative bargaining strategies. Negative affect in turn seems to bring to mind more negative and pessimistic memories and leads to the less cooperative and ultimately, less successful bargaining. These effects are largely automatic and subconscious, and few people realize that they occur at all. Being emotionally intelligent by definition involves being aware of, and being able to control and manage these subtle mood effects on our thinking and actions.

Individual differences in affect infusion.

Not all people are equally influenced by their affective states, however. For example, personality traits such as neuroticism seem to increase the intensity and duration of negative affective reactions in particular (Suls, 2001). Other traits are also important. We found that people who scored high on personality measures such as machiavellianism (indicating a highly manipulative approach to people) and need for approval were less influenced by their moods when bargaining. Affect infusion was reduced for these people, because they habitually approach tasks such as bargaining from a highly motivated, pre-determined perspective. It is almost as if high macchiavellians and those high in need for approval had their minds made up about what to do and how to behave even before they started. As they did not rely on open, memory-based thinking, affect had much less of an opportunity to influence their plans and behaviors.

Perhaps predictably, individuals who score high on personality tests measuring openness to feelings are much more influenced by mood when making consumer judgments than are low scorers (Ciarrochi & Forgas, in press). Trait anxiety can also influence affect infusion. Low anxious people when feeling bad respond more negatively to a threatening out-group. High trait anxious individuals seem to do exactly the opposite (Ciarrochi & Forgas, 1999). In general, it seems clear that differences in personality or ‘temperament’ do play in important role in how people deal with affect.

Indeed, the very concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ refers to such enduring differences between people in terms of affective style (Mayer, this volume; Mayer, 2001). Much of the evidence considered here suggests that individual differences in affectivity operate through a habitual preference for different ways of thinking. People who score high on measures such as self-eseteem, macchiavellianism, social desirability or trait anxiety seem to respond to social situations in a motivated, controlled and highly directed fashion that makes it less likely that they openly search for, and use affectively loaded information from their memory.

Towards an integration: The Affect Infusion Model

As this necessarily brief review suggests, emotional intelligence requires an awareness that affect can have a powerful influence on the way people think and behave in social situations. Two major kinds of influences have been identified. Informational effects occur because affect informs the content of memories, thoughts and judgments. Processing effects occur because affect also influences how people deal with social information. However, it is also clear from that affective influences on judgments and behavior are highly context specific. A comprehensive understanding of these effects – that is, being ‘emotionally intelligent’ - requires that we can specify the circumstances that promote or inhibit affect congruence, and also define the conditions that lead to affect infusion or its absence.

A recent integrative theory, the Affect Infusion Model (Forgas, 1995a) sought to accomplish this task by specifying the circumstances that promote an open, constructive processing style that leads to affect infusion (Forgas, 1995). According to this model, the thinking strategies people can use in social situations differ in terms of two basic features: (1) the degree of effort invested, and (2) the degree of openness and constructiveness of the thinking strategy. The combination of these two features, quantity (effort), and quality (openness) of thinking defines four distinct processing styles: substantive processing (high effort/open, constructive), motivated processing (high effort/closed), heuristic processing (low effort/open, constructive), and direct access processing (low effort/closed).

Many social responses are based on the low effort direct access strategy, or the simple and direct retrieval of a pre-existing response. This is most likely when the task is highly familiar, and there is no reason to engage in more elaborate thinking. For example, if asked in a street survey to rate a well-known political leader, re-producing a previously computed and stored evaluation will be sufficient. People possess a rich store of pre-formed attitudes and judgments. Retrieving them requires no constructive thinking and affect infusion should not occur. The second motivated processing strategy involves highly selective and targeted thinking that is dominated by a particular motivational objective. This strategy also precludes open information search, and should be impervious to affect infusion. For example, if in a job interview you are asked about your attitude towards the company you want to join, the response will be dominated by the motivation to produce an acceptable response. Open, constructive processing is inhibited, and affect infusion is unlikely. Depending on the particular goal, motivated processing may also produce mood-incongruent responses and a reversal of affect infusion.

The third strategy, heuristic processing is most likely when the task is simple, familiar and has little personal relevance, and there is no reason for more detailed processing. This kind of superficial, quick processing is likely when we need to respond to an unexpected question say in a telephone survey (Schwarz & Clore, 1988) or a street survey (Forgas & Moylan, 1987). Heuristic processing can sometimes lead to affect infusion, if people adopt the simple ‘how do I feel about it’ strategy. Finally, substantive processing is used when people need to fully and constructively deal with a social situation. This is an inherently open and constructive thinking style that characterizes most of our most personally relevant and important decisions. This kind of thinking should be used whenever the task is demanding, atypical, complex or involving, and there are no ready-made direct access responses or motivational goals available to guide the response.

The AIM predicts greater affect infusion whenever more substantive thinking is required to deal with a more demanding task. This paradoxical effect has been confirmed in a number of studies, as we have seen above. Unfamiliar, complex and atypical tasks should recruit more substantive thinking. Affect itself can also influence processing choices; as we have seen, positive affect promotes a more internally driven, top-down thinking style, and negative affect triggers more externally focussed, bottom-up thinking. An integrative model such as the AIM makes a useful contribution to our understanding of emotional intelligence because it helps to specify the circumstances leading to the absence of affect infusion when direct access or motivated processing is used, and the presence of affect infusion during heuristic and substantive processing.

Two of the thinking styles identified by the model may also be involved in how we manage our everyday moods. We have seen that substantive processing typically facilitates affect infusion and the maintenance and accentuation of an existing affective state. In contrast, motivated processing may produce affect-incongruent responses, and the attenuation of the affective state. Affect management can thus be achieved as people spontaneously switch their information processing strategies between substantive and motivated processing so as to calibrate their prevailing moods. In other words, these two thinking styles may jointly constitute a dynamic, self-correcting mood management system. Several studies support this account. When responses by happy and sad people are monitored over time, initial mood congruence spontaneously gives way to mood incongruent responses (Forgas, Ciarrochi & Moylan, 2000b). This switch from ‘first congruent, then incongruent’ responses suggests the existence of a spontaneous affect regulation system, and emotional intelligence is likely to involve a ready ability to switch from substantive to motivated thinking.

Summary and conclusions

This paper argued that emotional intelligence necessarily includes a degree of awareness of how affective states infuse our memories, thoughts, judgments and interpersonal behaviors. The research reviewed here suggests that different information processing strategies play a key role in explaining these effects. Theories such as the Affect Infusion Model (Forgas, 1995a) seek to explain when, and how affect influences everyday judgments and behaviors. A number of studies showed that more constructive, substantive thinking reliably increases affect infusion into thinking. Further, affect infusion also impacts a range of interpersonal behaviors, such as the use of requests, persuasive communication and strategic bargaining. We have also seen that positive and negative mood also produce different thinking strategies, and as a result, positive mood often increases and negative mood decreases memory and judgmental errors.

In contrast, affect infusion is reduced or absent whenever a social task can be performed using a simple, well-rehearsed direct access strategy, or a highly motivated strategy. Frequently, the social situations we face impose strong motivational demands to act in required ways that override these subtle mood effects. Sometimes, the pressures to act in a particular manner comes from within. We have seen that certain personality traits can strongly predict how people will act. When people do not rely on open, constructive thinking to figure out what to do, mood states are much less likely to influence their responses. These general principles have important consequences in many real-life situations, and our understanding of emotional intelligence must include an appreciation of these effects.

Affect is thus likely to influence many relationship behaviors, group behaviors, organizational decisions, consumer preferences, and health-related behaviors, and emotional intelligence necessary involves knowing when and how these effects occur (see chapter by Fitness, and by Ickes and Flury, this volume). Individuals who experience negative moods report more and more severe physical symptoms and more negative attitudes and beliefs about their ability to manage their health (see chapter by Salovey, this volume). Recent studies also confirm that affect has a highly significant influence on many organizational behaviors and decisions (see chapter by Caruso, this volume). The evidence we discussed clearly illustrates the multiple influences that affect has on interpersonal behavior. Being ‘emotionally intelligent’ requires a degree of awareness of how and when these processes operate, as a first step towards controlling our emotional responses. Hopefully, the work described here will contribute to a greater understanding of the role of affect in social life.

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