The Impact of Negative Emotions on Self-Concept Abstraction Depends on Accessible Information Processing Styles

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Abstract

Research suggests that anger promotes global, abstract processing whereas sadness and fear promote local, concrete processing (see Schwarz & Clore, 2007 for a review). Contrary to a large and influential body of work suggesting that specific affective experiences are tethered to specific cognitive outcomes, the affect-as-cognitive-feedback account maintains that affective experiences confer positive or negative value on currently dominant processing styles, and thus can lead to either global or local processing (Huntsinger, Isbell, & Clore, 2014). The current work extends this theoretical perspective by investigating the impact of discrete negative emotions on the self-concept. By experimentally manipulating information processing styles and discrete negative emotions that vary in appraisals of certainty, we demonstrate that the impact of discrete negative emotions on the spontaneous self-concept depends on accessible processing styles. When global processing was accessible, individuals in angry (negative, high certainty) states generated more abstract statements about themselves than individuals in either sad (Experiment 1) or fearful (Experiment 2; negative, low certainty) states. When local processing was made accessible, however, the opposite pattern emerged, whereby individuals in angry states generated fewer abstract statements than individuals in sad or fearful states. Together these studies provide new insights into the mechanisms through which discrete emotions influence cognition. In contrast to theories assuming a dedicated link between emotions and processing styles, these results suggest that discrete emotions provide feedback about accessible ways of thinking, and are consistent with recent evidence suggesting that the impact of affect on cognition is highly context-dependent.

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