School of Psychology News & events

Research Summary

Parkinson, B, Manstead, A (2014 - 2016) Communicating appraisals and social motives (CASM): Interpersonal effects of regulated and unregulated emotion expression. ESRC (ORA). £396,756.

This project investigates how one person's emotional expressions affect other people's perceptions of the motives behind his or her actions. We also focus on people's attempts to control their expressions in order to communicate or disguise their motives, and how perceivers factor in their sense that expressions are regulated before responding to them. For example, if you believe that my sorrow concerning your misfortune is insincere rather than sincere, your perceptions of my motives and response to my actions is likely to be different. The guiding idea of the research is that emotions communicate information about what people are trying to achieve and about their evaluations of possible outcomes (appraisals).

Our studies will focus on the impact of emotion communication and miscommunication on trust and cooperation between individuals and groups. We make use of experimental games in which there is a tension between motives to act in one's own self-interest and motives to act in the interests of one or more other people. Access to emotional information during these games is controlled using video-mediation and/or "virtual confederates" (avatars programmed either to capture participants' facial movements, or to display prespecified emotions). Our basic premise is that emotional expressions during experimental games (a) influence whether people make self-interested or other-interested decisions through their influence on perceived trustworthiness, (b) are regulated by players in order to communicate prosocial motives despite behaviour that appears to be self-interested, (c) are likely to be misinterpreted in situations where there are motives for players to misrepresent their true feelings, and (d) give rise to different interpersonal consequences depending on whether perceivers think that the expressions have been regulated.

We will also explore the operation of similar processes in more naturalistic scenarios, allowing us to assess the applicability of our findings in other kinds of social interactions. The research will advance theoretical thinking about the role of emotions in social interaction and will have implications for a broad range of everyday settings in which emotional displays influence social behaviour, such as negotiation, conflict resolution, resource dilemmas, and service industries in which there is emotional labour (e.g., customer relations).