When Emotion Reports Reflect Beliefs Rather than Experience: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Processes

Xu, Yishan, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Clore, Gerald, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Fundamental cognitive processes can be broken into top-down and bottom-up processes. Cognitive performance, for example, often involves both the retrieval of prior knowledge and new learning. Similarly, impression formation may involve the use of both categorical (e.g., stereotypes) and individuated information. The current dissertation project focused on the Accessibility Model of Emotion Report (Robinson & Clore, 2002a; 2002b), which distinguishes the contributions of top down and bottom up processes in self-reports of feelings and emotion. A review of research suggested that an over-emphasis on top down processes (beliefs about self and emotions) might interfere with bottom-up processes (awareness of actual changes in emotional experience), which in clinical settings might hinder perceptions of actual therapeutic change. To further assess this model, three studies, consisting of analyses of two existing data sets and one lab experiment, were conducted. These three studies tested how different measures of cognitive capacity influence individuals’ reliance on top-down processes in reports of emotion.

The hypothesis was that limited cognitive capacity makes people less efficient bottom-up processors so that top-down processes tend to fill in when reporting recent feelings. Therefore, people who are less efficient when engaging in bottom-up processing are more likely to rely on their general expectations and beliefs about emotions when reporting emotion. Results from these three studies were consistent with previous findings concerning the influence of cognitive capacity on state-level judgments of individuals. I found that under some conditions, measured, manipulated, and temporal variables (e.g., processing speed, cognitive load, and time frame) all influenced whether emotion reports reflected feelings or beliefs. Consistent with the accessibility model, beliefs about emotions (e.g., trait affect) dominated emotion reports when relevant episodic memories were less accessible due to such factors as having low cognitive capacity generally, being temporarily under high cognitive load, or trying to retrieve distant memories.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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