On the Same Wavelength: Shared Emotions as Information for Social Evaluation

Shaked, Adi, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Clore, Gerald, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia

Many of people’s most profound social connections with others occur during shared emotions, or situations where people experience the same emotions in response to the same event. But how does sharing an emotion, especially a negative one like anxiety, bring people together? We propose a mechanistic account of the binding effects of shared emotional experiences called Affective Wavelengths. According to Affective Wavelengths, people evaluate one another based on the overlap, or lack thereof, in their emotional reactions to shared experiences. 6 studies leveraged a variety of emotions including anger, anxiety, amusement, disgust and embarrassment to suggest that any shared emotion can bring people together, and that unshared emotion increases social distance. Participants did not need to experience the same situation to evaluate each other based on shared emotions (studies 1+2). And the social benefits of shared emotions persist when technology prevents people from hearing and seeing each other (study 3) and when perceptions of others are distorted (study 4). Shared emotions were even potent enough to overcome ideological differences, connecting liberal participants to a conservative confederate at a time when political divisions were at an apex. But, shared emotions did not connect participants when their social implications were contradicted by the situation that brought them about (study 6). We close by introducing a mechanistic theory of Affective Wavelengths, applying that theory to explain other psychological phenomena, and suggesting future research directions and applications for research on Affective Wavelengths.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Emotion, Social Evolution, Social Perception
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