Inherited Affect: The Emotion Transmitted From Generation to Generation

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Owsik, Catherine, Civil Engineering - School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Klotz, Leidy, EN-CEE, University of Virginia

It is not organizations that help future generations but individuals within organizations. In this dissertation, I seek to understand why and when individuals help future others through their work by investigating the emotion transmitted from generation to generation (inherited affect). The primary purpose of this work is to develop a holistic understanding of emotion in intergenerational behavior, highlighting the phenomenon's relevance in a time when business and justice are not typically intertwined. In two empirical studies of intergenerational behavior, including text analysis of intergenerational interviews and field study surveys of individuals training the next generation, I examine inherited affect from an individual lens and in interpersonal behavior (Chapters 2 and 3, respectively). In Chapter 4, I put forth a theoretical model of inherited affect, developing its role in broader social change. I distinguish proximal inherited affect, which originates from the close past, from distal inherited affect that is from a more distant, abstract past. My results suggest organizational cultures may inhibit or facilitate specific emotions that, in part, determine the valence and intensity of intergenerational behavior. For instance, individuals may use emotion to integrate multiple self-concepts into complex yet cohesive stories about themselves. In intergenerational contexts, these self-narratives may transmit inherited affect to younger generations. Individuals in leadership roles may use positive proximal inherited affect, like gratitude, to pay forward the positive behavior they received from past leaders in how they treat the next generation of leaders. My results suggest individuals may break cycles of intergenerational harm when they experience moral outrage, emotion that may arise through consideration of the distal past. I contend that while personal inherited affect balances fairness between successive generations, distal inherited affect is necessary for establishing what is fair and what is not. I conclude with managerial implications and insights into how managers may use inherited affect to leverage their power and position to help future generations and challenge the status quo.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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