Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Face-to-Face Arguing Is an Emotional Experience: Triangulating Methodologies and Early Findings

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Face-to-Face Arguing Is an Emotional Experience: Triangulating Methodologies and Early Findings

Article excerpt

People react emotionally to all communicative interactions, even if the level of arousal is so low as to be almost unnoticeable. Feelings are a fundamental part of what it is to be human, and to act in the social domain. Although emotions are precursors of certain sorts of communication, the essential content of particular messages, or the regnant set of memories for some encounters, this study takes yet another tack. We see emotional experience as an object of study in its own right, regardless of its causal role in larger processes. That emotional states have implications for other elements of human interaction is undoubted, and detailed evidence on that point is to be welcomed. However, we believe that feelings can be so completely absorbing that little further cognition can occur simultaneously, that people can feel personally inadequate either because they do not have an expected emotion or because they have a flash of a reprehensible one, and that both internal and displayed affect can be central to definitions of self, other, and relationship. Research exploring emotional experiences in communication is necessary, not only for its intrinsic interest, but also because such work will establish the foundations for inquiries into the place of emotion in traditional topics such as message production, content, and reception.

We focus on the emotional experience of interpersonal arguing. Dillard (2004, p. 199) reports that no focused work on emotions and arguing currently exists. Only a few studies even begin to suggest a qualification to his claim (see Hample, 2005b, ch. 5). A noticeable body of work indicates that people often have negative expectations, preconceptions, and reactions to arguing (Benoit, 1982; Benoit & Hample, 1998; Dallinger & Hample, 2002; Hample & Benoit, 1999; Hample, Benoit, Houston, Purifoy, VanHyfte, & Wardwell, 1999; Martin & Scheerhorn, 1985; Trapp, 1986). Naive actors often associate arguing with hostility, uncontrolled negative emotionality, stubbornness, frustration, and a host of related considerations. However, this research is restricted to retrospective or impressionistic data, and does not offer evidence concerning the direct, immediate emotional experience of arguing. The argumentativeness (Infante & Rancer, 1982), argument framing (Hample, 2005a), and Taking Conflict Personally scales (Hample & Dallinger, 1995) all contain items asking respondents to indicate whether they find arguments and conflicts to be enjoyable. However, these instruments normally are administered either without reference to a particular encounter or after one's end. None has been applied, as far as we know, to the concurrently experienced feelings of a participant in an ongoing interaction. A recent exception to Dillard's statement (although he could not have known about it) indicates that observers reliably can code displays of affect during arguments, and that the resulting data reveal patterns of emotional experience (Hample, 2004). That investigation, however, examined only two dyadic arguments, which is too small a sample to support any firm conclusions.

Because we are traversing relatively unexplored ground, methodology is a fundamental concern. Consequently, we tested three sorts of operationalization in this study: own self-reports of emotions, one's argument partner's estimates of one's emotions, and observers' ratings of affect displays. Naturally, we wanted to determine whether these methods would give similar results and whether there might be a reason to prefer one of them in further work. Our second impulse was to provide an initial, basic description of the emotional experience of arguing. We sought to determine what feelings are most salient and whether they connect with one another. We looked for associations within each person's own emotional field and for the possibility of relationships between interactants' feelings. We also explored several personality traits that may well be relevant to the display or suppression of one's affective reactions to arguing. …

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