Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Priming Emotion Concepts and Helping Behavior: How Unlived Emotions Can Influence Action

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Priming Emotion Concepts and Helping Behavior: How Unlived Emotions Can Influence Action

Article excerpt

Empirical evidence regarding the consequences of affective states is devoted mainly to positive versus negative affect. Affect refers to: (a) moods, that is, diffuse and enduring states that have no salient cause, and (b) discrete emotions, that is, conscious affective states that have a salient cause and a prototypical, cognitive content (Forgas, Wyland, & Laham, 2006). Numerous studies have been conducted in which the influence of good versus bad mood, on memory, judgment, persuasion, prosocial, or antisocial behavior have been investigated. Conversely, studies in which evidence is presented for the consequences of distinct emotions are scarce and, in addition, mostly dedicated to the study of negative emotions.

The effects of mood on helping is complex and controversial because both good moods and bad moods have been found to be linked to helping behavior. Individuals engage in helping others in order to maintain their good mood, or to repair their bad mood. Happy people believe that a failure to give assistance would lessen their current state and, concurrently, that making someone else happy would help maintain their own happy state. Further, Isen, Shalker, Clark, and Karp (1978) suggested that persons in a good mood tend to have positive thoughts and evaluations of their ongoing experiences. Therefore, they may evaluate more favorably a request for help, especially the cost of helping.

Studies in which positive affect and helping behavior have been explored are restricted to positive moods, or happy feelings. However, in a recent set of studies (Fischer-Lokou, Lamy, & Gueguen, 2009; Lamy, Fischer-Lokou, & Gueguen, 2008, 2009, 2010) we investigated the effects of the semantic priming of love on helping behavior. In the context of a survey conducted for a (fictitious) journal called Love and Feelings, passersby who were asked to retrieve the memory of a love episode proved more helpful, compared with a control condition, to a confederate asking for money to take the bus. Moreover, the group who had retrieved the memory of love agreed to help more frequently and spent more time giving directions to a confederate who pretended he was lost. Passersby primed with the cognition of love also gave help spontaneously to a confederate who had lost a stack of compact discs. Such effects have also been observed when the participant is unaware that love is being primed. When asked for the direction of Valentine Street by a female confederate and later asked for help by the same woman, who pretended a group of four disreputable-looking confederates had taken her mobile telephone, primed participants were more helpful than those in a control group. All these effects were typically found when the requester was female and the helper was male, that is, in the situation of chivalrous helping.

Overall, there is no evidence that the behavioral effects of love priming are unique, nor of whether or not these effects occur with any other emotion concept. It is also unclear whether these effects occur because of the valence of love, because of the arousal it implies, or because of specific motivational or cognitive components. We designed the present study to create a situation in which love was contrasted with other concepts. We devised two experimental conditions where emotional concepts (love and distress) were semantically induced, and one control condition where a nonemotional concept (solidarity) was semantically induced. Talarico, Berntsen, and Rubin (2009) considered love as a positive, highly arousing emotion. We reasoned that love is characterized by mostly positive valence and high arousal (emotional intensity). In addition to love, we included distress, usually defined as people showing support for each other, or being united by interests, purposes, or sympathies. The concept of solidarity is: (a) cognitive (belonging to the same group and having shared interests; (b) affective (sympathy); and (c) motivational (being prone to helping others). …

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