Handbook of Cognition and Emotion

By Tim Dalgleish; Mick J. Power | Go to book overview

Chapter 25
Positive Affect

Alice M. Isen
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA


INTRODUCTION

A growing body of research indicates that mild positive affect (happy feelings), induced in subtle, common ways that can occur frequently in everyday life, has a marked influence on a broad range of social behavior and thought processes. This work has shown that an event such as unexpectedly finding a coin in the return-slot of a public telephone, seeing a few minutes of a comedy film, receiving a small gift (valued at only a few cents), or learning that one has performed well on a seemingly inconsequential task, is sufficient to bring about significant changes in behavior and thinking.

Not only are social phenomena such as interpersonal interaction and social categorization influenced, but several aspects of cognitive processing itself, including memory, learning, problem solving and creativity and flexibility in thinking, just to name a few, are also affected significantly by simple happy feelings. In addition, more complex processes, based on these fundamental cognitive processes, such as categorization, decision making, risk assessment, creative problem solving and preference for variety, have also been shown to be influenced by positive affect. Further, this down-to-earth state has also been found to influence people's motivations for certain kinds of activities, and the way they go about even more complex tasks such as negotiation, work-task performance and appraisals, and a host of other activities, from medical diagnosis by physicians to product choice by consumers.

It should be noted that the results of these studies indicate that in the vast majority of situations, positive affect typically facilitates efficient, but at the same

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