Enhancing Interpersonal Communication: Positive Mood Effects

By Nelson, Donna Webster | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Interpersonal Communication: Positive Mood Effects


Nelson, Donna Webster, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


The influence of mood states on cognitive and social psychological processes is a topic of considerable interest to psychologists. In her broaden-and-build theory, Fredrickson (2001) proposes that positive affect fosters creativity and an open-minded mentality. In support of this notion, empirical researchers have demonstrated that positive affect enhances novel thinking (e.g., Isen, Johnson, Mertz, & Robinson, 1985), improves performance on tasks requiring ingenuity (e.g., Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987), increases fluency and flexibility of thought (Tan & Qu, 2015), and facilitates social problem solving (Nelson & Sim, 2014). Positive affect has also been shown to enhance empathy and perspective taking between persons who have divergent perspectives (Nelson, 2009).

My current interest was in exploring whether or not affective states would influence other social processes that involve interpersonal perspective taking. One such phenomenon is interpersonal communication. Researchers have indicated that a positive mood promotes disclosure of intimate and varied information about the self and that personal disclosures of this sort represent an effective strategy for enhancing interpersonal relations (Forgas, 2011). Successful interpersonal exchanges are also more likely when communicators adapt their messages to account for the unique perspective and preexisting knowledge of their intended audience (Fussell & Krauss, 1989). More research is needed to determine whether or not a positive mood may facilitate the design of messages that are understood as intended by the sender. If one fails to assume the perspective of a message recipient, one is less likely to design a message that is understood as intended. As positive affect bolsters perspective taking, it follows that it may also promote the formulation of effective interpersonal communication. To test this possibility, I conducted an experiment in which I analyzed the composition of messages created by individuals experiencing either a positive or neutral mood. I expected those in a positive (vs. neutral) mood to adjust messages more frequently to account for the perspective of the intended recipient, by including greater detail in the messages and focusing on common knowledge shared with the recipient.

Method

Participants

I recruited 44 male and 96 female undergraduates at a mid-sized Southeastern university in the United States to take part in my study. The majority of the participants (96%) ranged in age from 18 to 24 years. The remainder (4%) were 25 years or older.

Procedure

Mood induction. Participants were randomly assigned to a positive or neutral mood condition. In each instance, they read a string of 25 statements formulated by Seibert and Ellis (1991) as a method for inducing the intended mood state.

Affect manipulation check. Participants responded to nine items taken from the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). Specifically, they rated the extent to which they felt alert, interested, determined, excited, enthusiastic, inspired, proud, attentive, and active, on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (very slightly or not at all) to 5 (extremely). A composite positive affect score for each participant was computed by averaging these responses.

Message design. Participants were asked to design communications relating to 15 abstract stimuli (see Figure 1). This task was modeled after that used by Fussell and Krauss (1989). Participants read instructions that explained how their descriptions of the abstract stimuli would be used in a second phase of the experiment during an identification task. This identification task would require participants to recognize the appropriate figure, based on the message they had designed. Participants were told either to design a message for another (unknown) student or to design a message that they themselves would use to complete the identification task. …

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