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More than a feeling: strategic emotion expression in intergroup conflicts

PhD ceremony:Ms J. (Julia) Sasse
When:November 02, 2017
Supervisors:prof. dr. R. (Russell) Spears, prof. dr. E.H. (Ernestine) Gordijn
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences

There are many different forms of conflicts but an aspect that virtually all conflicts share is that they bring about various – mostly negative – emotions. Those emotions are not “byproducts” of a conflict but shape it in many ways: How we feel influences how we act, and the emotions that we express influence how others react in response.

In this dissertation, I investigated whether this implies that emotions can be expressed strategically, that is, with the goal to shape others’ responses. I proposed two components of strategic emotion expression, namely that expression can deviate from experience and that expression is more strongly associated with desired goals than is experience. Importantly, I found that members of disadvantaged groups expressed sadness and fear (support-seeking emotions) to enlist support from third parties (potential allies) while playing them down when communicating with antagonist groups, which makes sense given that they were an unlikely source for support.

I also found a down-regulation of emotions in a second line of research: I looked at women’s willingness to express anger about sexist remarks and found that they experienced more anger than they were willing to express, arguably due to anticipated backlashes. Closing the gap between experience and expression was not easy, suggesting that beliefs regarding the consequences of expression are hard to overcome.

This dissertation shows that the emotions people express do not necessarily reflect what they feel but what they want to communicate.