Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down

Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down

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    Have you ever wanted to persuade someone, but were unsure how to go about doing so? Would you portray yourself as calm and collected, neutral, disgusted, or afraid? Interestingly enough, the study by Calanchini, Moons, and Mackie (2016), determined that an angry expression can increase the chance of people considering the rationality behind your argument. Having an angry expression can prompt people to paying more careful attention to your argument because of their mental switch from superficial to deeper, analytic processing. But what prompts people to utilize their deeper, more effortful processing? One hypothesis is that the experience of negative emotion such as anger indicates that something is wrong and processing resources must be engaged to deal with the situation. Whereas, the experience of positive emotion indicates that conditions are well and effortful processing is not needed. Therefore, a negative emotion expression accompanying a persuasive appeal might induce the participant to carry out more careful processing. On the other hand, a positive emotion expression accompanying a persuasive appeal might signal that all is well and reduce effortful processing of the argument. The transition from superficial to effortful processing was determined by presenting the participant with two arguments, a compelling one and a weak, specious one. If the participant was able to tell the strong argument from the weak one, this indicated that controlled, rational thought had taken over.

        The effect of angry expressions on the persuasiveness of strong or weak appeals was assessed in the first study. The participants, more than one thousand undergraduates from the University of California, Davis (UCD), read a strong and weak appeal accompanied by the picture of the writer expressing one of four emotions: anger, disgust, fear, and sadness. After reading the proposal, the participants responded to a questionnaire that gauged their agreement with the proposal. A seven point scale was used to see the agreement with the proposal (1= not at all, 7=very strongly). It was concluded that participants who saw angry expressions of people were more persuaded by the strong proposals than the weak proposals. The  of the strong proposal from the weak one showed that the angry emotion activated more rational processing, leading the participant to closely determine which appeal was stronger.

       The second experiment also investigated how angry emotions influence the processing of persuasive proposals. In the study, more than two-thousand participants from the University of California, Davis read a strong or weak proposal supporting the implementation of comprehensive exams for college seniors at the University of Miami. Each proposal was accompanied by a picture of the persuader expressing either anger, fear, or a neutral expression. After reading the proposal, the participants answered a questionnaire which was based on a seven point semantic scale (1=strongly disagree, 7=strongly agree). The results concluded that strong appeals resulted in more favorable ratings than did weak appeals. It was determined that participants reported more favorable attitudes towards strong than weak appeals accompanied by angry expressions. Because the participants were able distinguish between the strong and weak appeals, it was concluded that rational thought was induced by the angry expressions– an indicator of analytic processing.

       Why does an angry expression prompt people to paying closer scrutiny to an argument? The psychological process behind this is believed to be the deactivation of heuristics. Heuristics are quick decision strategies that require little cognitive effort. People frequently engage in this non-analytic processing, wherein they prioritize some information over other information. For example, a professor might be more persuasive than a layperson, even if both make identical arguments. Thus, heuristic-driven attitude change can occur without acknowledging the actual appeal itself. Typically, this results in people not distinguishing between truly strong, compelling arguments and weak arguments. On the other hand, analytic processing is characterized by effortful, deliberate, and systematic evaluation of information. This study assessed if an angry expression induced analytic processing. So the next time you want to persuade an audience, consider an outright expression (or feigning) of your anger; negative affect may signal that something is wrong in the environment and, consequently, force people to think rationally.





Calanchini, J., Moons, W. G., & Mackie, D. M. (2016). Angry expressions induce extensive   processing of persuasive appeals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 64, 88-98.

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