Though attitude formation and change depend on processes that happen within the minds of individuals, attitudes can also be influenced by phenomena that happen between individuals. For example, we frequently encounter people trying to change our attitudes through persuasive appeals, and these appeals often include expressions of emotion. When romantic partners claim their fidelity, homeless people solicit charity on the street, or suspects adamantly assert their innocence, their persuasion attempts are often accompanied by expressions of emotion. How do these expressions of emotion change how we react to these persuasive appeals?
We investigated the extent to which emotion expressions can influence the consideration of persuasive appeals (Calanchini, Moons, & Mackie, 2016). We found that expressions that signal threat induce more extensive scrutiny of the persuasive appeal than expressions that do not signal threat. Consequently, when an appeal is paired with a threatening expression, the merits of the appeal determines what attitudes are formed and whether they change. The extensive scrutiny elicited by threat leads to more favorable attitudes towards strong, compelling arguments than weak, specious arguments. Importantly, this attitude change happens independently of the emotions experienced by the person evaluating the persuasive appeal. Thus, my work demonstrates that emotion expressions can act as cognitive cues that influence how persuasive appeals are considered.
Emotion expressions do not necessarily convey the same information in all contexts. For example, one might interpret a frown from a teammate negatively (e.g., our team is doing poorly), but a frown from a member of the opposite team positively (e.g., our team is doing well). In moving forward with this line of research, we are investigating the intergroup relationship between the perceiver and source of an emotion expression as it moderates attitude change, judgments, and behavior (Calanchini & Mackie, in prep).