Talk your way to happiness
: an exploration of the reciprocal relationship between emotion and communication

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Affective states can serve as informative signals about environmental danger or security that trigger appropriate cognitive strategies. During communication, positive mood is associated with increased ambiguity, due to less detailed processing. However, communicative episodes take time, during which mood itself may be altered by communication. This thesis represents the first systematic exploration of this reciprocal link between communication and emotion.

We used mood induction with same-sex dyads, aged 18 to 63 years, prior to a referential communication task where Directors described objects to Matchers, who had to identify them among a set of distractors. In Experiment 1, we analysed data from 36 dyads induced into “Happy”, “Neutral”, or “Sad” moods. While Happy participants’ increase in ambiguity was not significant, Sad participants showed greater communicative engagement and improved mood by the end of the interaction. Experiment 2 examined whether mood improvement in 32 Sad dyads was linked to communicative interaction by manipulating Matcher feedback. Only when Matchers provided feedback was mood improvement observed, suggesting interactive communication promotes recovery from negative affect. Experiment 3 investigated whether Sad participants required a Sad interlocutor to improve their moods through communication. Twenty-four dyads were induced into mismatched Happy/Sad moods prior to interaction, with no resulting mood improvement among Sad participants, suggesting only shared negative affect promotes mood improvement through communicative engagement. Finally, Experiment 4 investigated the impact on mood improvement of role during referential communication, by restricting participants to being either Director or Matcher. Moods were more positive following the interactive version of the task, especially for Matchers.

By signalling environmental threats, shared negative affect may have served a role in the evolution of cooperation, allowing individuals to work together to alleviate those threats. This process is reinforced by rewarding effects of communicative interaction on affective valence, making the relationship between emotion and communication reciprocal.
Date of AwardNov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Abertay University
SupervisorVera Kempe (Supervisor), Janet McLean (Supervisor) & Kate Smith (Supervisor)

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