According to appraisal theories, emotions such as happiness, fear, anger, and sadness are elicited by different interpretations of events and are associated with different physiological responses, motivational states, and problem-solving strategies. These characteristics of emotional experiences should influence the type of information people deem to be important or central and, therefore, the type of information they attend to and remember. Thus discrete emotions may serve as a powerful organizing force, not just for behavior but for perception and memory as well (Dalgleish, 2004; Frijda, 1986; Lerner & Keltner, 2000; Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1987; Roseman, Wiest, & Swartz, 1994; Stein & Levine, 1987).
In general, appraisal theories hold that people continually evaluate the relevance of incoming information for their goals, with ongoing events being appraised along several dimensions that designate the events' relevance to those goals. Emotions are experienced when people perceive that a goal has been attained or obstructed and it becomes necessary for them to revise prior beliefs and construct new plans. The specific emotion experienced depends on the result of this appraisal process. Thus, when a potentially stressful event occurs, the extent to which people experience fear versus anger versus sadness, or some combination thereof, depends not only on objective features of the event but also on whether people feel personally threatened, whether the outcome is certain or uncertain, and whether they believe they have the resources available to overcome obstacles to their goals (e.g., Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003; Frijda, 1986; Levine, 1995, 1996; Roseman, Antoniou, & Jose, 1996; Smith & Lazarus, 1993; Stein & Levine, 1989; Stein, Trabasso, & Liwag, 2000; Weiner, 1985).
Moreover, once evoked, emotions are thought to direct subsequent cognitions, behaviors, and responses in a manner that is functional, or in other words, relevant for responding to the type of situation that evokes the emotion (Arnold, 1960; Lazarus, 1991; Lerner & Gonzalez, 2005; Lerner & Keltner, 2001; Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1987; Scherer, 1998; Shaver, Schwartz, Kirson, & O'Connor, 1987; Stein & Levine, 1987). Thus appraisals, motivations, behaviors, and even physiological responses would be expected to vary depending on the discrete emotion elicited.
For example, happiness is elicited when people appraise events as conducive to the attainment of their goals. Happiness has been found to exert a variety of cognitive and behavioral effects that Fredrickson (1998)
has characterized as "broaden-and-build" tendencies. That is, happiness promotes expansive thoughts and actions, such as affiliation, play, exploration, creative thinking, and the use of broad sources of information when making decisions.
Fear, in contrast, is elicited by the perception that goals are at risk and that one lacks control over the situation (e.g., Lerner & Gonzalez, 2005; Lerner & Keltner, 2001). Once elicited, fear motivates thoughts and behaviors directed toward avoiding the threat. Individuals must evaluate the situational information to assess the immediacy and severity of the threat, and identify methods of escaping or reducing the threat (e.g., whether "fight" or "flight" is the appropriate response or whether the assistance of another is needed). Consistent with this motivation, fear appraisals are often associated with increased physiological responses (e.g., Hamm, Cuthbert, Globisch, & Vaitl, 1997; Lerner, Gonzalez, Dahl, Hariri, & Taylor, 2005; Levenson, 1994, 1999). Thus, for example, fear-induced activation of the sympathetic nervous system leads to enhanced cardiovascular tone, increased blood flow to the skeletal muscles, and elevated blood glucose levels, all of which prepare an individual for the immediate action that may be necessary to avoid a threat (e.g., Christie & Friedman, 2004; Gray, 1994). To determine what action is necessary, people who are frightened would be expected to selectively attend to, encode, and retrieve information concerning the perceived threat and means of avoiding it.
Anger is elicited when people perceive that a goal is obstructed but also believe that they may be capable of overcoming that obstruction (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006; Levine, 1996). In contrast to fear, anger is not consistently associated with increased physiological arousal. For instance, although some studies show a positive association between anger and arousal (e.g., increased heart rate; Labouvie-Vief, Lumley, Jain, & Heinz, 2003), others find no significant associations (e.g., Porter, Stone, & Schwartz, 1999), or even negative associations (e.g., Carroll, Smith, Sheffield, Shipley, & Marmot, 1997; Smith & Houston, 1987). In addition, some researchers have found lower levels of cortisol and cardiovascular responses when anger is induced than when fear is induced (Lerner et al., 2005). The behavioral tendencies associated with anger are more clear-cut. Unlike fear, which is regarded as an avoidance emotion, anger is viewed as an approach emotion, because it motivates an individual to actively engage in a situation to eliminate perceived obstacles and reinstate goals (e.g., Gray, 1990). Thus angry people would be expected to selectively encode and retrieve information concerning goals and the agents or causes responsible for obstructing the goals. This focus on goals and the causes of failure serves an important function. People are most likely to construct effective plans to reinstate goals if they understand who or what caused the situation that they are trying to change.
A third negative emotion, sadness, is elicited when people appraise goal failure as irrevocable. When a goal cannot be reinstated, its failure affects all of the goals, beliefs, and plans associated with it. Further, with irrevocable loss, no action is necessary, leading to Gray's (1990, 1994) designation of sadness as an inhibition emotion or one that leads to a reduced likelihood of behavior. As such, sadness is not typically associated with increased physiological activation (Mauss, Levenson, McCarter, Wilhelm, & Gross, 2005), and a few studies have reported reduced autonomic, somatic, and electrodermal activity following the induction of sadness (e.g., Deichert, Flack, & Craig, 2005; Etzel, Johnsen, Dickerson, Tranel, & Adolphs, 2006). With regard to attention, for the sad person, information concerning the risks and potential causes of failure (central information for the fearful or angry person, respectively) would be irrelevant or peripheral, whereas understanding the outcomes and consequences of failure would be centrally important. Of note, although sadness may ultimately be followed by plans to substitute more attainable goals, in the midst of the emotional episode, the withdrawal and passivity commonly associated with sadness may reflect the difficult mental work of coming to terms with the need to revise prior goals and expectations (Levine, 1996). Thus, to effectively understand the outcomes associated with failed goals when feeling sad, people would be expected to attend to and focus on the losses that result from the goal failure.
Of course, fear, anger, and sadness are not the only emotions that a person may experience during a potentially stressful event. Yet, as the brief description above suggests, even across these three emotions that share a common negative valence, individuals' appraisals and motivations vary substantially. This variability likely affects the aspects of events to which individuals attend and, accordingly, what they remember about those events afterward. That is, in the service of responding to the circumstances that lead to their elicitation, discrete emotions should cause people to focus on and to search for information relevant to their current motivations. Thus the types of information that are of central importance, as opposed to peripheral details, should differ depending upon a person's specific emotional state (Lench & Levine, 2005; Levine & Bluck, 2004; Levine & Burgess, 1997; Levine & Pizarro, 2004; Levine, Pizarro, & Laney, 2006). Moreover, because the activation of one goal can inhibit the accessibility of alternative goals (Shah, Friedman, & Kruglanski, 2002), information peripheral to the motivational state of the discrete emotion being experienced may become less accessible.
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