Theses Doctoral

Implicit Theories of Emotion and Social Judgment

Cesarano, Melissa Marie

Emotions are ever-present, transient, and powerful mental states that become especially relevant in social situations. As humans develop, we construct lay intuitions about the nature of emotions and about how emotions function in the mind and body. Specifically, we accrue beliefs about the controllability and malleability of emotions. Entity theorists regard emotions as being relatively fixed and difficult to control. On the other hand, Incremental theorists view emotions as being relatively malleable and controllable. These dichotomous implicit theories are known to propagate different cognitive, affective, and behavioral effects. While implicit theories have been researched in the context of social judgment previously, these studies were limited to implicit theories of psychological attributes, like personality/morality/intelligence, and not theories of mental states, like emotions. In this dissertation, I draw from the various fields of cognitive science, moral philosophy, and social psychology to posit: are Implicit Theories of Emotion related to Social Judgment? And if so, what is the specific relationship between these constructs? Thus, in Study 1, I sought to answer these questions by using Tamir et al. (2017) Implicit Theories of Emotions Scale to measure emotion beliefs and by creating narrative scenarios for a blame attribution task. Study 1 also explored the relationship between Implicit Theories of Emotion and self-perceived emotion regulation tendencies, emotion regulation self-efficacy, and the perceived value of emotion regulation. The results of Study 1 demonstrated that Implicit Theories of Emotions are related to Social Judgment. Specifically, being an Incremental theorist was associated with attributing more blame to actors behaving transgressively than being an Entity theorist. This was a correlative trend reversal from the extant research that studied the relationship between Implicit Theories of Psychological Attributes (such as Personality and Morality) and Judgment. In these studies, Entity theorists tend to attribute more blame to actors behaving transgressively. Study 1 also demonstrated that that being an Incremental theorist was related to frequent use of cognitive reappraisal, having an augmented emotion regulation self-efficacy, and a perception that being able to emotionally regulate is an important human quality. In contrast, Entity theorists were associated with ascribing less blame to actors, less frequent use of cognitive reappraisal, attenuated emotion self-efficacy, and were less likely to believe that emotional self-regulation is an important quality. Study 2 measured subjects’ Implicit Theories of both Emotions and Personality and correlated these variables with blame attribution across different types of narrative scenarios. I was able to replicate the correlations from Study 1, which demonstrated that being an Incremental theorist is associated with placing harsher blame on actors behaving transgressively. Additionally, Study 2 established a causal relationship between Implicit Theories of Emotion and Social Judgment by manipulating subjects’ implicit theories using contrived scientific articles and priming activities. Participants who were taught the Entity theory of emotions attributed more blame to actors behaving transgressively than those who were taught the Incremental theory of emotions. I theorized that when people are taught a strong Entity theory of emotions, the concept of ‘emotions’ becomes more like the concept of a psychological attribute (a stable ‘trait-like’ entity). Therefore, when judging others, ‘person control’ judgment variables (such as intentionality and foreseeability) are not as relevant and these individuals become vulnerable to affect biases and to judgments based on dispositional inferences. Teaching an Incremental theory of emotions, on the other hand, had the effect of attenuating aggressive judgment. These findings have important educational and clinical implications.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Black, John B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 1, 2018