Feelings as Information: Context Sensitive Inferences From Feelings

Monday, January 31, 2011

Norbert Schwarz

Charles Horton Cooley Collegiate Professor
Psychology Department, University of Michigan

Feelings-as-information theory conceptualizes the role of subjective experiences ? including moods, emotions, metacognitive experiences, and bodily sensations ? in judgment. It assumes that people attend to their feelings as a source of information, with different feelings providing different types of information. Whereas feelings elicited by the target of judgment provide valid information, feelings that are due to an unrelated influence can lead us astray. The use of feelings as a source of information follows the same principles as the use of any other information. People do not rely on their feelings when they (correctly or incorrectly) attribute them to another source, thus undermining their informational value for the task at hand. What people conclude from a given feeling depends on the epistemic question on which they bring it to bear; hence, inferences from feelings are context sensitive and malleable. In addition to serving as a basis of judgment, feelings inform us about the nature of our current situation and our thought processes are tuned to meet situational requirements. I review theoretical developments and core findings, with an emphasis on the context sensitive nature of inferences from feelings.

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