Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Advice taking is influenced by how you feel, and who you're feeling it toward

Work presents us with many sources of advice, from managers, coaches and consultants, to our colleagues and friends. Advice often leads to better decisions, but we're not always prepared to take it. Recent research has suggested a role for emotion: for instance, feeling angry makes us less likely to follow advice.
Now a new study by Ilona de Hooge, Peeter Verlegh and Stefanie Tzioti suggests that this comes down to two emotional properties: yes, positive or negative valence is crucial, but its influence depends on whether the emotion is directed inwards or towards another person.

The researchers ran five experiments, each with 50-120 undergraduates individually engaging with tasks through a computer screen. In both experiments one and two, either a positive or negative emotion was induced in each participant, who then had to select one of two activities to perform, one of which had been recommended by a 'co-participant' (actually a scripted part of the experiment).

In experiment one, the participants were induced to experience emotion directed at their advice-giving co-participant: in the gratitude condition, the co-participant had just solved a tough problem to earn both players a prize; in the anger condition they missed the prize by fluffing an easy problem, even though the real participant had urged them to adjust their answer.

In experiment two, the emotions induced in participants were directed inward, by the announcement - again to a fictional, computer generated group of co-participants - of contrived intelligence test results that either induced shame or pride in the participant.

When directed outward, positive emotion (i.e. gratitude), as compared with negative, encouraged advice-taking . What you feel about another person provides quick and dirty information about whether you find them capable or believe they have your best interests at heart. If you don't, best not to rely on them. But induced emotion was directed inward, the reverse effect was found, with negative emotion being associated with greater advice taking – just as de Hooge and her colleagues predicted. Self-directed emotion gives a shorthand for judging your own current capability and readiness to take action. If you feel bad about yourself, perhaps it's better to listen to others.

Maybe the effect was driven by tactics, not emotion -  if you think another is particularly smart, you're more willing to follow their lead. Subsequent experiments decoupled the emotion from the true capability of the co-participant, and expanded the decision task from a binary A-or-B to an estimate task (how much will this product sell?). Participants now recalled an autobiographical experience that involved one of the four emotions (such as pride), and were asked to associate this feeling with the co-participant before hearing their estimate and making a final decision. The data showed the same pattern as with the four previous emotions – advice taking increased for shame compared to pride, and gratitude compared to anger.

The experiments also showed that recalling a case of anger directed inward increased advice taking, whereas anger outward decreased it, and found weaker but marginally significant effects when emotion labels such as shame were done away with altogether, allowing participants to remember a generalised negative self-focused emotion in its place. This suggests that it is the valence-directionality combination that is critical, rather than idiosyncratic qualities of the specific emotions used.

A better understanding of how we become receptive to advice is going to lead to better decisions. We may need to think harder about how to reach people in different states; as the authors conclude, 'people experiencing negative, self-focused emotions such as shame or sadness might be the most likely to follow advice but may also be the least likely to seek advice in the first place.'

ResearchBlogging.orgIlona E. de Hooge, Peeter W. J. Verlegh, and Stephanie C. Tzioti (2013). Emotions in Advice Taking: The Roles of Agency and Valence Journal of Behavioral Decision Making DOI: 10.1002/bdm.1801

Further reading:
Bonaccio, S., & Dalal, R. S. (2006). Advice taking and decision making: An integrative literature review, and implications for the organizational sciences. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 101, 127–151.

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