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The Different Values In Emotional Responses


Relationships take place all over the world, whether it is during work or when meeting a stranger on the road. But the more time is spent with an individual, the more knowledge is gained on a more personal level. This in turn, generates feelings of habit, getting accustomed to the behavior of that individual, it becomes taken for granted. Those people that communicate daily with each other, or are remembered in a specific way, get stuck in a specific pattern. This pattern is created within our own minds, and prepare us for the behavior by that individual. That is why person A, who always picks up things with his right hand, is being perceived by person B to always pick up things with his right hand. It becomes a temporal stereotype. Now if A suddenly breaks this pattern and decides to do everything with his left hand, it will be noticed by B, his friend. This paper will focus on the emotional response that comes with that sudden break of pattern between two people, hence the title of this paper “Emotional Response Intensity”. It will attempt to explain why some behaviors are suddenly valued less positive when they are done repeatedly over a period of time, compared to an individual breaking his or her habitual negative behavioral pattern to incite an equal positive action. Journals written on expectancy violations (Burgoon, 1976) and the asymmetrical effects of positive and negative events (Taylor, 1991). As well as, theories on in and out group effects (Bettencourt, 1996), and covering the black sheep effect (Eidelman & Biernat, 2002) will help to support the effects shown by Emotional Response Intensity (ERI). After going in-depth on the ERI theory, the connections with Burgoon’s expectancy violations theory will be shown. This will be done through the use of hypothetical situations and showing graphs. Furthermore, after these have been explained in detail, the relation with Taylor’s theory on the asymmetrical effects of events will be shown. Of course, ERI is based on the notion of the relationship between three identical people, regardless of culture and personality. Therefore, ERI will also be shown in relation to the effects by culture, and stereotyping. Finally, the role of ERI within the area of communication will be explained, as well as the plea for more in-depth research on this subject. The paper has been divided into sub-chapters to categorize the different links to ERI.

The core of Emotional Response Intensity (ERI)

When people meet each other for the first time, regardless of culture or stereotyping, they create a first impression. Over time this impression will be confirmed, or changed depending on future actions done by this person. Eventually, this impression will turn into a pattern which will be taken for granted after a while, and people will be categorized as being friendly or unfriendly, business or un-businesslike etc. What emotional response intensity is trying to explain is that when people express a certain behavior over an extended period of time, it becomes taken for granted, meaning that people will always expect that person to behave that way. However, when this behavior suddenly gets broken and the person inverses his behavior from, for example, being completely unfriendly to being very friendly it seems as if this positive action’s value will be multiplied. To shed some light on this, and to make the phenomenon easier to grasp, a hypothetical situation will be sketched. For example, a group of three people joins a project group to do research on a specific subject. For the sake of explaining ERI, all three people are completely blank, no culture, no initial stereotyping or personal issues. They are three people, working together. Person A and person B are the team workers, and person C is the team leader. Over the course of the project, A develops himself as a good team worker and makes himself available to help out other members of the team and continues to be excellent. However, B is not so enthusiastic and manifests himself as being stubborn and lazy, as well as always being late. C notices both their behaviors as being team leader and starts to create ‘temporal’ stereotypes based on their current behavior. He creates expectations and takes their behavior for granted. He compartmentalizes A as being a positive, friendly person and B as a negative, unfriendly person. Over time, A as well as B, accumulate their positive and negative behaviors. Over a period of four weeks, C observes their behavior and because of the repetitive behaviors they are taken for granted. C knows that A will always be friendly while doing project work, and B will continue to be stubborn and lazy. C his evaluation of both reaches a point where it can no longer decrease or increase anymore. A cannot be seen as more friendly than C can think of, and B is as negative as can be. At this point, Emotional Response Intensity can be observed. C decides to give A and B one final task for the completion of the project. He wants to show that their behaviors cannot be changed, and wants to prove that A is a very positive person, while B is a very negative one. C gives them both the exact same task to compare their results objectively. He lets A and B write the same final chapter of the project without them knowing this about each other. After a week, C receives both assignments from A and B. It comes as a shock to C that suddenly, B his work arrived on time and is full of quality content just as A did. Emotional Response Intensity states, that because of this sudden intense change of behavior in a complete opposite way of the “temporal stereotype” that C has created for both A and B, he rewards B with a greater amount of violation valence (Burgoon, 2012) that C at that exact moment, values B as a more positive person than A regardless of previous behavior. As shown in the graph, C places B’s behavior on a higher positive scale than A because of taken for granted negative behavior expressed by B. This is because A’s behavior has reached a repetition level where C perceives it as being ‘regular’ friendly behavior, as it is seen as usual behavior by A. He cannot become friendlier than he already is. However, B has never expressed any form of positive behavior, and thus, it comes as a shock to C as he assesses B’s work. It is the shock that suddenly values B higher in friendliness than A for the moment. It is not clear yet on how long this moment is able to last, as the taken for granted behavior can result in this positive action being seen as normal as well after a specific amount of time. However, if person B returns to his or her old habits right after the sudden change in behavior, the previous situation will be completely ignored and C will, through cognitive dissonance, conclude that this behavior was a rare occasion and is not to be valued differently. Yet, if person B decides to adopt this new positive stance, C might permanently change his perception and attitude towards person B. In that case, a reverse ERI effect might take place some day if B only slightly returns to his or her negative behavior.

Expectancy Violations Theory

Judee Burgoon, scholar at the University of Arizona, has created the Expectancy Violations Theory (EVT) by looking at proximity. Her theory on expectancy violation takes a look at how certain expectations we have of people which can come as a surprise when they are broken (Griffin, 2012). They can be seen as the unwritten rules of interpersonal communication. Her notion on what “expectancy” means can show exactly how complicated a relationship between two people can become. As Burgoon explains, expectancy is what people predict will happen, rather than what they desire (Griffin, 2012). This relates closely to the Emotional Response Intensity as well in that people who know each other for a long amount of time, develop predictions about each other’s behavior. 6378334This is where Burgoon’s concept of Violation Valence comes into play (Griffin, 2012). As soon as a person breaks his or her natural pattern, the receiver will see this as a break in expectation and assign negative or positive value to this action. This is where the brain starts to quickly analyze the situation, and what just happened, the brain enters a state of evaluation. It would be as strange as your best friend that you’ve known for years meets you and suddenly can only speak French instead of English. This is such a strong break of patterns and expectations that the brain has to evaluate this. Furthermore, the person whose expectations are violated starts to evaluate his friend and begins to sum up all the negative and positive points. This is the violation valence, and it will end in a conclusion made about the expectancy violation, whether it is seen as positive or negative and results in the communicator reward valence (Griffin, 2012). With its roots in social exchange theory, it is shown that relationships come down to the fact that it’s an exchange of ‘goods’. (Homans, 1958) Moreover, this sheds some light on the entire phenomenon of relationships and the changes they bring between two people. The Emotional Response Intensity theory will therefore attempt to support this notion and Burgoon’s theory on EVT, by stating that some expectations will bring stronger positive values than others, depending on previous behavior by that person. This means that the communicator reward valence can differ entirely as the potential to reward or punish in the future cannot be established accurately, due to this severe break of expectations.

The Minimisation-Mobilisation Theory

The development of the ERI model gives rise to the question as to why it is possible that the positive action of the previously as negative perceived person B) is received so positively by C despite negative preliminary events. Taylor (1991), distinguished research professor of health psychology, is the first to specifically address patterns of asymmetrical effects of positive and negative events and tries to identify some of the theoretical mechanisms. She developed the minimisation-mobilisation hypothesis, which presents a possible explanation as to why previous negative actions do not affect the ERI in a new positive setting. The theory is based on the assumption that a person will function most effectively if the strong responses to negative events are followed by a prompt reduction of the effects of said event. However, this does not stand contrast to the effects of positive events which Taylor suggests are caused by a different group of integrated process models, thus generating the asymmetries in the responses. Hence, the previously positive actions of person A cause different psychological processes to take place in person C, than do the negative actions of person B. Several mechanisms and models assist in elucidating this hypothesis. According to Taylor (1991), negative feedback and rejection are among the strongest negative events experienced by people and there is a self-preservation and protection process that is triggered in such cases. According to Taylor, these negative stimuli challenge the generally positive conception of people which in return unconsciously try to minimise the potentially negative effects on their self-esteem. Effectively applied this implies that if the actions of person B) had a negative effect on person C), C ) would unconsciously diminish the ERI in a relatively short period time in order to prevents self – esteem issues. Range frequency explanation ( Kanouse & Hanson, 1972) suggests that most things that occur in life are either neutral or slightly positive resulting in the psychological neutral point of distribution of objects being slightly positive. Hence, according to this theory person B’s negative action will naturally cause a certain degree of expectancy violation which will lead to a disproportionate more positive IRE, simply because it is not in line with the predominant stimuli. Taylor (1991) provides another explanation as to why negative behaviour has a lesser impact on the long run than does positive behaviour. A negative mood has a negative effect on the wellbeing of a person. Evolutionary, people have been able to work more effectively and efficiently under positive emotional circumstances, which is why psychological processes support the repression of negative ERI. 5484848323The graph above illuminates the mobilisation-minimisation hypothesis (Taylor, 1991) hypothesis. The mobilisation process refers to the initial magnitude of the response to an either positive or negative event, while the minimisation process refers to the time allocated to damping down the effects. As can be seen according to this concept the patterns are parallel but heterogeneous. Taylor furthermore claims that depending on whether a negative or positive event is experienced the effect will vary according to the long and short term minimisation process.

Diminishing Gratitude

The diminishing upwards slope of the ERI curve regarding person A’s behaviour compared to person B’s is a phenomenon, which can be explained by the concept of gratitude. According to Emmons and Crumpler (2000) Gratitude is by definition “an emotional response to a gift” (p.56). This definition can be transferred to the ERI model by means of regarding the positive action or behaviour towards person C) as ‘gift’. Watkins, Scheer, Ovnicek, and Kolts (2006) suggest that the increasing expectations of return communicated with a gift by a benefactor cause gratitude to decrease. With respect to the ERI model, this implies that the magnitude of the emotional response of person C) towards person A) should over time diminish assuming that C) communicated some sort of expectations of return. However, one can argue that gratification itself can be a form of return on the investment of positive behaviour. This would explain why the ERI curve of Person C) towards A) always stagnates, the further into the progress.


There have been a range of different theoretical analyses and practical studies over the history of mankind that agreed upon the fact that gratitude has a positive effect on the interaction of people and their individual well-being (Fredrickson, 2004, Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006). Hence, the notion that gratitude is a pro social behaviour appears to be widely accepted in the academic world. However, in recent years few research and concept development has focused on the phenomenon of diminishing gratitude over a period of time. Theoretical research regarding the loss of gratitude has only taken place over the last decade, for instance in context with topics such as reflecting on the loss of gratitude education in college (Rong, 2010). However, it appears that there is reason to believe that that the phenomenon is very real. This becomes more and more apparent as more papers emerge that promote the implementation of gratitude intervention programs (Rong, 2010, Froh, & Bono, 2011). The lack of relevant accepted models in this area can be attributed to the fact that gratitude is hard to measure I terms of numbers.

In and out group effects on expectancy violation (Bettencourt, 1996)

In order to better understand the ERI phenomenon it is necessary to deeper investigate the issue of expectancy violation. According to Bettencourt (1996), expectancy violation theory needs to extended according to whether the person executing the behaviour or action and the person evaluating it and who’ s expectations are being violated are part of the same group or not.

Empirical research on the subject of in-groups concluded that people were being evaluated more drastically when their behaviour violated stereotyped expectations. Assuming that all three persons A) B) and C) are members of the same group, this would explain why the magnitude of person A’s emotional response towards Person B’s positive behaviour is so much greater towards that of person A. Even though both people executed the same action or showed the same behaviour the ERI was greater towards Person B’s action than that of Person A) based on the fact that he broke his stereotypical pattern.

However, in this particular situation it is not quite clear if Person B is really an in group member or actually an out group member. Linville & Jones (1980) suggest that the evaluation will vary based on the fact that the cognitive schema between in and out group members lack complexity. Bettencourt (1996) supports the complexity extremity hypothesis (Jussim et al., 1987) This theory also supports the assumption that there is a difference between in and out group member evaluation regarding expectancy valuation. The theory suggests that the emotional response will have a greater effect based on the fact that the action will generally be perceived more polarising if it is performed by an out group member. This mean that a negative action will be perceived more negatively if performed by an out group member as will will a positive action will be seen more positively. Now, it could be argued that the on-going friendly interaction between person C) and A) might have led to the development of a group feeling between the two while person B)’ s negative behaviour has left him in the position of an out group member. Given this assumption and according to complexity extremity hypothesis, it appears logical that C)’s ERI to the exact same positive behaviour of Person A) would be relatively lower. His reaction to the behaviour of Person B) should cause an expectancy violation that should comparatively increase C)’s ERI based on the polarising effect of the expectancy violation.


Future developments

In conclusion, the ERI theory requires more elaboration to earn its place among other well known theories in the communications field. However, ERI has established a strong link with the Expectancy Violations Theory by Burgoon (1994). It has shown that the same kind of effects can be achieved by seeing the sudden change as behavior as a negative or positive change. The person arrives at the same crossroads where he or she has to add value to that specific behavior using a violation valence. Furthermore, supporting theories such as the in and out group effects (1996), and Taylor’s minimisation – mobilisation theory (1991) have a link with ERI as they show that in and out group members are judged differently and this will have an effect on an ERI situation as well. Also, the minimisation theory shows that certain effects negative effects diminish over time. Moreover, the effects of gratitude have also been considered in relation to ERI and show there is an overlap. Since the ERI model shows the result of a sudden change into positive behavior, the effects of gratitude have been taken into account as well. Regarding the ERI theory itself; further experimentation will rule out if this new perspective assigned to person B will stay that way or if it will diminish and return to C’s previous perception. This will depend if B decides to remain positive, or return to his old behavior. It will be interesting to find out through more elaborate research, that if B decides to continue his positive behavior, he will continue to be valued as more friendly than A or that they will reach a similar ‘taken for granted’ level over time. The question remains how to be able to conduct experiments using the ERI theory and using a real life situation to stimulate genuine effects. Also I would like to thank miss Grant, S. for assisting me in, not only, this research, but writing the paper as well.


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