Social Interactions and Controlling Dynamics of Emotion

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Emotion, intellect, and memory have all been discovered to play a part in our everyday thinking and choices. I will incorporate different research in this literature review to illustrate how feelings come into play in people's experiences. From the point of view of cognitive psychology, the position of evaluation theory, emotional control, social uses of emotion, and their consequences will be explored in the dynamics of social interaction. With this approach, when regulated by the speaker in a social context, I hope to discover the effects of emotion and emotional communication. Introduction
The ability to gather information from our environment and engage in an intricate process called thought defines being human. The thought process creates an assessment of the information being received by our senses. Research has demonstrated the connections on how the process acts as a system, reinforcing; memories, learning, and cognition. The focus will explore how the manifestations of emotions affect the dynamics of social encounters. What may happen if we learn to control or alter the emotions displayed? At the fundamental level, cognitive psychology tries to explain how a reflection process shapes our feelings. When these emotions are manifested through facial expressions, body language, and even voice tone, we affect the mood or emotion of those in receipt of the expressions. If the emotional expressions are controlled in social interaction, then the interaction may be controlled to a desirable outcome. It happens when an interviewee wants to have an impact on the direction of an interview or a stranger that wants to be more memorable to a potential acquaintance. The perspective can be applied to either side of the interaction. There are many possible applications, which may benefit from the findings of this study.

Cognitive Perspective

A good place to begin exploring the idea of emotions as a cognitive process is within the field of cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology demonstrates that emotions play a vital role in memory and attention. To understand this, the foundation of the process of emotion, memory, and attention should also be discussed.

In cognitive psychology, the definition of emotion has been described as a change in the psychological state of mind (Wilson-Mendenhall & Barsalou, 2016). The authors define with detail the changes in the mental state as a product of conceptual processing. A key element of this process is the ability to store information based on what emotion it evokes. For example; when you eat a licorice candy for the first time as a child and you learn that you do not enjoy the taste. The experience evoked two processes, the feeling of disgust towards the licorice and the conclusion that you do not like licorice. The process creates a concept, which you can revisit another time during similar or dissimilar circumstances. The implication of the concept is that emotions play a vital role in within memory and attention.

Appraisal of Emotion

By demonstrating that emotions play a role in the storage and retrieving of concepts, one may be inclined to ask if emotions cannot be controlled. If a given situation elicits an emotional response, are we then guided by our emotions? The answer is yes, and no. For clarification, situations do evoke emotions within our mind, but after the emotion is felt, we have the opportunity to assess or appraise our response. As a child, our experience with licorice may be definitive that we do not like or want anything to do with that flavor or candy. However, if this scenario happened to a physiologically developed mind, such as an adult, we may be able to change the way we feel about the licorice.

According to Siemer, Mauss, and Gross (2007), different emotions can be uniquely connected to various patterns of thinking. Their exploration of appraisals discovered that the appraisal process is necessary for emotion. During their experiment, Siemer, Mauss, and Gross (2007) identified their hypothesis; if a person has a specific order of appraisal, then there will be a specific emotional response. Cognitive psychologist refers this as Top-Down Processing. Where an order exists in the decision-making process based on experiences, top-down processing changes based on values, experiences, and emotional input. An example would be, if we have a sickness where licorice may cure us, and then we may feel differently about the taste and would enjoy the temporary discomfort to benefit from it. This is an example of a simple appraisal.

Limitations to Appraisal of Emotion

The study by Siemer, Mauss and Gross (2007) does explain why different people experience the same emotion differently under a similar situation. However, it does not explain what happens when the biological level of emotional response. There is a delay between the receipt of the emotional stimuli and expression of the emotion. During interaction with people, our body language tends to reveal much about how we feel without giving much or any thought. A good example is having a frown or a sigh. If an appraisal must precede an emotion, then subconscious actions of emotion would not be possible. This does not entirely agree with the appraisal theory of emotion because emotional experiences can exist without any thought. (See references to micro-expressions and the work of Dr.Ekman further in this document).

Regulating Emotions

Under certain circumstances, it is possible to be aware that it is not acceptable to react on the emotion we are feeling. While standing in a queue at a theme park, under the blistering summer sun, it is easy to become upset due to the desire to not be in that uncomfortable situation. We may blame the cashier for taking too long or even a family member who delayed our departure, causing the family to miss the early-bird window. Yelling in line or being obscene in public is recognized as unacceptable in our society. Being in control of our emotion may save you and your family from being the center of unwanted attention. How does the suppression of emotion affect our cognitive process?

According to Richards and Gross (2000), emotional regulation can occur when we control our thoughts or physical behavior as a response to a situation. The proposed reason for this ability is that memory builds from the capacity to feel a given scenario. The mind then stores it for processing, which creates a detailed memory of the scenario. Richards and Gross (2000), hypothesized that suppressing the emotional response would lead to a poor recall of a given scenario. The findings from their studies demonstrated that individuals who suppressed their emotions had a poor memory of conversation details. The results were conclusive that the difference in a person's ability to appraise an emotion did not affect memory. In other words, memory did not depend on the appraisal theory of emotion. Instead, memory depended on the emotion to help encode the details.

Since emotional expression can vary from culture to culture (Mesquita, DeLeersnyder & Boiger, 2016), could it be expected that cultures with a more open and non-regulated form of expression has more detailed memory? It is one limitation to the study, which can further be investigated by future research. Social interactions are the main hub of dynamic emotional exchange. How are emotions used in social interactions?

Social uses of emotion

In conversation, social interactions are a playground for the facial expressions of emotion. From childhood, people learn the importance of emotional expression in social engagements (only the nurture perspective will be evaluated during this literature review). For toddlers, crying is used to alert an adult that something is wrong. As adults, crying also becomes a form of emotional release after the reappraisal process. There is a recurring pattern of stimuli-emotion-appraisal-expression. The area we are interested in focusing on is the region before appraisal and after emotion. This is the area where there is no cognitive process, and the emotion leads the behavior and dominates the thought process. How do these emotions affect those we come in contact with?

Emotional Expression across Cultures

When coming into contact with peoples of other cultures, we may notice that social interactions have a different dynamic due to the way thoughts and emotions are expressed. However, there is a certain aspect of the emotional experience, which is found to be universal; facial expression. Research contributed by Ekman (2003) demonstrates that emotions have a certain basic means of manifestation, which is universal across cultures. While the triggers for these expressions may be different across cultures, the emotion that the face portrays is universal. The barrier-less expression of emotion is what allows communication to extend into dynamics beyond voice tone and body language.

Emotional Expression in Formal Scenarios

During an interview, is it accepted that the norm is to be calm and smile when meeting someone for the first time. In the study conducted by Kleinmann et. al. (2015), it was found that interviewers are aware of many behaviors that occur during the interviewing process.

Interviewers also use the same methods to express themselves to portray their company and position. While this experiment is limited to the knowledge of behavior by the interviewer, the literature review may provide better insight for both the interviewer and applicant in regards to emotional expressions. Kleinman et. al. (2015) also found that interviewers may use these behaviors to change the way the interviewee perceives the situation; such as appearing to be less friendly or more intimidating to create a feeling of insecurity about the job offering. These tactics are just one example of how emotional regulation can alter the interaction between people, and ultimately controlling the direction of the conversation. Could younger applicants be affected by these interviewing techniques over older applicants? To better understand this, further research could be conducted to compare the age of applicant and interviewer and emotional intelligence.

Age vs. detecting facial expression

In casual interactions between people, a smile is universal for enjoyment and non-threatening. During a first impression, it is understood that this is the best way to make the other person feel welcomed (Slessor et al., 2010). There may be a difference in the way an enjoyment and non-enjoyment smile is perceived, based on age or social experience. According to Slessor et. al. (2010), the more social experience an individual has, the more likely they are to identify the enjoyment level of an individual despite the smile. Implications to this may be that an older person may be able to detect more genuine emotions when displayed through the face. About this study, if an individual learns to control their emotional response, it may not be as effective against an older, socially experience individual. The study’s results also indicated that an older person is also more likely to approach someone that is sad or is hiding sadness with a smile.

Limitations to this study would be to what extent socially experienced individuals could detect genuine facial expressions. According to Ekman, Friesman, and Ellsworth (1972), certain facial expressions, which occur at a fraction of a second (micro-expressions) are easier to conceal when a weak emotional response triggers it. Most people are not able to distinguish between a real smile and a forced smile during a perceived normal conversation (Frank & Ekman, 1993). Is it possible that stronger emotional responses are more difficult to appraise and, therefore, hard to control? Further studies in this area should be focused on the delay between involuntary facial expressions and facial expressions. Supported by the cognitive theory and appraisal theory of emotion; it may be that age, social experience, and emotional appraisal cannot alter the expression of these emotions.


After understanding the processes emotions participate in, it is natural to conceive many questions regarding its applications. To focus on one ethical concern; the application of such knowledge may be used for unethical reasons regarding emotional persuasion. The first question of ethical concern; if emotional intelligence, appraisal, and expression can be regulated to control a positive outcome, then it can also be used and regulated to control the actions of others via control of the emotional environment. At the very surface, it sounds synonymous with words such as persuasion or manipulation. While my research is searching for appropriate ways to help people make better decisions which may lead to improved quality of life, educational experience, and improvement in the workplace, it can also be used negatively for personal gain at the cost of others.

Strengths and Weakness

While this study may provide insight on how to improve people's lives, what it may lack is the amount of empirical research to support its claims. Further studies would need to be conducted to collect and organize data that can contribute to this relatively unexplored area of psychology. On the supportive end, with the right data to support the hypothesis, the results of this study can be used in a variety of settings such as; family interactions, social settings, school or workplace, and even investigative settings such as forensics and law enforcement.

Pilot Study

Participant Sample

College and young adults (n=24) were recruited from social hotspots near the local university. Participants were asked if they would be willing to have a conversation about any of the following topics as part of a research study; work related issues, personal issues, sports, schoolwork, and politics. Participants also had the opportunity to allow the experimenter to choose which topic to engage with (See Table 1 survey questions). The population was chosen randomly with the only criteria being to collect at least 15 participants of each gender and not be older adults. The reason for this criteria is because of Slessor, Miles, Bull, and Phillips (2010), found that older adults have a higher probability of detecting true facial expressions, presumably because of social experience.

Procedures: Participants

Participants engaged in a conversation with the experimenter, where the experimenter controlled or forced an emotional response, in or out, of context with the conversational flow. The reason for the experiment was not disclosed such that the only information known was that they would participate in a short experiment and a survey after. The average amount of time per conversation was 5-7 minutes. The goal was to have a short conversation so that awkward moments due to normal conversational pauses would not occur. When time was up, the participant was handed a clipboard and asked to take the survey. The total amount of time from the moment a participant agreed to begin to the moment the survey was concluded averaged 18 minutes. The survey contained 14 questions in which the participant identified with a few demographics. At the end of the study, 6 participant surveys were discarded due to the indirect responses were given.

Procedures: Experimenter

Before the study, the experimenter identified which participant number would interact with a specific emotional situation. Participants 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, received natural responses from the experimenter about facial expressions and body language. Participants 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 received opposite (about the normal response) responses; when the participant said something serious or sad, the experimenter would smile or laugh; when the comment was humorous or light-mooded, the experimenter would frown or make a face of contempt. Participants 11, 13, 15, 17, 19 received a happy response no matter what the context or topic. Participants 12, 14,16,18,20, received a sad or contempt response regardless of topic or context. The sequential participants 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 received a neutral or non-expressive face, tone, or gesture while the sequential participants 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 received an exaggerated emotional response (see Table 2).


During analysis of the data, six participant surveyors and their data (results 7, 13, 18, 22,

27, 28) were not included and left the total participant count to 24 participants. From the sample pool, 90% of the participants in the positive sector felt pleasant towards the interaction and believed the experimenter found them pleasant to engage. Participants that received a neutral response from the experimenter reported feeling uncomfortable (60%), while 76% said the conversation was unpleasant. The survey for the participants in the exaggerated response sector yielded data which participants did not feel unpleasant (80%) but felt that it would be difficult to forget the conversation (100%). Participants that were in the opposite emotion pool had the shortest interaction average (3 minutes) and started the conversation was confusing and made them feel uncomfortable at times (60%).

Limitations and Validity

A few limitations to consider during future research are the authentication of the behavior being displayed by the experimenter. Any inaccurate emotion or facial expression may create room for invalidation by peer review. In this study, the culture was not considered; however, it may be beneficial to the experimenter to include various culture and ethnic backgrounds.

The study heavily relies on self-reporting by the participant, which means there is always room for interpretation or communicative error. Because this study relies on feedback from the participants to produce useful results, it can be improved by using better measuring and self-reporting instruments. The application of this study may also be limited to the reporting methods and thus should also be inclusive of proper data-reporting visuals.


During social interactions among strangers, friends, family, co-workers; the suppression or expression of emotions affected the interaction between the participants, and consequently, the outcome of the encounter. When the emotional expression is changed during a conversation, then the purpose of the interaction was altered or found unpleasant. During the conversation where the emotions were not genuine, participants were able to detect that the behavior of the experimenter was off. Frank and Ekman (1993) support this, where the average person can lightly detect a genuine smile from a forced smile. While this happens subconsciously, most of the time, it affects our mood or emotions during an interaction with a person.


Under the implications of the research, it is possible to use an understanding of cognitive processes to alter the way humans express emotions. There is a limit to this repression, where we learned that there are certain emotional behaviors that are not easily concealed, even by experts. By using this information to educate work environments where many people interact, it may be possible to improve the overall environment. The scope of the research can be applied to any scenario where emotion and attention create a dynamic between people. This can include friends, family, school, interviews, and even the workplace. The key idea to remember is to use the knowledge gained for the benefit of others, and not for person gain where ethical concerns may be raised. The appraisal theory of emotion not only helps explain the reason emotional intelligence is a process of memory but also to see the opportunities that arise when we learn that there is a gap between the appraisal and the emotional behavior which is not easily controlled. If the emotional expressions in social interaction are controlled, then the outcome of the interaction may be altered on controlled by using the results of this study.

Table 1

Participant Responses and Demographics

Participants will rate the interaction with the following questions:

Who initiated the interaction?

Did you have a goal you wanted to achieve during this interaction?

Did you achieve your goal?

Did the other participant make it easy to reach your goal?

Was the interaction pleasant?

Did the interaction make you feel uncomfortable?

Who did you feel was in control of the conversational flow?

Would you interact with this person again?

Did the other participant ask anything from you?

Did you give information to the other person that you normally would not give?

Do you believe the person you spoke to found your company pleasant?

Will it be to forget or ignore the conversation you just had?

What is your age?

What is your gender?

Table 2

Experimenter Emotional Response Type

Natural: experimenter used natural responses appropriate to the conversation or topic.

Opposite (positive and negative are switched): Happy responses were used during time when a sad response would be expected or displayed, and sad responses were used when a happy response would normally be expected or displayed.

Positive response- Only happy and positive body language was displayed, regardless of the conversational topic.

Negative response-Only sad or contempt was shown for the entire conversational interaction.

Exaggerated responses-Natural responses were exaggerated

Neutral responses: no signs of emotion or responsive body language were given.


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September 11, 2021


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