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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The irrepressible communicative power of pride Shariff, Azim Fayaz


How do we decide who merits social status? According to evolutionary theories of emotion, the nonverbal expressions of pride and shame play a key role in this process, functioning as automatically perceived status signals. In this view, observers cannot avoid making status inferences on the basis of these expressions, even when contradictory contextual information about the expresser’s status is available. In twelve studies, my colleagues and I tested whether the nonverbal expression of pride sends a functional, automatically perceived signal about a social group member’s increased social status and whether implicit and explicit status judgments and corresponding decisions are influenced by this signal even contradicted by the context or situation. Results indicate that emotion expressions powerfully influence both implicit and explicit status judgments, at times neutralizing or even overriding situational knowledge, and this holds for implicit and explicit judgments of a target’s status, as well as more behavioural status-based decisions (i.e., whether to hire a target). These findings demonstrate the irrepressible communicative power of emotion displays, and the specifically, the pride expression’s function to uniquely communicate the high status of those who show it. Moreover, they indicate that status judgments can be informed as much(and often more) by automatic responses to nonverbal expressions of emotion as by rational, contextually bound knowledge. Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for functional theories of emotion expressions.

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