Julia Sasse: "More Than a Feeling: Strategic Emotion Expression in Intergroup Conflicts"

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Julia Sasse: "More Than a Feeling: Strategic Emotion Expression in Intergroup Conflicts"

On November 2, 2017 Julia Sasse successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "More Than a Feeling: Strategic Emotion Expression in Intergroup Conflicts" at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Prof. Dr. Russell Spears

Prof. Dr. Ernestine Gordijn


There are many different causes and courses of conflicts but an aspect that virtually all conflicts have in common is that they bring about various – mostly negative – emotions. Importantly, recent research could demonstrate that emotions expressed in a conflict can strongly impact its course as expressed emotions can influence how members of other groups feel and act in response (de Vos et al., 2013; Kamans et al., 2014). The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate whether this in turn means that emotions can be expressed strategically, that is, with the intention to influence others in a desired way. The notion of strategy extends the proposition of the SIDE-model that the presence of a specific audience triggers strategic tailoring from behavioral actions (Reicher et al., 1995; Klein et al., 2007) to emotions as a subtler – but not necessarily less powerful - way of communication. Emotion expression as a way to communicate goals to audiences should be particularly interesting for groups that have been treated unjustly or unfairly and thus have an interest in changing the status quo but cannot or do not want to rely on more explicit ways of communication (such as behavioral action). Hence, in this dissertation we focused on whether members of disadvantaged groups express emotions strategically to different audiences, namely antagonist out-groups and third parties (that is, potential allies).
In a first step, we tested two components of strategic emotion expression and could show that emotion expression does not necessarily reflect emotion experience and that expression is more strongly associated with in-group relevant goals than is experience. In particular, we found that members of disadvantaged groups express support-seeking emotions and sometimes anger towards third parties with the intention to enlist support. Factors that influence the likelihood of the disadvantaged group to successfully change the status quo had rather minimal effects on emotion expression: Most notably, the expression of anger could benefit from perceiving some willingness from third parties or fellow in-group members to support one’s cause. By shifting the focus from perceivers to expressers of emotions this dissertation contributes to our understanding of the social functions of emotions: What is expressed does not necessarily reflect what people feel but can be a way to communicate what they want or need.

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