In the workplace, emotions can act as strong motivators, and can be the decisive ingredient for boosting productivity and morale. Understanding how social appraisal affects emotions offers managers a vital dimension in motivating staff. Psychology and social anthropology reveal that three forms of social appraisal emerge in addition to the individual appraisal of situations: status seeking, reciprocity, and group identity maintenance.
INSEAD PhD candidate Julie Urda and Professor of Technology Management Christoph Loch submit that, in addition to appraising stimuli in regard to ourselves as individuals, we also appraise it in regard to our social contexts. Therefore, we should experience emotional responses to stimuli in social interactions in addition to those that affect us as individuals only.
Their research posits that in some test cases, social appraisals trigger emotions in addition to those triggered by purely individual-centred personal consideration. In many cases the emotions triggered by social appraisals are the same emotions as triggered by individual appraisals; the emotions are amplified by the combination of the two types of appraisals.
In other cases, the authors found that social appraisals triggered different emotions than those previous research on individual appraisals would indicate. The implication then becomes that by understanding the psychological mechanisms behind emotions, managers can create a possibly invaluable vehicle for influencing and incentivising staff, quite beyond conventional forms of personal financial and other rewards, or simple direct pressure from a superior.
Urda and Loch focus on the five Stimulus Evaluation Checks (SECs) first proposed by K. R. Scherer. The SECs are:
1) Novelty: whether a stimulus is a change in an existing pattern, or expected,
2) Pleasantness: the degree to which an individual regards a given stimulus as pleasant,
3) Goal hindrance: the degree to which a given stimulus hinders or obstructs an individual's attainment of its expected state at that moment,
4) Coping potential: the locus of causation of a given stimulus, and an individual's capacity to cope with it, and
5) Incompatibility with standards: the degree to which a given stimulus conforms to an individual's expectations of external morals or norms, as well as internal standards or self-concepts.
The authors also consider how research in anthropology and social psychology consistently points to there being "the same pattern of one individual and four social appraisals". These are:
1) Resource striving (individual): the evaluation of one's own situation, since people have an inherent desire to maximise their own benefits.
2) Status seeking: research indicates that people actually strive for status as an end in itself. As such, the pursuit of status is a massive incentivising phenomenon.
3) Reciprocity: humans have a cognitive mechanism for detecting cheaters, which had allowed reciprocity to develop as a fundamental social goal.
4) Group identity maintenance: in inter-group conflict situations, group members internalise their group membership as an aspect of their self-concept. This leads them to react to threats to the group as if these were threats to them as individuals.
In a highly sophisticated series of experiments, Urda and Loch measured emotional responses in specially prepared scenarios of social situations. Their findings provided strong support for social appraisals as a mechanism for triggering emotions. The status seeking condition inherent to individuals indicates that status signals can trigger pride. Naturally, withholding such triggers negative feelings.
The reciprocity condition shows that violating expectations of mutual fairness and returning favours overwhelmingly sets off angry emotions. In addition, positive emotions felt after receiving something from another are attenuated by guilt and sadness if subjects do not return the favour. The group identity maintenance condition suggests that events occurring not only to individuals, but also to peers, influence our emotions, as long as there is a clear sense of identity to a specific group.