When to reveal what you feel: How emotions towards antagonistic out-group and third party audiences are expressed strategically
When to reveal what you feel: How emotions towards antagonistic out-group and third party audiences are expressed strategically
Julia Sasse 0 1
Russell Spears 1
Ernestine H. Gordijn 1
0 Max-Planck-Institute for Research on Collective Goods , Bonn, Germany, 2 Psychology Department , University of Groningen , Groningen , The Netherlands
1 Editor: Maria Serena Panasiti, Sapienza University of Rome , ITALY
In intergroup conflicts, expressed emotions influence how others see and react to those who express them. Here, we investigated whether this in turn implies that emotions may be expressed strategically. We tested whether emotion expression can differ from emotion experience, and whether emotion expression (more than emotion experience) is used to pursue specific goals. Specifically, we focused on whether support-seeking emotions (fear and sadness) are used to call for support from a powerful third party and contempt to distance from an antagonistic out-group. In two studies, using the same ostensible conflict, we manipulated whether participants communicated their emotions towards the out-group (no vs. yes) and third party (no vs. yes) and employed a between-subjects design in Study 1 (N = 86) and a within-subjects design in Study 2 (N = 83). In both studies, we found that members of a disadvantaged group expressed reduced support-seeking emotions towards the out-group than they experienced (i.e., in conditions without an audience), providing support for the assumption that emotion expression does not necessarily reflect experience. Further, in Study 2, we found in line with expectations that the goal to call for support was more important in the communication with the third party than with the antagonistic outgroup. The goal was best predicted by expressed support-seeking emotions, providing support for the assumption that emotion expression is used to pursue goals. Interestingly, we only found this association for a beneficial goal (i.e., calling for support) and not for distancing, a destructive goal. These results support the proposed strategic use of emotion expression and as such advance our understanding of the function of expressed emotions.
Data Availability Statement: The minimal
anonymized data sets and syntax files used for the
analyses reported in this study are available at the
DataverseNL repository (https://hdl.handle.net/
Funding: The author(s) received no specific
funding for this work.
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
Intergroup conflicts of any form, be it a minor dispute or a violent fight, come with a multitude
of emotions, ranging from humiliation, fear, anger, and hatred toÐin the best caseÐhope.
Importantly, emotions are not only the product of conflicts but also affect conflicts [
Experienced emotions motivate actions [
] and expressed emotions shape reactions of others [
That expressed emotions seem to have the power to influence an audience raises the question
whether emotions are expressed strategically, precisely because they trigger specific responses
in an audience. In this paper, we set out to approach this question by investigating whether
emotion expression may differ depending on an audience (i.e., antagonistic out-groups versus
third parties) and whether the expression of specific emotions is associated with specific goals.
By doing so we hope to advance our knowledge about the function of expressed emotions in
Emotions in intergroup conflicts
Anger, contempt, and fear are just some of the many emotions experienced during intergroup
conflicts. These emotions do not arise out of the blue but depend on how members of a group
evaluate their group's position (with respect to status and power) and events related to the
conflict (e.g., acts of offense or retaliation)±in other words how they appraise the situation [
this paper, we focus on emotions commonly experienced by weak or disadvantaged groups as
changing the status quo is of importance to them and thus strategy should be relevant.
Feeling weak or in a vulnerable position is associated with experiencing fear and sadness
]. These emotions are also assumed to signal a sense of need [
]. Importantly, those
appraisals not only precede emotion experience but audiences also seem to infer them from expressed
emotions. Kamans and colleagues [
] showed that members of an uninvolved third party were
more likely to support a disadvantaged group when its members expressed fear about their
situation than when they expressed anger. This suggests that fear not only arises in response to
feeling inferior but also enlists actions that may help to overcome the current situation. This is
in line with van Kleef's suggestion that (expressed) emotions constitute information that allows
the audience to draw inferences about the cause of the emotion [
Anger is also an emotion that often arises during conflicts and it often has rather negative
effects. In general, anger is more associated with powerful groups yet it also occurs in weaker
groups in response to experienced injustice or unfair treatment [
]. Interestingly, while
Kamans and colleagues found that disadvantaged groups should not express anger about the
perpetrator out-group towards a third party [
], de Vos and colleagues in fact found it can
have positive effects if they express it to the perpetrator out-group themselves [
that the effects of expressed anger can be manifold. Specifically, they showed that perceiving a
group as angry can actually increase empathy for this group, which in turn motivates more
constructive action intentions. The reason for this, they argue, is that by showing anger the
group communicates that it has been treated in an unfair way. This means anger not only
arises in response to experienced injustice but it also seems to communicate it (at least under
certain conditions). De Vos and colleagues [
] compared the effects of pure anger with anger
mixed with contempt and showed that the latter combination has rather detrimental effects as
it leads groups that are confronted with this mixture of anger and contempt to react
destructively. This is in line with Fischer and Roseman's [
] characterization of contempt as an
emotion that arises when after a relationship has been harmed repeatedly and distance rather than
reconciliation is sought.
To summarize, fear, anger, and contempt are emotions likely to be experienced by
disadvantaged group during conflict yet their expression leads to very different reactions from
audiences. Based on the findings described above disadvantaged groups should choose to express
fear (and sadness) if their goal is to enlist third party support. An out-group's willingness to
work constructively on the other hand seems to be positively influenced by expressed anger
while contempt should only be openly expressed if the goal is to end a relationship. Although
people are unlikely to be fully aware of these specific influences of emotion expression, their
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lay-theories about how it could help them to reach specific goals might lead them to express
Shaping emotion expression strategically
As expressed emotions pose information for an audience they may be regarded a channel of
communication with an audience. Undoubtedly other channels of communication are given
such as language (i.e., verbalization of goals) and actions but we consider emotion expression
of special importance for several reasons. Firstly, emotion expression is subtler than language
and actions, and though it may lead to negative reactions it is not obviously punishable or
costly. This notion of subtlety may further be strengthened by the seemingly common idea
that being emotional is authentic and contrary to being rational (or indeed strategic), which
makes the deniability of any attempt to influence more plausible than for language or actions.
More importantly, emotions may be efficient as they convey powerful information for the
] but at the same time capitalize on a certain ambiguity. They communicate a
message without making it explicit or appearing deliberate and have a ªplausible deniabilityº less
possible in overt speech (ªweakness as strengthº). Emotions may thus incur few costs in terms
of both effort and potential sanctions. Lastly, research suggests that the opportunity to express
(negative) emotions in response to an unfair offer reduces people's inclination to punish [
This further supports the idea of a general understanding of the communicative function of
expressed emotions and even suggests that expressing emotions may be seen as a signal as
strong as an action (such as punishment).
Using emotion expression as a communicative tool presupposes that emotions can±at least
to a certain extent±be manipulated by the expresser. Indeed, research has shown that emotions
can be influenced (i.e., regulated) intentionally and this is not only done in order to feel more
positive emotions but also negative emotions if this is considered beneficial (e.g., experiencing
anger in preparation for a confrontation [
]. Such instrumental emotion regulation has
been investigated in the context of interpersonal emotions but also occurs for group-based
emotions . While emotion regulation shows the general malleability of emotions, research
has strongly focused on the regulation of experienced emotions and its consequences for the
individual (or in-group). The instrumentality of emotion regulation should however not be
limited to experienced but also expressed emotions. Evidence that emotions are intentionally
expressed (or suppressed) stems to a large part from research showing how emotions may be
expressed in accordance with culture-specific norms and following display rules [
but this tells us little about whether and how specific goals are pursued. Some initial evidence
for this was provided by Andrade and Ho [
] who exposed participants to an unfair treatment
to provoke anger. This anger was expressed to a greater extent to the opponent than it was
reported confidentially. Importantly with respect to whether emotion expression is
goaldirected, participants were aware of the fact that they changed their emotion expression and
did so to obtain a fairer offer subsequently.
The present research
In this paper, we are interested in whether emotions are expressed strategically in the context
of a group facing a potential collective disadvantage. The notion of strategy entails two
important components: The basic first component is the assumption that emotion expression may
differ from emotion experience and that expression about the same subject may differ from
audience to audience. That allows emotion expression to be tailored to specific goals rather
than being fully driven by experience. Naturally, we expect emotion experience and expression
to correlate, yet an emotion can be played up or down when it comes to expression.
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As the second and necessary component of strategic expression, we propose that emotions
are used to pursue specific goals. As such, we should be able to find a direct association
between expressed±over and above experienced±emotions and such goals. While the first
component is necessary for allowing strategic tailoring of emotion expression in principle, it
does not necessarily have to manifest in observable (or rather measurable) differences between
experience and expression: It may happen that experience and strategic expression
correspond. However the association between expression and goals should always be detectable.
In Study 1, we tested the basic first component of strategic emotion expression that emotion
expression may differ from experience. To do this, we investigated how members of a
disadvantaged group experience emotions about their situation and express it towards an
antagonistic out-group (that is, the group which is responsible for the disadvantaged situation) and a
third party (that is, a group which is not responsible for the disadvantages but may potentially
help to overcome them). Following from the findings regarding the effects expressed emotions
have on third parties and out-groups [
] we expect members of a disadvantaged group to
express more support-seeking emotions than they experience towards a third party and to
express more contempt towards the out-group in response to their offense. As the results for
the effects of anger have been mixed we explore its strategic use exploratively. Potentially,
anger is used to stress experienced disadvantage yet it may also be reduced given its reputation
(albeit not always warranted in reality) as a destructive emotion. In Study 2, we further extend
the exploration of strategic emotion expression and test whether the association between
expressed emotions and goals is indeed stronger than between experienced emotions and
goals, which is the second component of strategic emotion expression. Specifically, we expect
that the goal of expressing support-seeking emotions is to enlist support, and that of contempt
is to distance from the out-group, based on the effects that these emotions have on audiences
We tested our predictions in a manufactured conflict, which gave us full control over the
properties of the conflict. It may for example be that the extent to which a third party or the
out-group have (perceived) control over the outcome of the conflict influence both
supportseeking emotions and contempt. To control for this, we assigned all power to the third party
which should stimulate intentions to win its support and at the same time to distance the
ingroup from the out-group. While we used the same conflict in both studies we used different
experimental designs to measure emotion experience and expression to control for
methodological limitations. To make it more credible that participants were actually communicating
with an audience we employed a between-subjects design in Study 1. In Study 2 we measured
emotion experience and expression towards different audiences repeatedly to stress potential
differences and employed bogus physiological measures to detect potential experimenter
effects and potential diminution in repeated emotion reports.
Participants and design. International (i.e., non-Dutch) undergraduate students
participated in the study and either received course credit or could enter a lottery (four 25-euro
Amazon-vouchers). We excluded 28 participants who did not finish the study and two participants
who indicated that one of their parents was Dutch (per condition, numbers of excluded
participants and of those that dropped out after the introduction of the manipulation amounted to
two to three and were thus comparable across conditions, final sample N = 86, age: M = 21.41,
SD = 2.05; gender: 42 female, 13 missing values).
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The study was approved by the Psychology Ethical Committee of our host institution, and
conducted in accordance with its ethical guidelines. Upon accessing the study participants
were informed about its format, duration, reward, and anonymity. They were asked to give
consent to participate by moving forward in the online questionnaire. At the end of the study
participants were fully debriefed and thanked for their participation.
Participants were randomly assigned to conditions in a 2 (emotion expression towards
outgroup: no vs. yes) by 2 (emotion expression towards third party: no vs. yes) between-subjects
design. The combination of these factors resulted in a condition without any audience (ªno
audience conditionº) where participants reported how they experienced their emotions
confidentially and three emotion expression conditions where participants got to communicate
their emotions to either single audiences (i.e., only the out-group or the third party) or both
audiences at the same time. As main dependent variables we assessed anger, contempt, and
Materials and procedure. We conducted the study online (using Qualtrics) and consent
was obtained from all participations. To obscure the actual aim of the study we presented it as
a survey about studying abroad to get insight into international students' life and their
experiences. Participants received a full debriefing at the end of the study.
The first part of the study focused on the experiences of international students to make the
social identity of international students in relation to Dutch students salient: We assessed
participants' identification with international students [
], and we asked participants to rate
seven statements about their experiences with Dutch and international students (e.g., ªI
experience Dutch students to be friendly and cooperativeº or ªI prefer to stay amongst students
from my home countryº).
Next, we introduced a fake conflict: Participants received information about a new law
enabling universities to raise tuition fees individually due to the financial crisis. Based on this
law a group of Dutch students (antagonistic out-group) wrote a proposal for higher tuition
fees of 3000 euros per year solely for international students (i.e., participants' in-group). The
proposal was justified by the claim that international students profit from the Dutch education
system but do not contribute to society (e.g., by paying taxes). A University Committee,
consisting of staff members, would decide about the proposal and either accept or reject it and
thus served as a (powerful) third party in this conflict (note that we described the group of staff
members as diverse, with a large number of international employees in order to avoid
(perceived) overlap between out-group and third party). Importantly, other than the antagonistic
out-group this third party was not responsible for the in-group's disadvantaged situation but
was potentially able to help to overcome it, which served to qualify it as a source for support.
Subsequently, participants were asked how they appraised the proposal and how they felt
about it. Before giving their answers, the audience manipulation was introduced by informing
participants that the results of this survey would either be confidential (i.e., no audience
condition; reflecting emotion experience), communicated to Dutch students (out-group audience
condition), to the University Committee (third party audience condition) or to both groups
(both audiences condition).
First, participants appraised the proposal with regard to injustice, morality, uncertainty,
expectancy, and sense of controllability. We expected that the proposal should be appraised as
unjust, immoral and causing uncertainty and to a certain extent as expected, irrespective of the
audience. Controllability should be low as international students did not have a say in the
decision making process. Each appraisal was assessed with four items [with two being reversed
coded; 7-point Likert scale, 1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree; examples: injustice ªThe
proposal is unjustº (α = .80) [
], morality ªThe proposal is immoralº (α = .79), uncertainty
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ªThe proposal renders me uncertain about my futureº (α = .83), expectancy ªThe proposal was
to be expectedº (α = .87), uncontrollability ªThe proposal is beyond our controlº (α = .79)].
Participants were then asked to report anger (angry, irritated, revolted, Cronbach's α = .84),
contempt (contemptuous, disdainful, scornful, α = .81), and support-seeking emotions, which
included items covering sadness and fear (sadness: sad, depressed, down, α = .80; fear: scared,
anxious, frightened, α = .93) on 7-point scales (1 = none, 7 = a lot). The reliability of all fear
and sadness items together was very high (α = .91) and supports our assumption that±in the
given contextÐthey serve the same central function (i.e., support-seeking), thus we combined
them to support-seeking emotions.
Along with these focal dependent measures, relevant for testing our hypotheses, we assessed
additional measures exploratively, such as perceived likelihood of influence and procedural
fairness. Basic results for those measures are not reported here but provided in S1 File and S1
We first checked the distribution of all subsequently reported dependent measures by
inspecting skewness and kurtosis; the z-transformed results are reported in Table 1. We applied a
criterion of 1.96 (p < .05) and results suggest that data were distributed normally.
Third party audience
Third party audience
Third party audience
Note. In Study 2, means are reported across bogus pipeline conditions. Asterisks indicate differences from scale midpoint (4).
+p < .1
p < .05
p < .01
p < .001.
We then subjected all dependent measures to separate 2 (emotion expression towards
outgroup audience: no vs. yes) x 2 (emotion expression towards third party audience: no vs. yes)
between subjects ANOVAs. First, we report participants' identification with international
students and how they appraised the situation to ensure that we successfully introduced an
intergroup conflict in which participants are members of the disadvantaged group.
Identification. As expected, identification was on average moderate (M = 4.44, SD = 0.83)
and did not differ between conditions, ps .15 (analyses with identification as a moderator
are reported in S2 File as they are not central to the current story).
Appraisals. How participants appraised the proposal did not differ depending on
audience, ps .17. Comparisons of means to the scale midpoint (across conditions) showed that,
overall, the cover story created the intended perception of mistreatment amongst participants
(see Table 2).
Emotions. We subjected support-seeking emotions, anger, and contempt to separate 2
(emotion expression towards out-group audience: no vs. yes) x 2 (emotion expression towards
third party audience: no vs. yes) between subjects ANOVAs. Comparisons between the no
audience condition (i.e., reflecting emotion experience) and single audiences (i.e., out-group
or third party) were relevant to answer the question whether expression towards different
audiences differs from expression (the both audiences condition completed the experimental
design and may provide insight into which audience determined emotion expression when
both audiences were addressed). Thus, if we obtained significant interactions between the
outgroup audience and third party audience factors we computed simple main effects to test
whether single audiences differ from the no audience condition. Results for each emotion are
depicted in Fig 1.
Fig 1. Support-seeking emotions, contempt, and, anger as experienced and expressed towards different audiences
in Study 1. Error bars depict 95% confidence intervals. p < .05.
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Neither out-group audience nor third party audience showed a main effect on
supportseeking emotions, ps > .36, however, the interaction was significant, F(1,82) = 12.71, p = .001,
ηp2 = .13. Participants expressed support-seeking emotions less towards the out-group than
they reported experiencing them (no audience condition), F(1,82) = 6.52, p = .01, ηp2 = .07.
The expression towards the third party was marginally reduced, F(1,81) = 3.41, p = .07, ηp2 =
.04. The expression towards both audiences together was higher than towards the out-group, F
(1,82) = 6.19, p = .02, ηp2 = .07, and towards the third party, F(1,82) = 10.32, p = .002, ηp2 = .11.
Neither factor showed main effects on contempt, ps .24, but the interaction was
significant, F(1,82) = 5.10, p = .03, ηp2 = .06. The expression of contempt towards the third party was
lower than experience, F(1,82) = 5.84, p = .02, ηp2 = .07. In contrast, communication of
contempt towards the out-group did not differ from the no audience condition, F(1,82) = 0.54, p =
.46, ηp2 = .01. Also compared to both audiences together expression towards the third party
was reduced, F(1,82) = 6.24, p = .01, ηp2 = .07, while expression towards the out-group did not
differ, F(1,82) = 0.62, p = .43, ηp2 = .01.
Neither out-group audience nor third party audience showed a main effect on anger, ps
.68. The interaction was significant, F (1,82) = 4.16, p = .045, ηp2 = .05, yet none of the simple
effect tests yielded significance (ps .15). Only the expression towards the third party was
marginally lower than towards both audiences together, F(1,82) = 3.17, p = .08, ηp2 = .04.
We tested the first component of strategic emotion expression, namely that expression may
differ from experience. In the present context, we expected the expression of support-seeking
emotions to be more important in the communication with a third party. Interestingly, we did
not find the expected increase in the expression towards the third party but rather a decrease
in the communication with the out-group. The expression towards the third party on the
other hand rather resembled experience in the no audience condition despite being somewhat
lower as well, albeit not significantly so (and this was an unpredicted tendency so should thus
be interpreted cautiously). These results support the general hypothesis that expression may
differ from experience, though it manifested in a reduction of support-seeking emotions
towards the out-group rather than an increase towards the third party (so the relative relation
between these audiences is as expected). Possibly, in-group members were less willing to admit
their weakness and tried to play down their need for support when communicating towards
the out-group. Such an admission might represent a loss of face, and as very little support can
be expected from the out-group it would be perceived as damaging the in-group's image. At
the same time, we found that contempt expression towards the third party was lower than
experience: Presumably, it is not desirable to express destructive emotions to a third party but
to appear reasonable and cooperative. Anger expression did not differ from experience or
between audiences. This does not support the idea that anger (unlike contempt) may be
reduced to avoid potentially destructive responses from the out-group. Rather, it may indeed
be expressed to communicate the experience of wrongdoing.
Comparisons between single audiences and both audiences together were less clear but it is
noticeable that expression towards both audiences was generally high. Thus, if participants
reduced their support-seeking expression (towards the out-group) or contempt expression
(towards the third party) strategically this strategy does not seem to be applied when both
audiences were present at the same time. It rather seems as if the respective other audience
overrode the reducing the effect. In other words, if participants were willing to express
(somewhat) more support-seeking emotions towards the third party and contempt towards the
outgroup they did so even if the respective other audience was addressed as well. A tentative
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conclusion could be that anticipated positive outcomes from expression overrode anticipated
negative outcomes and thus led to expression similar to experience.
In summary, Study 1 supported the prediction that emotion expression may differ from
experience and showed that differences are not general but specific to different audiences yet
we can thus far only speculate about the reasons for this. Therefore in Study 2 we turned to
investigating goals associated with emotion expression.
While Study 1 provided initial support for the first component of strategic emotion expression,
namely that emotion expression may differ from experience, Study 2 focused on strategic
considerations presumed to underlie differences in emotion experience and expression by
investigating the role of emotion expression in goal pursuit. In the presented context, strategic
consideration should be most important for the expression towards the third party, which was
presented as holding the power of decision, and thus was the audience that can actually
improve the in-group's situation. We thus predicted that the goal of members of the
disadvantaged group would be to seek support from the third party, and that expressed help seeking
emotions would be used to try to achieve this goal. With respect to the out-group on the other
hand we predicted that the need for support would not be disclosed but the main goal would
be to create distance: The out-group was responsible for the proposal creating injustice and at
the same time did not have any influence on the further decision making process. We expected
that expressed contempt would be used to try to achieve this goal.
We also aimed to make the difference between experienced and expressed emotions more
salient. To do this we asked participants firstly how they feel about the conflict and secondly
how they would like to express their emotions towards each of the audiences in a repeated
measures design. To reduce the influence of repeated assessment and to increase confidence in
our measurements of experienced and expressed emotions we further employed two different
bogus physiological measures [
Participants and design. International undergraduate psychology students participated
in this study in exchange for course credits. Data from two participants had to be excluded
because they knew about the cover story or partly grew up in the Netherlands (final sample
N = 83, age M = 20.77, SD = 2.34, 65 female).
The achieved power in Study 1 was rather low (e.g., interaction effect on contempt .64) so
to increase power in Study 2 we computed the required sample size with G-Power [
audience this time as a within-subjects factor and based on the effect size for contempt in
Study 1 (f = .25; as a more conservative benchmark compared to the effect size for
supportseeking emotions), α = .05, power = .80, and (expected) correlation between the measures
r = .70 a sample size of 15 would be required. In addition to replicating the effect of audience
we further expected that emotion reports should not be influenced by either of the bogus
pipeline manipulations. If however either of the bogus pipeline factors would show a small
interaction effect with audience (f = .10) a sample size of 84 would be required to detect it (α = .05,
power = .80, and (expected) correlation between the measures r = .70) Our sample size should
thus be sufficient to detect such an effect.
The study was approved by the Psychology Ethical Committee of our host institution, and
conducted in accordance with its ethical guidelines. Upon arrival to the lab participants were
informed about its format, duration, reward, and anonymity, and asked to give written
consent to participate. In conditions in which we used bogus physiological measures participants
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were informed that those measures we neither dangerous nor invasive in any way. At the end
of the participation participants were fully debriefed and thanked for their participation.
We used a 2 (experienced emotions: bogus pipeline on vs. off) x 2 (expressed emotions:
bogus pipeline on vs. off) x 2 (emotion expression towards out-group audience: no vs. yes) x 2
(emotion expression towards third party audience: no vs. yes) mixed design, with the latter
two factors (i.e., audiences) being within-subjects factors. Participants were randomly assigned
to the bogus pipeline conditions. Again, anger, contempt, and support-seeking emotions were
the main dependent variables. In addition, we assessed goals of emotion expression.
Materials and procedure. We used the same cover story and conflict as in Study 1.
Participation took place in the lab in individual cubicles and participants in conditions including
one of the bogus pipeline procedures received additional information about physiological
measures and that these were neither invasive nor dangerous. The order of premeasures and
dependent variables as well as the cover story were similar to Study 1. To keep the study
duration reasonable we used a single item measure of identification [
Phase 1 was designed to assess emotion experience (i.e., no audience presented). For half of
the participants we used ªfacial response sensorsº, four electrodes attached next to and below
both eyes and connected to an amplifier. These were ostensibly able to detect activity patterns
in facial muscles from which the experience of distinct emotions can be inferred. Allegedly,
these muscular responses are not controllable and thus a mismatch between muscular activity
and emotion reports would reveal insincerity.
Participants were then asked how they feel about the proposal. As the reliability of emotion
scales in Study 1 was very high and we aimed to keep the study duration reasonable (taking
into account the repeated measures design) we excluded the adjectives that reduced reliability
the least [correlations for all repeated measurement points, ps. .001: anger (angry, irritated,
rs > .56), contempt (scornful, disdainful, rs > .36), fear (scared, frightened, r > .82) and
sadness (depressed, down, rs > .56), combined support-seeking emotion measures αs > .88].
In Phase 2, we assessed emotion expression towards different audiences repeatedly. Here,
the second bogus pipeline procedure was used to investigate whether emotion expression was
reported sincerely, i.e., as emotions actually would be expressed towards each particular
audience. Half of the participants were assigned to this second bogus pipeline physiological
measurement. For these participants, a single electrode, introduced as ªdeviation polygraphº, was
attached to their left hands at the beginning of the study. This electrode was ostensibly able to
detect changes in skin conductance response. Such changes were stated to detect increased
arousal and thus indicative of an attempt to conceal one's actual expression intentions.
Phase 2 began with the assessment of how participants would express their emotions
towards the out-group (using the same emotion adjectives as described above). After this we
measured different goals of emotion expression (7-point scale, 1 = strongly disagree, 7 =
strongly agree). First, to measure the goal to seek support we used two items and later on
computed the mean of the responses (ªMy intention is to show that we need assistanceº, ªMy
intention is to show that we are victimsº, correlations for all audiences rs .33, ps < .05).
Second, to measure distancing from the out-group participants were asked to rate the extent to
which they agreed with the following statement ªMy intention is to show that our relationship
with Dutch students is disruptedº. We embedded the items for these two focal goals in a list of
Next, all measures were repeated with the only difference that participants were asked to
imagine that they were addressing the third party. In a third round participants were asked to
respond as if both audiences were present at the same time.
Although the two bogus physiological measures seem to be similar, they addressed two
different issues: In Phase 1, facial response sensors were supposed to ensure that participants
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report how they truly feel about the proposal. On the contrary, the deviation polygraph in
Phase 2 was intended to make participants express their emotions like they would when
actually facing the respective audience. This procedure helped to overcome shortcomings of the
experimental setting: Reporting emotions repeatedly may be influenced by consistency
concerns, thus producing similar emotion reports in each condition while suppressing existing
strategic considerations. In addition, when reporting emotions four times, a decline in levels
of emotions may be expected. The constant reminder of the necessity to be sincere should
We checked the distribution of all subsequently reported dependent measures by inspecting
skewness and kurtosis; the z-transformed results are reported in Table 3. Applying a criterion
of 1.96 (p < .05), there was little reason for concern for the central measures of emotions and
goals while the results for identification indicated a build-up of high scores and a heavy-tailed
distribution in the conditions in which only one bogus pipeline procedure was used.
First, we report the results for identification and appraisals. During the assessment of these
measures none of the two bogus pipeline decides was ªactiveº, but were already attached in the
respective conditions. To ensure that identification and appraisals were not influenced by this,
we computed separate 2 (experienced emotions bogus pipeline: no vs. yes) x 2 (expressed
emotions bogus pipeline: no vs. yes) between subjects ANOVAs, not expecting any differences
Identification. Identification among participants was high (M = 5.71, SD = 1.01) and
comparable across the four bogus pipeline conditions, ps > .27.
Appraisals. As expected, the mere presence of electrodes had no effects on appraisals, ps
.22. Further, as we had intended, comparisons to scale midpoints showed that participants
appraised the proposal mainly as unjust and somewhat immoral (Table 2).
Emotions. Separate for each emotion we computed a 2 (experienced emotions bogus
pipeline: no vs. yes) 2 x (expressed emotions bogus pipeline: no vs. yes) x 2 (expression towards
out-group audience: no vs. yes) x 2 (expression towards third party audience: no vs. yes)
mixed ANOVA. We computed simple main effects to follow up on significant interaction
The two bogus pipeline procedures had very little influence on emotion reports, ps .08.
Only for anger did we find a significant interaction between expressed emotions bogus
pipeline procedure and third party audience, F(1,79) = 4.64, p = .03, ηp2 = .06. We computed simple
main effects and found that the crucial comparisons, i.e., anger reports in the presence or
absence of the bogus electrodes, were not significant (no third party audience, F(1,79) = 0.02,
p = .88, ηp2 < .001; with third party audience, F(1,79) = 1.56, p = .22, ηp2 = .02). The fact that
participants in conditions without bogus pipeline measures reported their emotions similarly
to participants in bogus pipeline conditions (in which insincere reports would be unmasked)
increases our confidence in the self-reports of emotions (as used in Study 1). Thus, we can
assume that emotions were communicated as experienced (Phase 1) and as they would be
expressed to the audiences (Phase 2).
Having established confidence in our measures, we focus in the following on the effects of
the different audiences on emotions. Results are depicted in Fig 2.
Out-group audience had an effect on support-seeking emotions, F(1,79) = 17.09, p < .001,
ηp2 = .18. Fig 2 shows that, similar to Study 1, participants expressed less support-seeking
emotions whenever the out-group was addressed. Third party audience on the other hand did not
have an effect on support-seeking emotions, F(1,79) = 0.01, p = .94, ηp2 < .001 and also the
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Fig 2. Support-seeking emotions, contempt, and, anger as experienced and expressed towards different audiences
(across bogus pipeline conditions) in Study 2. Error bars depict 95% confidence intervals. p < .05.
13 / 23
interaction between both audience factors was not significant, F(1,79) = 0.85, p = 0 .36,
ηp2 = .01.
For contempt, we found main effects of both out-group audience, F(1,79) = 14.24, p = .001,
ηp2 = .15, and third party audience, F(1,79) = 12.21, p = .001, ηp2 = .14 as well as a significant
interaction of the two factors, F(1,79) = 11.76, p = .001, ηp2 = .13. Simple main effects showed
that, similar to Study 1, compared to the no audience condition less contempt was expressed
towards the out-group audience, F(1,79) = 15.97, p < .001, ηp2 = .17, and towards the third
party, F(1,79) = 16.18, p < .001, ηp2 = .17. Expression towards both audiences at the same time
and towards the separate audiences did not differ significantly, ps >.43. This suggests that the
expression of contempt was always lower than experience, irrespective of who the audience was.
The pattern of results for anger was similar to that of contempt. Again, we found main
effects of out-group audience, F(1,79) = 9.28, p = .003, ηp2 = .11, and third party audience, F
(1,79) = 8.20, p = .01, ηp2 = .09, as well as a significant interaction between the two factors, F
(1,79) = 6.60, p = .01, ηp2 = .08. Simple main effects comparing anger in the no audience
condition to anger expressed towards the out-group, F(1,79) = 10.40, p = .002, ηp2 = .12, and towards
the third party, F(1,79) = 10.91, p = .001, ηp2 = .12, showed that expression was in both cases
lower than experience. At the same time expression towards both audiences did not differ
from expression towards separate audiences, ps >.43, suggesting that also the expression of
anger is overall lower than experience, irrespective of the actual audience.
Goals. To assess whether goal importance differed between audiences we computed two 2
(experienced emotions bogus pipeline: no vs. yes) x 2 (expressed emotions bogus pipeline: no vs.
yes) x 3 (audience: out-group vs. third party vs. both) mixed ANOVAs. Note that goals were only
measured with respect to the two audiences and their combination (i.e., three in all) so we cannot
use our 2x2 design for these factors so revert to a single (repeated measures) factor comparing
these conditions. If audience showed an effect, planned contrasts (repeated) were computed.
Neither bogus pipeline procedures affected goals, ps .17 (only for relationship disruption we found
a marginally significant interaction of both factors, F(1,77) = 3.38, p = .07, ηp2 = .04).
The inclination to call for support differed between audiences, F(2,158) = 15.90, p < .001,
ηp2 = .17, and was, as expected, higher for the third party audience (M = 4.34, SD = 1.41) than
for the out-group audience (M = 3.82, SD = 1.25), F(1,79) = 23.86, p < .001, ηp2 = .23, but also
than for both audiences at the same time (M = 4.14, SD = 1.38), F(1,79) = 7.44, p = .01, ηp2 =
.09. These findings confirm our prediction that support would be sought primarily from the
Next, we tested whether the goal to call for support was predicted by expressed
supportseeking emotions. We computed three hierarchical multiple regressions (per audience) and
entered both bogus pipeline factors, experienced anger, contempt and help-seeing emotions in
Step 1, followed by expressed anger, contempt and support-seeking emotions in Step 2.
For each of the audiences, at Step 1 experienced support-seeking emotions were the best
predictor for the goal to call for support. This effect however was overridden when we added
expressed emotions in Step 2: Here, expressed support-seeking emotions were the only
predictor of call for support from each of the audiences (for statistics see Table 4).
We expected that it is more important for participants to show that their relationship with
Dutch students (i.e., the out-group) is disrupted in communication with them and indeed we
found a difference between audiences, F(2,154) = 10.14, p < .001, ηp2 = .12. To our surprise
however communicating relationship disruption was more important to participants in
emotion expression towards the third party (M = 3.60, SD = 1.55) and not the out-group (M = 3.01,
SD = 1.39), F(1,77) = 16.85, p < .001, ηp2 = .18; The importance of communicating relationship
disruption did not differ between third party and both audiences (M = 3.41, SD = 1.58),
F(1,77) = 2.57, p = .11, ηp2 = .03.
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Note. For out-group audience R2 = .20 for Step 1; ΔR2 = .12 for Step 2 (ps < .05). For third party audience R2 = .27 for Step 1; ΔR2 = .13 for Step 2 (ps < .05). For both
groups audience R2 = .23 for Step 1; ΔR2 = .09 for Step 2 (ps < .05).
p < .05.
p < .01
In line with this, showing that the relationship with the out-group is disrupted is only
predicted by expressed support-seeking emotions towards the third party and not, as predicted,
by expressed contempt towards the out-group (see Table 5). If both audiences were addressed
expressed anger was the best predictor. It should be noted however that in both cases in the
communication with the third party and both audiences the models were non-significant.
Neither bogus pipeline procedures influenced emotion reports. As emotion reports did not
differ between conditions where insincere responding would be possible (i.e., no verification
via bogus pipeline) or would be uncovered (i.e., bogus pipeline conditions) this gives us
confidence that emotions reported in the no audience condition indeed reflect experienced
emotions. Moreover, it also suggests that emotions expressed in the different audience conditions
would be similarly expressed in actual confrontations.
We replicated the finding that support-seeking emotions expression towards the out-group
is lower than experience while expression of it towards the powerful third party is similar to
what they experience. Further, the goal to call for support was more important in the
communication with the third party than the out-group. As predicted, emotion expression was used
to accomplish this goal: Expressed support-seeking emotions were the strongest predictor of
call for support. This was true for all audiences, however it is important to note that both the
expression of support-seeking emotions and the goal to call for support were lower for the
outgroup audience. This finding provides support for the proposed second component of strategic
emotion expression, namely that expression has a stronger link to a desired goal than
experience. In addition, we found virtually no evidence that the expression of contempt is used to
distance from the out-group. Potentially, distancing from the out-group is a less important
goal and was already achieved by the out-group when offending the in-group. Also, in the
scenario used the out-group does not have any power over the handling of the conflict. This
might have made strategy less important here. While we had expected that distancing from the
out-group would be particularly important in the communication with the out-group, results
showed that it was in fact more important in the communication with the third party or both
audiences at the same time. In these conditions, we also find links between emotion expression
and distancing from the out-group: Interestingly, we found that expressed support-seeking
emotions were used also to communicate distancing from the out-group towards the third
party while expressed anger was used in the communication with both audiences. We can only
draw careful and tentative conclusions here but it might well be that contempt is perceived as
too destructive to be used for any strategic purposes intended to advance the situation for the
in-group. Support-seeking emotions and anger on the other hand may have served to create
distance between the in-group and the out-group by blaming the out-group for the
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Note. For out-group audience R2 = .07 for Step 1; ΔR2 = .08 for Step 2 (both models ns). For third party audience R2 = .06 for Step 1; ΔR2 = .14 for Step 2 (p < .05 for
Step 2). For both groups audience R2 = .03 for Step 1; ΔR2 = .13 for Step 2 (both models ns).
p < .05.
p < .01
While the results of Study 2 were largely in line with results of Study 1, we did find some
noticeable differences with respect to emotion expression. We will address these in the general
In two studies, we investigated whether members of disadvantaged groups express emotions
strategically in order to tackle their situation. To do so, we looked at two components of their
emotion expression: Firstly, we tested whether emotion expression differs depending on the
audience rather than reflecting experience. In both studies, we found that support-seeking
emotion expression towards the out-group was played down in comparison to emotion
experience (i.e., no audience). We further found less expression of contempt in comparison to
experience. In Study 1 this was only true in the case of the third party audience but in Study 2 we
found an overall reduction of contempt expression. With respect to anger we found mixed
results. While in Study 1 we found no differences between experience and expression towards
out-group or third party in Study 2 we found an overall reduction in expression compared to
experience. As such, we found support for the claim that expression may differ from
experience for different emotions.
Secondly, in Study 2 we looked at the association between emotions and goals, predicting
that members of disadvantaged groups would use support-seeking emotion expression to call
for support and contempt expression to distance from the out-group. We indeed found that
expressed support-seeking emotions predicted calling for support over and above experienced
support-seeking emotions. However, we did not find the expected link between contempt and
distancing. Instead, we found an association between expressed support-seeking emotions and
distancing when the third party was the only audience and an association between expressed
anger and distancing when communicating with both audiences at the same time. Thus, rather
than using contempt to distance from the out-group, we have some evidence that participants
used anger to do so. We further interpret the association between support-seeking emotions
and distancing from the out-group in front of the third party audience as a way to blame the
out-group for the in-group's disadvantage. The motivation for this may be to create distance
between the third party and the out-group, which would serve the in-group's interests.
Overall, these findings support the proposed association between expressed emotions and
goals, but our results suggest that this may be particularly true for beneficial goals (e.g.,
enlisting support) and less so for destructive goals in the communication with the out-group (e.g.,
distancing from the out-group). Arguably, pursuing destructive goals in the communication
with an out-group requires less strategy while beneficial goals on the other hand±especially in
conflicts±may require more strategic considerations and adjustments to emotion expression.
Nonetheless we cannot rule out that attack-related emotions such as anger, contempt, or even
hatred are never expressed in a strategic manner. In fact, looking at actual conflicts such as the
18 / 23
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems likely that such emotions could indeed be expressed
strategically to provoke retaliatory responses, which call (international) attention to the conflict.
These findings advance our understanding of emotion expression in intergroup conflicts in
two important ways. The function of expressed emotions has so far mostly been investigated with
a focus on how expressed emotions influence an audience [
]. By showing that emotions can
be expressed strategically we complement those findings from the expresser perspective. Not only
do emotions influence an audience it seems as if expressers may specifically intend such influence,
which is an important link in the inference of strategic behavior. In particular, our findings
complement those of Kamans et al. [
]. While they found that third parties were particularly likely to
support a disadvantaged group that expressed fear, we could show that members of disadvantaged
groups used fear (together with sadness) to enlist third party support. Thus it seems as if
participants were±at least to a certain extent±aware that the emotions they communicated to an
audience would influence the audience. This suggests that lay theories that we hold regarding the
effects of support-seeking emotions match with research findings: Not only do support-seeking
emotions enlist support but they are also consciously used to do so.
The fact that we found a reduction of contempt expression (towards the third party in
Study 1 and all audiences in Study 2) suggests that participants were aware of its potential
detrimental effects [
] however we were not able to establish the link between contempt and the
distancing goal. This could either mean that the distancing function is not part of people's lay
beliefs regarding the effects of contempt or that participants simply did not want to use
contempt to distance. Contempt and distancing occur mostly in situation with repeated
frustration or unfair treatment [
], thus the fact that we used a scenario with a single unfair
incident may not have been sufficient to trigger the use of contempt to distance. For anger, the
results were mixed and importantly we did not find an association between anger expression
and beneficial goals. On the contrary, we found an association between expressed anger and
distancing from the out-group when communicating with both audiences. This suggests that
the positive effects of anger expression that have been demonstrated [
] are not
incorporated in lay beliefs. This fits well with the common lay understanding of anger as a negative
emotion, despite the apparently positive effects it can have [
Further our results also provide interesting insights in light of instrumental emotion
regulation. While research in this area mostly focuses on how individuals want to feel [
could show that also what individuals want to express for utilitarian purposes.
A question often raised in emotion research is how accurately we can measure emotions
and while self-reports seen to be useful measures in general they do have limitations [
employing two different experimental designs (i.e., a between-subjects design in Study 1 and a
within-subjects design in Study 2) while keeping the context constant in both studies we
aimed to reduce measurement error. Using both designs we found a reduction of
supportseeking expression towards the out-group on comparison to experience. To further verify the
results obtained using rating scales we used the bogus pipeline technique in Study 2. The fact
that we did not find any differences in emotion reports with and without the bogus pipeline
manipulations gives us some confidence in the measure used (Study 2). Nevertheless, it would
be desirable to replicate the differences found between emotion experience and expression
also with other measures. Importantly, such measures have to distinguish between distinct
emotions so that many physiological measures would not be appropriate [
]. Such measures
may however be useful to uncover how emotion expression is strategically adjusted. For
example, given that we mainly observed down-regulation of emotion expression it may be worth
exploring whether this is achieved through antecedent- or response-focused appraisal where
the latter should be accompanied by stronger physiological reactions [
]. Further, any written
or verbal account should be considered in future research.
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Limitations and suggestions for future research
We would like to point out some limitations that could give rise to follow-up research. Firstly,
while our results support the central assumption that emotion expression may differ from
emotion experience (i.e., the first component of strategic emotion expression) it is necessary to
discuss some differences in the overall result patterns of Study 1 and Study 2. For
supportseeking emotions, contempt, and anger we find slightly different patterns in the two studies
that, taken together, suggest that different strategies may have been used. It seems as if
participants in Study 1 aimed to maximize their chances of improving the situation while participants
in Study 2 appeared somewhat more selective and careful: For example, expression of
supportseeking emotions towards both audiences at the same time resembled experience in Study 1
but were lower in Study 2. Though conclusions should be drawn carefully, this suggests that
participants in Study 1 sought every opportunity to communicate their need for support (and
thus even took the risk to appear weak in front of the out-group as long if the third party was
addressed as well) but avoided this risk in Study 2. These two different strategies might also
explain the different patterns we found for anger. Willingness to seek every opportunity to
improve the situation could have motivated the expression of anger while higher cautiousness
in Study 2 motivated the generally reduced expression. As the conflict used in the two studies
was identical it seems likely that these differences may have been the result of differences in the
design. While participants in Study 1 only got to communicate their emotions once (or never
in the no audience condition), they may have been tried to optimize the outcome for the
ingroup. In Study 2 on the other hand participants got to communicate with all audiences which
allowed them to be more selective.
Secondly, with respect to strategic emotion expression in general, we have initial evidence
that participants used their emotions as a subtle tool to influence the audience. In order to
further strengthen the claim that participants choose expressed emotions due to their subtlety
future research should compare emotion expression as a way to communicate with and
influence an audience to more direct ways of communication (such as language and action). For
example, in ongoing research we currently investigate both direct verbal and subtle emotional
calls for support.
Thirdly, the finding that support-seeking emotions are used to enlist support should be
tested under less restricted conditions. In the studies presented here we tested our hypotheses
only in one particular, artificial context with a powerful and undecided third party. While this
allowed us to explore the fundamentals of strategic emotion expression in follow-up research
we have turned to investigate whether the emotional call for support is primarily driven by the
fact that the third party had power or whether that it was not primarily responsible for the
proposed changes that would bring about disadvantages for the in-group.
Our research contributes to the understanding of the function of emotion in intergroup
conflicts in general and in particular to the role of emotion expression. While the function of
emotions was mostly studied in the context of how experienced emotions influence own actions
] and how expressed emotions influence actions of audiences [
] we can now add that
emotion expression itself is also likely to serve a function, namely to pursue a goal that is
considered beneficial for the own group. Thus, not only experienced group-based emotions are
regulated for instrumental purposes [
] but also expressed emotions. The notion of benefit
seems to be important as we did not find strategic emotion expression of potentially
destructive emotions towards the out-group. Thus, emotion expression is more than merely
expressing what we feel but serves as a tool to overcome a disadvantaged situation.
20 / 23
S1 File. Additional measures. This file contains short descriptions and summaries of the
results of additional measures.
S2 File. Study 1 moderation analyses. This file contains a summary of exploratory analyses of
identification as a moderator.
S3 File. Study material. This file contains the exact wording of the study material.
S1 Table. Study 1 and 2 descriptive statistics of additional emotions.
S1 Fig. Study 2 scatterplots calling for support and all significant predictors.
S2 Fig. Study 2 scatterplots out-group distancing and all significant predictors.
Formal analysis: Julia Sasse.
Investigation: Julia Sasse.
Conceptualization: Julia Sasse, Russell Spears, Ernestine H. Gordijn.
Methodology: Julia Sasse, Russell Spears, Ernestine H. Gordijn.
Writing ± original draft: Julia Sasse.
Writing ± review & editing: Russell Spears, Ernestine H. Gordijn.
21 / 23
22 / 23
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