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Social Affect: Feelings about Ourselves and Others

15 January, 2016 - 09:15

Affect refers to the feelings we experience as part of our everyday lives. As our day progresses, we may find ourselves feeling happy or sad, jealous or grateful, proud or embarrassed. Although affect can be harmful if it is unregulated or unchecked, our affective experiences normally help us to function efficiently and in a way that increases our chances of survival. Affect signals us that things are going all right (e.g., because we are in a good mood or are experiencing joy or serenity) or that things are not going so well (we are in a bad mood, anxious, upset, or angry). Affect can also lead us to engage in behaviors that are appropriate to our perceptions of a given situation. When we are happy, we may seek out and socialize with others; when we are angry, we may attack; when we are fearful, we may run away.

We experience affect in the form of mood and emotions. Mood refers to the positive or negative feelings that are in the background of our everyday experiences. Most of the time, we are in a relatively good mood, and positive mood has some positive consequences—it encourages us to do what needs to be done and to make the most of the situations we are in (Isen, 2003). When we are in a good mood, our thought processes open up and we are more likely to approach others. We are more friendly and helpful to others when we are in a good mood than when we are in a bad mood, and we may think more creatively (De Dreu, Baas, & Nijstad, 2008). On the other hand, when we are in a bad mood, we are more likely to prefer to remain by ourselves rather than interact with others, and our creativity suffers.

Emotions are brief, but often intense, mental and physiological feeling states. In comparison with moods, emotions are shorter lived, stronger, and more specific forms of affect. Emotions are caused by specific events (things that make us, for instance, jealous or angry), and they are accompanied by high levels of arousal. Whereas we experience moods in normal, everyday situations, we experience emotions only when things are out of the ordinary or unusual. Emotions serve an adaptive role in helping us guide our social behaviors. Just as we run from a snake because the snake elicits fear, we may try to make amends with other people when we feel guilty.