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Are People Motivated to Experience Emotions for their Cognitive Impacts? The Motivational Implications of Cognitive Appraisal Theories of Emotion

I propose a novel framework for understanding why people want to feel different emotions. I argue that people may be motivated to experience emotions for the cognitive appraisals they are associated with. In an effort to lay the foundation for an appraisal-based model of emotional preferences, I drew upon research on cognitive appraisal theories of emotion, emotional preferences, and basic human motivation. I tested my proposed model by either measuring (Study 1) or manipulating (Studies 2-7) appraisals and measuring emotional preferences, using anger (Studies 1-6) and guilt (Study 7) as specific test cases. I predicted that uncertainty appraisals would lead participants to prefer to feel anger, an emotion associated with appraisals of certainty. I also predicted that low control appraisals would lead participants to prefer to feel guilt, an emotion associated with appraisals of personal control. First, using large surveys, I demonstrated that people who tend to be uncertain also tend to experience greater levels of anger (Study 1). I then found that experimental inductions of uncertainty led to stronger preferences for and experiences of anger (Study 4), particularly among those motivated to reduce uncertainty (Study 2) and who are aware of the association between anger and certainty (Study 3). Inducing a mindset of uncertainty tolerance, on the other hand, reduced anger experience (Study 5). Finally, people lacking a sense of control expressed a stronger preference for guilt (Study 7). These findings suggest that people are motivated to experience negative emotions when they can provide for their appraisal needs. I discuss the implications of these findings for research on cognitive appraisal theories of emotion and emotional preferences. In doing so, I aim to more fully integrate the affect-cognition and emotion regulation literatures.