Affect infusion model

Affect infusion model

The Affect Infusion Model (AIM) is a theoretical model developed by Joseph Forgas in the early 1990s that attempts to explain how a person's mood affects their ability to process information. A key assertion of the AIM is that the effects of mood tend to be exacerbated in complex situations that demand substantial cognitive processing. In other words, as situations become more complicated and unanticipated, mood becomes more influential in driving evaluations and responses.

Affect infusion

Forgas defined the term "affect infusion" as "the process whereby affectively loaded information exerts an influence on and becomes incorporated into the judgmental process, entering into the judge's deliberations and eventually coloring the judgmental outcome." [Forgas, J.P. (1995). Mood and judgment: The Affect Infusion Model (AIM). "Psychological Bulletin, 117", 39-66.] According to the AIM, affect exerts a notable influence not only on information processing but on resulting response behaviors as well. For example, if a person receives an inordinately large electric bill one day, they will respond differently if they'd had a relaxing and stress-free day beforehand than if they'd just been stuck in traffic for two hours. Under this latter circumstance, the person would experience high levels of affect infusion, as their agitated state would undoubtedly be made worse upon seeing the electric bill.

An assumption of the AIM is that infusion occurs in differing degrees, generally exhibiting a positive relationship to situation complexity. Highly complex situations could exhibit a number of qualities, such as the sheer amount of processing required, the situation's novelty value, or how severely the situation affects the person. Some common activities that tend to produce high affect infusion include choosing whether or not to drink or take drugs, selecting or evaluating a relationship partner, or explaining a conflict or allocating rewards to a group. [Forgas, J.P. (1998). On feeling good and getting your way: Mood effects on negotiator cognition and bargaining strategies. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74", 565-577.]

Processing strategies

According to Forgas, the varying levels of affect infusion can be seen as a continuum, which contains four alternative processing strategies. These strategies represent the different degrees of severity in which mood exerts its influence. In identifying these strategies, two important differentiating factors were considered: a) the information search strategies used to perform a task (open or restricted); and b) the extent of the information considered in constructing a response. [Forgas, J. P. (1999). On feeling good and being rude: Affective influences on language use and request formulations. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76", 928-939.]

1) direct access processing - The least intensive of the four, this type of processing involves reproducing a stored (previously done) reaction. According to the AIM, the influence of mood on cognition will be least severe during this type of processing.

2) motivated processing - This type of processing usually involves specific and targeted search strategies with a direct informational goal in mind. This strategy also involves little influence from mood, as the individual at least has a fairly clear idea of what information they need (though it is found higher on the continuum than direct access processing).

3) heuristic processing - This approach assumes that affective processing occurs outside our awareness, with people simply making sense of their affective reactions as they happen. Thus, affective experience provides people with information about themselves, including their tendencies and implicit judgments. This process is also known as the "affect-as-information" mechanism. [Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L. (1983). Mood, misattribution, and judgments of well-being: Informative and directive functions of affective states. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45", 513-523.]

4) substantive processing - Also called systematic processing, this strategy involves the most elaborate cognitive processing and thus is the most influenced by mood. This type of processing appears highest on the continuum, as it lends the most emphasis to the powerful effects of mood.

Taken as a whole, Forgas identified two overarching conditions under which mood is most likely to affect information processing: a) situations that require cognition about difficult, peripheral subjects, and b) situations that require judgment of obscure, atypical subjects.

Relationship to risk behavior

Because mood itself is relatively complex, a sum of many smaller emotional experiences with no singular cause, pinpointing its real-world influence is no easy task. But scholars have used the AIM to examine a number of social phenomena with a variety of results. One area of research involving the AIM concerns the model's role in understanding an individual's propensity for risk taking. Since risky behavior offers a complex and varied set of emotional responses (elation, fear, acceptance, etc.), a person's mood would seem to play a substantial and unpredictable role in their choice to take heavy risks. If they are in a good mood, they could be more likely to positively appraise the risk, willing to accept any consequences in advance. But even if they are in a bad mood, they could be more likely to rebel against their cultural norms and take the risk anyway.

Chou, Lee, and Ho (2000) examined this relationship by attempting to manipulating people's moods to produce infusion responses. [Chou, K. L., Lee, T. M. C., & Ho, A. H. Y. (2007). Does mood state change risk taking tendency in older adults. "Psychology and Aging, 22", 310-318.] They hypothesized that "risk taking tendency is greater for those individuals who are in a happy mood than those who are in a sad mood" (p. 314). Participants were exposed to one of three priming movies (happy, sad, or neutral) and were then measured on a risk taking scale. The researchers divided the sample into two units of separation, one being age (old and young) and the other being mood valence (happy, neutral and sad). Not only did their data confirmed their hypothesis for both younger and older participants, but it also confirmed the AIM as a legitimate instrument for studying the complexities of mood.

Another study examined how the AIM relates to a specific type of risk behavior: gambling. Hills, Hill, Mamone, and Dickerson (2001) used the AIM to examine how mood affects an individual's persistence to gamble, especially among non-regular gamblers. [Hills, A. M., Hill, S., Mamone, N., & Dickerson, M. (2001). Induced mood and persistence at gaming. "Addiction, 96", 1629-1638.] The researchers separated regular and non-regular gamblers and measured how their moods affected their experiences on the gaming floor. Specifically, they expected non-regular gamblers in a good mood to be more persistent than non-regular gamblers in a bad mood; because gambling presents a new and unfamiliar experience, complete with the bright lights and colors of the average casino, it requires a great deal of information processing, making it especially unattractive to someone in a bad mood. Their research confirmed this notion and was used to identify depression as a causal factor addictive gambling.

Influence on interpersonal behavior

In striving for a deeper understanding of the AIM, scholars have examined different types of behavior that can be expected when affect strongly influences information processing. [Forgas, J. P., & Vargas, P. (1998). Affect and behavior inhibition: The mediating role of cognitive processing strategies. "Psychological Inquiry, 9", 205-210.] This is by no means an exact science, as the behavioral consequences of affect are usually indirect and varied, but they were able to show that "affective states have a subtle and cognitively mediated influence on the ways people perform or inhibit complex strategic behaviors" (p. 206). A person in a strongly positive mood may be more confident and use more direct interpersonal behaviors than they would if they were in a bad mood. They may feel "untouchable" due to the many good things that have happened to them and approach complex situations with an increased level of comfort. As their research showed, this effect becomes greater as the situation becomes more complex.

In this sense, the AIM is a potential instrument for designing messages that promote a link between positive affect and desired behavior. For example, many failed attempts to dissuade adolescents from smoking involve morbid and gloomy advertisements that only serve to depress their viewers. According to the AIM, messages that establish a comfortable atmosphere and focus not on the consequences of smoking but on the benefits of not smoking would probably be more successful in achieving solvency.

The AIM as a research tool

Along with a clearer understanding of mood's effects on information processing, the AIM also provides a lens through which researchers can communicate with people who experience affect infusion with persuasive messages. One important area of research involves the concept of "mood congruence," or how the results of mood influence compare to the mood itself. Davis, Kirby, & Curtis (2007) studied mood congruence and found that the central ideas behind the term do in fact ring true. [Davis, M. A., Kirby, S. L., & Curtis, M. B. (2007). The influence of affect on goal choice and task performance. "Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37", 14-42.] They found that "Mood congruence" occurs when a person exhibits a positive relationship between mood and a dependent variable; essentially, as positivity of mood increases or decreases, performance increases and decreases as well . Conversely, "mood incongruence" occurs when a person exhibits a negative relationship between mood and the dependent variable; as mood increases, performance decreases and vice versa.

This distinction has been used to study the relationship between moods and personal goals. For those who are mood congruent, mood generally has a positive relationship with goal motivation, which presents a major opportunity to designers of health messages. [George, J. M., & Brief, A. P. (1996). Motivational agendas in the workplace: The effects of feelings on focus of attention and work motivation. In B. M. Staw & L. L. Cummings (Eds.), "Research in organizational behavior" (Vol. 18, pp. 75-109). Greenwich, CT: JAI.] According to this line of thought, establishing a positive mood state within a message then psychologically connecting that state to the desired outcome behavior would be critical to the message's efficacy.


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