One of our psych majors, Lynn Wong, was one of the winners for the 2010/2011 outstanding undergraduate research prizes, for her honors thesis work with A/P Eddie Tong. Well done and congratulations, Lynn! We’ve asked her to describe the research she did for her thesis.
Under the supervision of Professor Eddie Tong, my research was on the effect of need for consistency on core relational theme-emotion relationships. To put it simply, appraisal theory postulates that the emotion one experiences is dependent on how events are appraised or evaluated. For instance, if one appraises an unpleasant event to be caused by someone else (i.e. core relational theme of other-blame), anger will follow; on the contrary, if one appraises an unpleasant event to be due to self (i.e. core relational theme of self-blame), guilt will be experienced. Despite evidence against the dominant view that core-relational themes-emotion relationships are strong and invariant, no research has yet been conducted to show how these relationships may vary.
My research hence filled up this gap by showing that the effect of core-relational themes on emotions differs as a function of the need for consistency. The need for consistency is a fundamental human drive to see the world as a consistent one governed by a comprehensible, coherent, and stable set of rules. Past research has shown that a heightened need for consistency “freezes” one’s worldviews, locking them into pre-existing knowledge structures, impeding the generation of alternative worldviews, and resulting in a state of rigidity. In my research, I focused mainly on the other-blame – anger relationship and hypothesized that when the need for consistency is heightened, emotional responses will be more rigid (i.e. emotions should be more strongly dependent on changes in appraisals).
As supported by results from four experiments that operationalized need for consistency differently, the effect of other-blame on anger was stronger for individuals with high (vs low) personal need for structure (Experiment 1), who were strongly aware (versus not aware) of their personal mortality (Experiment 2), who were induced in a prevention (vs promotion) focus state (Experiment 3), or who were primed with haptic hard (vs soft) sensation (Experiment 4). These findings contribute to appraisal theory research in providing the first systematic and empirical evidence of need for consistency as a moderator for appraisal-emotion relationships. They are also the first to link research on personal need for structure, mortality salience, regulatory focus and haptic sensations with research on appraisal theory.
I would like to thank Professor Eddie Tong for his guidance and support in allowing me to explore novel manipulations such as haptic sensation priming. It has definitely been a fulfilling journey to be the one actively creating knowledge instead of passively admiring the works of others in textbooks. I urge all aspiring researchers to dare to experiment and always strive do the best that you can.