Arousal and evaluative extremity in social judgments: A dynamic complexity model



A dynamic complexity model is used to explain some effects of emotional arousal on retrieval of social information. Two hypotheses are presented: (1) emotional arousal reduces the cognitive complexity of social perception, and (2) these reductions in complexity result in polarized evaluations of social targets. In Study I, where arousal was operationalized as exam apprehension. Evaluations of famous target figures were polarized under arousal. In Study 2, where arousal was induced with loud white noise, arousal reduced cognitive complexity and polarized evaluations. The polarization of evaluative judgments seems to hinge on the fact that evaluation is the primary dimension in person perception: under arousal, evaluation becomes relatively stronger as secondary dimensions are discarded. Hence, evaluative judgments become more extreme. Other supportive evidence is summarized and the model is compared with other competing frameworks.