Restricted (Penn State Only)
Middlewood, Brianna Lia
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 02, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Karen Gasper, Dissertation Advisor
  • Karen Gasper, Committee Chair
  • Janet Swim, Committee Member
  • Mel Mark, Committee Member
  • Mary Beth Oliver, Outside Member
  • Indifference
  • Appraisal Theory of Emotion
  • Social Psychology
  • Emotion-perception
This project examines how advocates perceive the indifference of others toward their cause. Two experiments examine (1) how modifiability and norm-compatibility appraisals might influence whether indifference is a sign of rejection and therefore threatening and (2) how advocates respond to this rejection in terms of anger, sadness, distress, and interest. Experiment 1 suggested that less norm-compatible indifference is more threatening (i.e. indicative of criticism) and evokes anger, sadness, and less interest. Experiment 2 attempts to address the confounded nature of norm-compatibility and modifiability revealed in Experiment 1, and while the confound remains, the data suggest that indifference that cannot be easily changed is also more threatening, and reveals links between anger, derogation, and confrontation, but also between interest and confrontation. According to the literature on rejection and appraisal theories of emotion, appraisals of norm-compatibility and modifiability are important for understanding situations that may signal rejection. When faced with an indifferent person, the extent to which advocates appraise indifference as norm-compatible will inform whether the indifference is also seen as criticism. Less norm-compatible indifference (i.e., not ok, unacceptable, and unreasonable) will be seen as more critical of the cause than more norm-compatible indifference (ok, acceptable, reasonable), though indifference in general is expected to be seen as more critical compared to support for the cause. To the extent advocates appraise modifiability as low (i.e., they are not able to change the person’s mind), the advocate might feel threatened based on this lack of ability and thus be more likely to perceive indifference as a criticism. In experiment 1, participants were screened and recruited based on their level of passion for a cause. Using a paradigm in which participants believed they were reading the opinion of a fellow participant,1 manipulated both the norm-compatibility of the indifference (or, in a third condition, showed the participant a fellow supporter) and modifiability of the participant to examine how these appraisals shape the perception of indifference as threatening. The norm-compatibility of the indifference was manipulated by using more or less norm-compatible reasons for indifference, and had large effects on the degree to which indifference was seen as indicating criticism. Less norm-compatible indifference evoked more anger and sadness, and less interest than more norm-compatible indifference. Participants experienced self-doubt in their ability to persuade people about their cause in response to the modifiability manipulation, but this did not impact how they perceived indifference as a criticism. One issue with Experiment 1 was a confound between norm-compatibility and modifiability. Specifically, manipulation checks suggested that the reasons for being indifferent differed not only in how norm-compatible they were but also in how modifiable they were. It is possible therefore that modifiability was manipulated in two ways: First by altering the participant’s expectations about their ability to change their ostensible partner, and second by altering the indifferent partner’s actual changeability. To understand how the modifiability of the indifference affects the perception of indifference as a criticism (and ultimately a sign of rejection), Experiment 2 explicitly manipulated the modifiability of the indifferent partner, by making the partner more or less open to learning more about the cause. As expected, the less modifiable partner was perceived to have more critical, negative views of the cause than the more modifiable partner, and evoked more sadness, anger, distress, and less interest. This manipulation did not completely resolve the confound, however, suggesting that there may be a fundamental connection between seeing someone’s opinion as more or less changeable and more or less acceptable. Both experiments indicate that indifference is a sign that someone has critical views of the cause, and is therefore threatening to those who support a cause. Specifically, this work suggest that less norm-compatible and less modifiable indifferent people are seen as more critical of the cause. This evokes anger and sadness in advocates, and, in turn, the desire to confront, derogate, and assign negative tasks to partners.