Valence evaluation with approaching or withdrawing cues: directly testing valence–arousal conflict theory

Cognition and Emotion 32 (4):904-912 (2018)
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Abstract

The valence–arousal conflict theory assumes that both valence and arousal will trigger approaching or withdrawing tendencies. It also predicts that the speed of processing emotional stimuli will depend on whether valence and arousal trigger conflicting or congruent motivational tendencies. However, most previous studies have provided evidence of the interaction between valence and arousal only, and have not provided direct proof of the interactive links between valence, arousal and motivational tendencies. The present study provides direct evidence for the relationship between approach–withdrawal tendencies and the valence–arousal conflict. In an empirical test, participants were instructed to judge the valence of emotional words after visual–spatial cues that appeared to be either approaching or withdrawing from participants. A three-way interaction was observed such that the response time was shorter if participants responded to a negative high-arousal stimulus after a withdrawing cue, or to a positive low-arousal stimulus after an approaching cue. These findings suggest that the approach–withdrawal tendency indeed plays a crucial role in valence–arousal conflict, and that the effect depends on the congruency of valence, arousal and tendency at an early stage of processing.

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