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Affect and Persuasion: The
Influence of Pleasantness
and Arousal on Attitude
Formation and Message
Haim Mano
University of Missouri , St. Louis
In contrast to past research that viewed affect as unidimensional,
this study examines the effects of affect’s two primary dimensions,
pleasantness and arousal, on ad-based persuasion outcomes
(attitude favorability) and processes (degree of elaboration,
thought positivity). After assessing their naturally-occurring levels
of pleasantness and arousal, subjects were exposed to a persuasive
communication and assigned to an involvement (low/high) by
message strength (low/high) design. GLM analyses revealed that
higher pleasantness accentuated the typical involvement X
message interaction on attitude favorability, and that higher
involvement enhanced message elaboration only when
accompanied by higher pleasantness. Path analyses further
suggested that (1) higher pleasantness enhanced message
elaboration under higher involvement but decreased it under
lower involvement, (2) under higher involvement, both
pleasantness and arousal positively impacted thought positivity,
and, (3) higher arousal decreased message elaboration only for the
weaker message. The importance and implications of a broader
than unidimensional view of affect in persuasion are discussed.
©1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Psychology & Marketing
© 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Vol. 14(4):315 – 335 (July 1997)
CCC 0742-6046/97/040315-21
One of the most engaging topics of persuasion research has been the
role of audience involvement in message elaboration and attitude formation. Higher involvement is likely to lead to more systematic message elaboration, that is, a central route to persuasion. Lower
involvement, on the other hand, is likely to decrease elaboration, leading attitudes to be formed on the basis of less critical message features
while employing simpler heuristics, that is, a peripheral route to persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).
A construct suggested as enabling or motivating systematic message processing is affect (Petty, Schumann, Richman, & Strathman,
1993). The present study is aimed at expanding the examination of affect’s role in attitude formation. In particular, past research viewed affect as a unidimensional construct varying from positive to negative.
In contrast, this study adopts the more comprehensive approach that
affect varies on two primary dimensions, pleasantness and arousal,
and examines whether this view can enhance our understanding of
how and why affect influences persuasion.
Another feature of the present study is the use of naturally occurring affect. Past research on the effects of affect on persuasion used artificial states induced by forceful manipulations (e.g., recalling a
happy/sad life event, winning a lottery, or receiving un/favorable feedback). Consistent with the present study’s theme, mood manipulations
are likely to evoke a strong influence not only on the pleasantness but
also on arousal (Clark, 1982). Furthermore, there are two problems
with such manipulations. First is the possibility of demand characteristics and threats to validity generated by induced moods (Hill &
Ward, 1989; Simon, 1982). Second, such feelings are relatively powerful and atypical of ad-exposure everyday conditions. An examination of
affect’s influence on persuasion should consider subtle everyday emotions, examine affect in more than the simple unidimensional view,
and avoid or control possible demand characteristics associated with
mood inductions.
Affect and Persuasion
A number of studies have demonstrated that ad-, program-, or experimentally-induced positive affect can favorably impact brand attitudes
(e.g., Batra & Stayman, 1990; Holbrook & Batra, 1987; Petty et al.,
1993). Explanations for the positive affect:attitude favorability effects hinge on the quality of mood-evoked processing. Positive affect
may be responsible for the generation of favorable thoughts aimed at
preserving these emotions and subjects may be motivated to guard
and maintain their good feelings (Isen, 1987). Two mechanisms suggested for this coloring of attitude are: (1) the transfer of positivity
from the context to the product, that is, classical conditioning, and (2)
congruency in accessibility, that is, positive affect increases accessibil-
ity of positive thoughts, which in turn lead to more favorable (brand)
judgments (Isen, 1987).
Other research, however, has indicated that positive emotions
may have different and, under certain conditions, even detrimental
effects on attitude change. According to the mood as information theory (Schwarz, 1990), positive mood impairs cognitive processing,
leading happier subjects to deliberate less on the message’s arguments and to simplify the processing task; and, because negative
moods signal a potentially problematic situation, people in a negative mood may try to eliminate it by adopting a more systematic processing mode and allocating more cognitive processing to the
message’s arguments (thus leading stronger arguments to be more
Not only is there debate on whether positive affect positively or negatively influences persuasion outcomes (i.e., attitude favorability),
there is also not much accord on how affect impacts the process itself,
that is, the degree of elaboration employed during exposure to a message. Two views stand in contrast regarding the amount of elaboration
preceding attitude change under positive mood. The first suggests that
positive moods decrease elaboration, and negative moods increase it
(e.g., Batra & Stayman, 1990; Bless, Bohner, Schwarz, & Strack, 1990;
Schwarz & Bless, 1991). Reasons offered for this effect include (a) subjects in a good mood want to maintain that mood and exerting cognitive effort may decrease it; and (b) subjects in a good mood cannot
exert cognitive effort because good mood impairs and disrupts one’s
cognitive capacity. The second view suggests that positive affect increases elaboration and facilitates systematic cognitive processing
(e.g., Isen, 1993; Mano, 1992; Petty et al., 1993). The reasoning offered
for this explanation is that subjects in positive affect perceive the cognitive task as an enjoyable activity, are more motivated to process the
information, and are capable and do engage in extensive message processing.
In short, despite advances in understanding affect’s impact on persuasion, there are disagreements both in theoretical explanations and
in empirical findings as to how and why positive and negative emotions influence attitudes and message elaboration. These discrepancies
suggest that some of the models’ premises about affect need to be expanded or reconsidered.
One reason that may have contributed to these inconsistencies is
that the affect – persuasion research may have neglected the relevance
of a broader view of affect. Given the sometimes conflicting effects of
persuasion-related variables on attitudes (e.g., the effects of involvement depending on argument quality), examining these variables’
main effects and interactions is a critical part of contemporary persuasion research (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). However, the focus on persuasion-related variables stands in contrast to the relatively minor
emphasis put on affect. By assuming and treating affect as unidimensional, past research neglected the multifaceted nature of emotions. A
broader approach may provide a more comprehensive picture of the interrelationships between affect and persuasion and can help resolve
some of the conflicts in the literature.
A Two-Dimensional Model of Affect
Extensive theoretical and empirical evidence suggests that affect is, at
least, two-dimensional. Two primary dimensions, pleasantness and
arousal, underlie the spectrum of emotional experiences (Russell,
1980) and, respectively, represent the experiences of hedonic tone and
activation (Bagozzi, 1991). In a conceptually similar model, Watson
and Tellegen (1985) suggest a 45 degree rotation of the two dimensions
with positive (PA) and negative affectivity (NA) as the underlying dimensions.
The stimuli used in the affect – persuasion research to induce positive affect do induce pleasantness. But they can also elevate arousal
(cf. Clark, 1982; Mano, 1991). Consider, for example, the induction
method of asking subjects to write a vivid report of a happy (or sad)
life event (e.g., Bless et al., 1990). It could be argued that happy events
(e.g., an accomplishment) are pleasant and arousing. On the other
hand, subjects asked to consider a sad event may recall a depressing
event (e.g., a failure), that is, an event associated with lower arousal. It
is possible, therefore, that happy and sad events differ not only on
their levels of pleasantness but also on arousal. To find out whether
such differences exist, we need to measure both dimensions. And, if
both dimensions are differentially affected by mood-inducing stimuli,
before attributing the effects to the positivity – negativity dimension,
we should consider whether the effects stem from pleasantness,
arousal, or their interaction.
Affect and Decision Making
The prevalent view of persuasion, the elaboration likelihood model
(ELM) (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986) suggests that involvement influences
the degree of elaboration exerted in message processing: when recipients are sufficiently motivated and capable of processing, they will systematically elaborate on issue-relevant arguments in the message; if,
however, they lack motivation or ability to process, they may rely on
simple positive /negative cues or may draw simple inferences without
elaborating on the message’s merits.
ELM’s focus on cognitive elaboration highlights the parallelism of
persuasion and decision making. After all, attitudes are judgments
(e.g., how much one likes a product) and lead to choice (e.g., whether
to purchase it). In the present study, message recipients are viewed
as decision makers for whom the intensity and quality of judgment
invested in a persuasion task are contingent on the task’s expected
benefits and/or the subject’s involvement, willingness, or ability to implement a more effective judgment rule (Bettman, 1986).
The links between affect, persuasion, and decision making will be
explored with the use of a recent model of how affect’s two dimensions
impact decision making (Mano, 1992, 1994; Lewinsohn & Mano, 1993).
According to this model, the two dimensions have distinct and systematic influences on decision making. Two mechanisms were offered to
explain these influences: (i) congruency between hedonic tone (pleasantness – unpleasantness) and selected decision strategy and (ii)
arousal-induced restriction in attentional capacity.
Hedonic Tone Congruency. Hedonic tone congruency suggests that
happier subjects tend to employ more elaborate strategies because they
may be more motivated and approach the decision task as an activity
they want to enjoy (Isen, 1987; Mano, 1992). Recent theory and evidence suggest that subjects experiencing positive affect increase cognitive deliberation and thoroughness (Isen, Johnson, Mertz, & Robinson,
1985; Mano, 1992), are more creative (Isen, Rosenzweig, & Young,
1991), and are more effective in their decision making (Kahn & Isen,
1993). These effects parallel a stream of research suggesting that dysphoria (pleasantness’s opposite) leads to opposite effects, including limited information processing, difficulty in effective problem solving,
inability to generate hypotheses, and reduced cognitive organization
(for a review, see Conway & Giannopoulos, 1993).
This view stands in contrast to the notion that positive mood disrupts message processing (Schwarz, 1990). Are the two views irreconcilable? A number of suggestions for reconciling the contrasts have
been advanced, including demand characteristics, lack of appropriate
control groups, task differences, alternative interpretations, or that
persuasion tasks may not be appropriate for examining affect’s influence on the capacity or motivation for systematic cognitive processing
(for a discussion see Isen, 1993). Nonetheless, there are two other
facets that have not been examined in the affect – persuasion links:
(a) the role of arousal and (b) the type of task under consideration.
Arousal-Induced Restriction in Cognitive Processing. Arousalinduced restriction in attentional capacity (Kahneman, 1973) suggests
that higher arousal leads to lesser attention to the task, narrows attention to the task’s most prominent features, and decreases cognitive
effort. As a result, more aroused subjects do not elaborate as extensive
(cf. Cox & Locander, 1986; Henthorne, LaTour, & Nataraajan, 1993;
LaTour, Pitts, & Snook-Luther, 1990; Lewinsohn & Mano, 1993) and
simplify their decisions by focusing on fewer and more salient attributes (Mano, 1992, 1994). Higher arousal’s negative impact on attention
and elaboration is also manifested in reduced ad recall (Pavelchak,
Antil, & Munch, 1988). Sanbomatsu and Kardes (1988) examined
arousal’s impact on persuasion and found that higher arousal reduces
the processing capacity available for elaborating on a persuasive message; as a result, under higher arousal, peripheral cues that require
little cognitive capacity were more likely to have a strong impact on
attitude favorability. To date, however, no study has examined the joint
role of pleasantness and arousal on persuasion.
Type of Task: The Joint Role of Affect and Involvement on Elaboration. The nature of the task could also possibly moderate the
amount of elaboration. Isen (1993) suggested that positive affectivity
will lead to greater cognitive elaboration only for important, interesting, or relevant tasks. If the task is not involving, happier subjects
may not elaborate as much or may even decrease elaboration because
they may be reluctant to engage in an unimportant activity that could
decrease their positive affect. The idea that a happy subject is likely to
work more carefully in a persuasion task only if she or he has a good
reason for doing so implies that positive affect per se is insufficient for
generating more deliberative and systematic message processing.
According to the ELM, higher involvement evokes greater elaboration,
which leads subjects facing a stronger message to higher brand favorability than those with a weaker message. And, because subjects under
low involvement do not engage in extensive elaboration, they are not
strongly influenced by message strength. These effects lead to a fanlike interaction of involvement and message: for high involvement,
stronger messages lead to more favorable attitudes than weaker messages; for low involvement, there is little differentiation between
stronger and weaker messages. These effects, viewed in conjunction
with the expected effects of pleasantness and arousal, suggest three
Pleasantness. According to the notion of hedonic tone congruency,
more pleased subjects are more motivated to systematically process
the advertising message. Thus,
H1A: Higher pleasantness will increase message elaboration.
On the other hand, if task importance moderates the degree of elaboration directed to the message whereby higher elaboration is more
likely for involving tasks (Isen, 1993), a competing (or complementary)
hypothesis to H1A is
H1B: Higher pleasantness will be positively correlated with message elaboration only (or mostly) under conditions of higher
As noted, it is not clear what the relationships between pleasantness
and elaboration will be under conditions of lower involvement. If H1A
holds, a positive relationship between pleasantness and elaboration
should emerge. However, if pleasantness does not influence elaboration,
no relationship will emerge, and, if happier subjects decrease elaboration
under lower involvement, then a negative relationship may emerge. Because higher pleasantness is expected to enhance elaboration under
higher involvement, under these two possibilities for lower involvement
(no, or negative relationship), an interaction between pleasantness and
involvement on cognitive elaboration would indicate support for H1B.
The next hypothesis relates to pleasantness’ influence on attitude
favorability. Because both higher involvement and higher pleasantness should lead to greater elaboration, higher involvement combined
with higher pleasantness should intensify attitude differences for the
stronger versus the weaker argument. On the other hand, because under lower involvement greater elaboration may not be as intense,
pleasantness may not induce greater message acceptance. Thus,
higher pleasantness will differentially impact involvement and argument strength effects and thus accentuate the typical ELM involvement 3 argument strength interaction.
H2: Pleasantness will accentuate the involvement and argument
strength effects leading to a three-way interaction of pleasantness 3 involvement 3 message strength on attitude favorability.
Arousal. The arousal-triggered attentional restriction and the fact
that arousal, per se, does not color attitude quality, imply that arousal
should not have a direct impact on attitude favorability. However, because more aroused subjects are expected to have lesser attentional
capacity available to process a message, we have the following:
H3: Higher arousal will be negatively correlated with message elaboration.
Naturally Occurring Affect
A number of reasons led to the use of subtle naturally occurring affect.
First, naturally occurring emotions do not carry motivational aspects
that might be associated with induced moods and, thus, may overcome
threats to construct validity generated by inductions (Hill & Ward,
1989; Simon, 1982). Second, because it does not stem from the context
in which the ad is embedded, naturally occurring affect allows one to
properly interpret the source of any effects as stemming from the respondent’s subjective experience and not from task-evoked demand
characteristics or other confounds. Third, many affect inductions (e.g.,
winning lotteries, success feedback, watching intense films) are powerful and quite atypical of everyday ad exposure, thus potentially limiting generalizability.
Classifications to experimental/control groups may not reveal the
full extent of affect’s influence on behavior. Emotions vary in their intensity. In the present study, in order to allow for a more refined inquiry of the links between affect and persuasion, affect intensities will
be assessed on continuous scales and their impact will be examined
with the use of correlation/regression methods. Note, however, that due
to their subtlety, naturally occurring emotions are also likely to have a
weaker impact than mood induction techniques. Thus, any effects with
naturally occurring emotions, would be obtained despite their lower
affect-intensity levels. Nonetheless, past research has supported the
proposed affect – decision making model for an array of naturally occurring and manipulated emotions, including subtle everyday affect
(Mano, 1994), distress due to imminent in-class presentations (Mano,
1992), and powerful experimentally induced emotions (Lewinsohn &
Mano, 1993).
Subjects and Procedure
There were 249 graduates and undergraduates in St. Louis participating in the study. Prior to scheduled lectures, a booklet containing the
material was distributed. Subjects responded anonymously and at
their own pace. Before exposure to any experimental material, subjects
reported the naturally occurring emotions they felt at that time (assessing affect prior to exposure to other material eliminates possible
confounding, because it precludes the possibility of emotions being influenced by subjects’ interest/liking for the subsequent task). Next,
subjects were exposed to the study’s focal persuasion message, a print
ad. Then they proceeded to answer the dependent variables.
The design was pleasantness 3 arousal 3 involvement (low – high) 3
message quality (weak – strong). Pleasantness and arousal were measured on continuous scales and served as regressors. By receiving one
of the questionnaire’s four versions, subjects were randomly assigned
to one of 2 (involvement) 3 2 (message quality) cells. The betweensubjects factors and regressors were joined to define interaction terms.
Independent Variables
Pleasantness and Arousal. Prior to the task, subjects indicated on
5-point items the degree that a series of emotion-describing adjectives
(based on Mano, 1991) were felt “at the present time.” The items “In
good mood,” “happy,” “satisfied,” “pleased,” “in bad-mood,” “sad,” “unhappy,” and “blue” (the last four reversed) were averaged to form the
pleasantness scale (alpha 5 0.89); “aroused,” “active,” “surprised,” “astonished,” and “elated” formed the arousal scale (alpha 5 0.73).
Involvement. Involvement was manipulated through personal relevance. Subjects learned that the rest of the study consisted of a consumer survey and that, next, they would be shown a print ad for a new
soft drink. Subjects in the high-involvement condition were asked for
their evaluation of this drink, which was being considered for introduction during the next few months in a few midwestern markets, including St. Louis. They were also told that they were part of a small and
select group of people whose opinions were being solicited by the manufacturer and that their opinions would be weighted heavily. Furthermore, they were informed that, on a later day, some of the students in
the class might be contacted by the manufacturer in order to participate
in a demonstration and taste test of the drink. Subjects in low involvement were informed that the ad was for a soft drink considered for introduction during the next summer in a few Canadian (i.e., distant)
markets, that they were among a large number of respondents solicited
at many universities, and that their opinions would remain anonymous.
They were also told that the survey was conducted at many universities
around the country attempting to understand how people evaluate print
ads and were asked to evaluate an ad for the new soft drink.
Argument Strength. The next page contained the message stimulus,
a black-and-white version of an ad adopted from Miniard, Bhatla,
Lord, Dickson, and Unnava (1991, p 101). The ad’s top shows a picture
of orange slices and the message “Introducing the next generation of
soft drinks for today’s generation,” a picture of the can, and the logo
“NEW SUNBURST.” The lower part contained seven short paragraphs
addressing brand features. Two versions of the first six paragraphs
manipulated argument strength (e.g., Strong: “Sunburst contains 41%
real fruit juices. The next highest brand, Slice, has only 10% real fruit
juice”; Weak: “Sunburst contains 5% real fruit juice”). (For more details, see Miniard et al., 1991.)
Dependent Variables
Attitude Favorability. Attitudes toward the drink were assessed
with eight 5-point bipolar items (good, superior, favorable, likable,
pleasant, satisfactory, desirable, valuable; alpha 5 0.96).
Message Elaboration. The amount of elaboration and attention applied while reading the ad was assessed with three 5-point bipolar
items (concentrating hard on the claims, paying attention to the ad,
and concerned with understanding the message; alpha 5 0.81).
Message Strength (Manipulation Check). Perceived message
strength was assessed on five 5-point bipolar items (informative, believable, interesting, persuasive, strong; alpha 5 0.88).
Cognitive Responses. To examine the elaboration processes underlying affect’s influence in greater depth, cognitive responses were
elicited immediately following exposure to the ad from 132 of the subjects. A central reason for examining cognitive responses for about half
of the sample is that, because of its subtlety and transient nature, the
influence of low-intensity affect may not persist after the elicitation of
cognitive responses. It is therefore important to examine whether
there are differences in attitude favorability between subjects required
to provide cognitive responses and those who were not.
Cognitive response subjects were asked to list “all thoughts, ideas,
and images that came to mind” while exposed to the ad, were provided
with 10 boxes, and told to list one thought per box. Subjects were also
asked to indicate whether they considered that particular thought to
be favorable by marking at the bottom right of each box a (1), negative
(2), or neutral (0). Subjects were not required to use all boxes and no
time limit was imposed. Proportion of positive thoughts (number of
positive thoughts divided by the sum of positive and negative
thoughts; Petty et al., 1993) was used as the main quality of thoughts
Manipulation Checks
Subjects assigned to the stronger argument rated that message as
stronger, M 5 3.44, than subjects in the weaker condition, M 5 2.96,
t(240) 5 4.64, p , .001. Subjects exposed to the higher-involvement condition scored higher on the message elaboration scale (M 5 3.79) than
subjects in the lower involvement condition (M 5 3.53), t(240) 5 2.16,
p , .03.
Differences Between Cognitive Response (Yes/No) Groups
Separate analyses for subjects who did and did not provide cognitive
responses revealed essentially similar effects, correlations, and reliabilities to those of the combined pool. Five-way GLM models involving
the four independent variables and cognitive responses (CR yes/no)
did not reveal any major differences between the two groups. Also,
none of the tests of between-CR-groups differences in variance of the
dependent variables was significant. These results indicate that the
two groups could be combined. To reduce errors in statistical inference
and enhance parameter stability, subsequent analyses employed the
four primary independent variables (five-way analyses including CR
revealed similar significant effects to those reported here.)
Brand Attitudes
Unless otherwise noted, subsequent results are based on GLM analyses (df 5 1, 230) of the pleasantness (regressor) 3 arousal (regressor) 5
involvement (low – high) 3 message quality (weak – strong) design.
The stronger message led to more favorable attitudes (M 5 3.15
vs. 3.59, F 5 25, p , .0001). Involvement was also significant: more
involved subjects expressed higher product evaluations (M 5 3.47)
than low-involvement subjects (M 5 3.26), F 5 6.62, p , .02. The involvement 3 argument strength interaction approached significance
(F 5 3.33, p , .07): as typical of the ELM, higher involvement accentuated attitude differences between the two message groups.
More importantly, however, pleasantness and arousal also influenced attitudes. First, as hypothesized (H2), pleasantness accentuated
the involvement 3 message term: The three-way interaction of pleasantness 3 involvement 3 message strength was significant, F 5 4.68,
p , .04. To visually demonstrate this interaction, the sample was divided, with the use of median splits of the continuous pleasantness
scale, into two groups of low and high pleasantness (Figure 1). As seen
the typical ELM two-way interaction of involvement and argument
strength was accentuated by pleasantness.
To examine this effect more closely, the three-way interaction was
decomposed for the effects of involvement and message and their interactions for sadder (subjects below median pleasantness) and happier subjects. As hypothesized, for sadder subjects only message
strength influenced attitudes, and the typical ELM interaction of involvement 3 message strength was not significant (F 5 0.04), i.e., sadder subjects were not differentially affected by involvement levels.
For happier subjects, however, both main effects for message
(F(1,135) 5 12.3, p , .001) and involvement (F 5 4.78, p , .04) were
significant. Moreover, as hypothesized, due to the differential effect of
the message depending on subject involvement, the fanlike involvement 3 message interaction was also significant (F 5 5.2, p , .03):
when happier subjects were under higher involvement, the difference
between the strong and weak messages was considerably more pronounced than the difference for lower involvement.
Figure 1 Attitude favorability as a function of involvement, message strength, and
Arousal 3 involvement was also highly significant (F 5 9.5, p , .005):
for lower involvement, higher arousal led to slightly lower evaluations
(r 5 0.11, p , .2) but for higher involvement, higher arousal led to
higher evaluations (r 5 0.20, p , .03; between-r difference z 5 2.4,
p , .01). This unexpected interaction was further qualified by the significant pleasantness 3 arousal 3 involvement interaction (F 5 6.97,
p , .01): for subjects experiencing lower arousal, there were no differences in attitude favorability; yet, for subjects experiencing higher
arousal, lower involvement led to lower evaluations and higher involvement led to higher evaluations.
To clarify these effects, the population was divided, with the use of a
close-to-median split on the arousal scale, into low- and high-arousal
groups. For less-aroused subjects, there were no differences between
low and high involvement (Ms 5 3.33 vs. 3.36); for the high-arousal
group, however, the differences were quite pronounced (Mlow inv. 53.20
vs. Mhigh inv. 53.61, p , .001). This result is important because neither
arousal nor involvement have any positive valence (hedonic) constituents that could color one’s attitudes (as do pleasantness, message
strength, or positive peripheral cues). Therefore, their interaction
should not have impacted attitude favorability.
Why did the combination of arousal and involvement influence attitude favorability? First, note that for subjects experiencing lower
arousal — and who had more cognitive capacity to process the message — involvement did not color attitude favorability. Given the absence of positive or negative cues, this was a suitable reaction that
could be attributed to subjects’ ability to elaborate on the message. As
suggested by the ELM, when more cognitive resources are available,
attitudes develop in a thoughtful fashion based on the message’s merits and are not colored by irrelevant factors.
However, when more aroused subjects — who could not as effectively
process the message — were under higher involvement, they liked the
product more than those under lower involvement. There are at least
two possible explanations for this effect. One is that the specific
processes underlying affect’s (and arousal’s) role may not be fully captured by the outcome-oriented analysis of attitude favorability. This
possibility is examined and will receive support later in path analyses.
Another explanation is that an arousal-induced restriction in cognitive capacity in conjunction with higher involvement may have led
subjects to interpret involvement as liking, thus tilting views according to the task’s assigned importance. This parallels results of the misattribution of arousal (Schachter & Singer, 1962), whereby subjects
experiencing heightened arousal relabel their arousal in terms of
salient stimuli available in the immediate environment.
If, as suggested by the present framework, lower pleasantness inhibits message elaboration, then lower pleasantness ought to accentuate the misinterpretation of involvement induced by higher arousal.
Indeed, this is what the significant (F 5 6.97, p , .01) three-way interaction of pleasantness 3 arousal 3 involvement indicated. To help clarify
the accentuation of attitudes under higher arousal and lower pleasantness, the sample was divided with the use of close-to-median splits of
the pleasantness and arousal scales, into lower and higher pleasantness
and arousal groups. As noted earlier, the averages on the attitude scale
for aroused subjects were: Mlow inv. 5 3.20, Mhigh inv. 5 3.61. Accentuation
would suggest that lower pleasantness would decrease aroused subjects’
attitudes under lower involvement but would increase them under
higher involvement. The results provided some support for this contention. First, the difference between the low pleasantness groups
(Mlow inv. 5 2.83 and Mhigh inv. 5 3.76) was highly significant (, 0.0001),
supporting a strong accentuation effect. Moreover, lower pleasantness
decreased attitude favorability for lower involvement (Mlow pleas. 5 2.83
and Mhigh pleasan. 5 3.38, t 5 2.4, p , .02, one tailed) but slightly increased
it for the higher condition (Mlow pleas. 5 3.76 and Mhigh pleas. 5 3.52,
t 5 1.32, p , .09, one tailed).
Message Elaboration
As noted in the manipulation check, involved subjects elaborated
more, Mlow inv. 5 3.53 vs. Mhigh inv. 5 3.79, F 5 6.53. p , .02. In terms of
affect, two alternative — and, to some degree, competing — hypotheses
were suggested for pleasantness’ influence on elaboration: either that
higher pleasantness would always increase elaboration (H1A) or that
it would increase it only under conditions of higher involvement
The results supported H1B. There was no main effect for pleasantness, but the pleasantness 3 involvement term was significant
(F 5 9.39, p , .001): more pleased subjects under high involvement deliberated more than pleased subjects under low involvement.
Inspection of the pleasantness – elaboration correlations for each involvement level revealed the moderating nature of this interaction: for
lower involvement, there was a modest negative relationship (r(pleasantness, elaboration) 52 0.15, N 5 121, p , .09), yet for higher involvement, there was a strong positive relationship (r 5 0.28, N 5 120,
p , .003); between-r difference z 5 3.4, p , .001. This significant interaction suggests that higher elaboration resulting from higher involvement is accentuated only when accompanied by higher levels of
pleasantness (Isen, 1993). And, the low negative correlation between
pleasantness and elaboration for the low-involvement condition indicates that pleasantness may slightly decrease elaboration under lower
Cognitive Responses
Total number of thoughts (M 5 4.29) was not significantly affected by
experimental manipulations, affect variables, or their interactions.
Number of thoughts was positively related with message elaboration
(r 5 0.35, p , .0001), suggesting convergence of these measures.
GLM analysis of the proportion of positive thoughts (by involvement,
message strength, pleasantness, arousal, and their interactions)
yielded a significant message effect, with the stronger message leading
to more positive thoughts (prop. 5 0.60) than the weaker (prop. 5 0.38);
F 5 14, p , .0005. There was also a marginal involvement effect (pro-
portion for low involvement 5 0.45 and proportion for high involvement
5 0.54, p 5 .06), and pleasantness also affected thought positivity
(F(1,104) 5 6.8, p , .01, simple r 5 0.21, p , .03).
Path Analyses
To further examine the influence of pleasantness and arousal on
thought positivity, message elaboration, and attitude favorability under low and high involvement, simultaneous equations for estimating
the paths depicted in Figure 2 were conducted for each involvement
Figure 2 Direct and indirect effects (standardized coefficients) of pleasantness and
arousal on elaboration, thought positivity, and attitude favorability for low- (upper
panel) and high-*p , .05; **p , .01; ***p , .001; two tailed.
group. These analyses are aimed to replicate and extend the work of
Petty et al. (1993), who examined a narrower framework that included
positive mood, proportion of positive thoughts, and attitude favorability. The present analysis adds the effects of two variables: elaboration
and arousal.
Under both involvement conditions, elaboration and proportion of
positive thoughts had a positive impact on attitude favorability. Under
lower involvement, pleasantness very mildly affected attitude favorability (p 5 0.15, one-tailed), did not influence thought positivity, and
had a considerable negative influence on cognitive elaboration. Under
higher involvement, however, pleasantness had a positive impact on
elaboration and thought positivity; and arousal had a direct positive
effect on the thought positivity index.
Overall, these results replicate Petty et al. (1993). As in their study,
a different picture emerged for low and high involvement, suggesting
different processes for the effects of positive affect on persuasion:
when involvement was high, there was no direct effect of pleasantness
on attitudes; when involvement was low, there was a moderate direct
impact of affect positivity on attitude favorability.
More importantly, however, the results suggest two additional elements in the affect – persuasion interdependencies. First, in accordance with a broader affect perspective, under higher involvement,
arousal impacted thought positivity, with higher arousal leading to
more positive thoughts. As the reader may recall, the GLM analysis
showed that (due to a strong positive correlation between arousal and
attitudes for high involvement and a moderate negative correlation for
lower involvement) there was an interaction between arousal and involvement on attitude favorability. This GLM finding may have been
difficult to interpret because arousal is void of any positive valence
cues that could explain its positive impact on attitude favorability. The
path analyses clarify this effect and show that, for both involvement
conditions, arousal did not have a direct impact on attitude favorability. Rather, under higher involvement only, arousal had a direct impact
on thought positivity and, thus, only an indirect impact on attitudes
via the thought positivity index.
Second, further supporting H1B, higher pleasantness enhanced elaboration under conditions of higher involvement, but decreased it for lower
involvement (Isen, 1993). This finding shows the different roles of affect
under different levels of task involvement. Petty et al. (1993) suggested
that, indicative of a peripheral route to persuasion under lower involvement, affect positivity (i.e., pleasantness) does not influence thought
positivity. The present results shed more light into this process by suggesting that in the peripheral route taken under lower involvement,
higher pleasantness is accompanied by a decrease in cognitive elaboration; and, for a more relevant and involving task (central route), higher
pleasantness is accompanied by higher degrees of elaboration. Finally,
as also suggested earlier by the arousal 3 message term in the GLM,
arousal was negatively related to elaboration for the weaker message
but positively related for the stronger message.
To assess the extent to which arousal may have been responsible for
differences in elaboration, an additional set of simultaneous equations
was conducted for each message group to estimate the paths connecting pleasantness and arousal to elaboration and attitude favorability
as well as the path connecting elaboration to attitude favorability. As
with the analyses of the involvement groups, for both messages, elaboration had a strong impact on attitude favorability (both p’s , .001).
For the weaker message, pleasantness positively impacted attitude favorability (beta 5 0.18, p , .01) but for the stronger message it did not
(beta 5 0.05, n.s.). In terms of arousal’s impact on elaboration, for the
weaker message, there was a negative impact, with higher arousal
leading to lower elaboration (beta 5 0.18, p , .01), whereas for the
stronger message, arousal did not have an impact on elaboration
(beta 5 0.08, n.s.).
Taken together, the findings of this study help clarify the relationships
underlying pleasantness and arousal’s roles in persuasion outcomes (i.e.,
attitude favorability) and processes (i.e., elaboration). Pleasantness influenced the involvement and message interaction on attitude favorability.
Higher pleasantness accentuated attitude favorability for the stronger
message only under higher involvement. This suggests that pleasantness
may be a moderating factor in shaping attitude favorability.
The findings also point to the conditions under which pleasantness
will enhance or decrease systematic message elaboration. Under
higher involvement, higher pleasantness led to more systematic processing, whereas under lower involvement, higher pleasantness led to
a decline of systematic message elaboration.
These results do not support the notion that positive affect generally decreases systematic processing suggested by the mood-asinformation theory (Schwarz, 1990), nor the notion that positive affect
generally enhances elaboration (Mano, 1991; Petty et al., 1993).
Rather, they indicate that task involvement may be a moderating factor in determining when positive affect will decrease processing. Cognitive elaboration is more likely to be activated when both motivating
variables, involvement and pleasantness, occur in conjunction.
It should be noted, however, that pleasantness’s disruptive effects
are triggered by the lack of motivation for the task and are not caused
by pleasantness per se. This motivational explanation is qualitatively
different from one that postulates general interference with motivation to process systematically (see Isen, 1993, for a discussion).
Moreover, it suggests that the findings that positive affect enhances
elaboration (e.g., Isen et al., 1991; Lewinsohn & Mano, 1993; Mano,
1991) or that dysphoria reduces it (Conway & Giannopoulos, 1993)
may be driven by motivating and interesting tasks used in those studies.
In terms of arousal, it was hypothesized that it would be inversely
related to elaboration. The results only partially supported higher
arousal’s disabling properties. Message quality made the difference on
how arousal influences elaboration. For subjects facing the weaker
message, higher arousal led to lower elaboration; but, for stronger arguments, elaboration was not affected by arousal.
Implications and Limitations
The present results have a number of implications for research and
practice. First, adopting the two-dimensional view may help explain a
number of important effects that might have been confounded by the
unidimensional view. The fact that most past research did not consider
a more detailed description of affect may have hindered a better understanding of affect’s influence on persuasion. As indicated by the results,
both dimensions can be powerful determinants of attitude favorability,
message elaboration, and ad effectiveness. Emotional experiences need
to be described by more than one simple pleasantness – good mood dimensions. As also suggested by Henthorne et al. (1993) for fear appeals,
“specific attention should be devoted to more fully understand the impact of arousal.” Extending their view, the present study indicates that
arousal can play a role not only when it stems from relatively powerful
fear-evoking ads, but also in subtle everyday feelings not evoked by the
ad or other manipulations.
Another implication is the need to understand the inadvertent emotional impact of experimental stimuli. For example, some research on
involvement, in order to manipulate personal relevance to process a
message, offers a free gift. High-involvement subjects are told that after the experiment they will receive a free sample of the relevant product, whereas the lower-involvement subjects are told that they will
receive some other free gift. However, offering a free gift enhances positive feelings; indeed, this is one of the most widely used inductions of
good mood. Thus, even though the gift may increase involvement in
the high-involvement condition, it may please subjects in both conditions. As seen here, higher pleasantness could accentuate the involvement 3 message strength interaction. It is possible, therefore, that the
involvement 3 message strength effects reported in the literature may
be amplified (or confounded) by the pleasant emotion induced by the
free gift.
Until now, research did not examine the role of subtle feelings on
persuasion. As seen here, despite their relative weak emotional inten332
sity, fragile everyday naturally occurring affect may exert considerable
influence on both attitude favorability and message processing. Considering that low-intensity emotions are more representative of actual
ad exposure than those evoked by powerful manipulations, these results suggest to advertisers the importance of the impact on ad processing of even slight affect changes due to controllable sources (e.g., a
story in a magazine or a TV show) that occur immediately before ad
However, despite some of its advantages over induced moods, one
limitation of naturally occurring affect is that it may confound other
emotional or motivational tendencies. For example, an optimistic outlook is likely to be associated with a tendency to experience positive
hedonic tone and, at the same time, lead to harder and longer
work –– a perseverance that may allow optimists to do better
(cf. Seligman, 1975). In order to assure that emotional states do actually influence the decision process, there is also need to manipulate
them and demonstrate similar effects to those found under unmanipulated affect (nonetheless, see Lewinsohn & Mano, 1993, who reported
similar results on decision making for both subtle naturally occurring
emotions and powerful moods induced by the Velten technique).
The student sample and the use of a single product may have constrained the generalizability of the present results. However, the fact
that soft drinks are relevant and heavily consumed by this sample
may have reduced the artificiality and constraints to generalizability.
Additional research is need to further establish the generalizability of
these findings across products, media, and different and more representative populations.
Finally, given affect’s multifaceted nature, the relationships between
affect and persuasion may be more detailed and complex than those
suggested here. The choice to start with the two-dimensional model
stems from its appealing parsimony and its impressive theoretical and
empirical support. Still, questions regarding the affect – persuasion interdependence remain unanswered and should become the focus of future research. Given the importance and prevalence of emotions in
everyday persuasion and advertising, the links between affect and persuasion merit further exploration.
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The author thanks the reviewers and the special issue editor for their valuable comments.
Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to: Haim Mano, School
of Business Administration, University of Missouri, St. Louis, 8001 Natural
Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO 63121.