The time-honored tradition of displaying emotions to try to get a better deal might actually work, but inflating emotions can backfire, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Authors Eduardo B. Andrade and Teck-Hua Ho (University of California, Berkeley) set out to examine "emotion gaming," the act of either concealing a current emotional state or displaying one that diverges from one's true state, in an attempt to improve a social (or consumer) interaction. An example of "emotion gaming" would be exaggerating anger while negotiating with a car dealer.
The researchers developed several experiments to test "emotion gaming." In one experiment, participants, who were told their payment was contingent on the outcome of two tasks, played two games involving interactive decision-making. In one game, the Dictator Game, a "proposer" was endowed with a pot of money to be split with the "receiver." The proposers were led to make unfair offers, which the receivers had to accept. The Dictator Game's purpose was to manipulate anger.
After recording their anger levels from the Dictator Game, participants played another game (the Ultimatum Game) meant to simulate a retail situation where a proposer offered a division of money and a receiver had to accept or reject it. However, a rejected offer meant that both players earned nothing. "The UG can capture the very last phase of a complex negotiation involving multiple stages (for example, buying a new car) where one party gives the final take-it-or-leave-it offer before walking away from the negotiation table," the authors explain.
Half of the receivers were informed that their last anger report would be shown to proposers before proposers made offers. The results showed that receivers inflate their levels of anger when they know that proposers will see their anger display before deciding on an offer. And the receivers readily acknowledged their strategic displays of emotions, believing them to be persuasive signals.
"Receivers do get a better offer from proposers as long as proposers have reason to believe that their partners' feelings are genuine. When proposers learn that receivers might be inflating anger, the impact of emotion gaming on proposers' offers goes away," the authors conclude.
Eduardo B. Andrade and Teck-Hua Ho. "Gaming Emotions in Social Interactions." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2009 (published online April 10, 2009).