Putting your feelings into words, versus simply acting on how you feel, can change your course of action, say researchers at the University of Virginia–sometimes for the worse. In an experiment, college students were asked to select between two kinds of dorm room posters. One featured an Impressionist painting, the other displayed a comical, but trivial, situation such as a picture of a cat with a funny caption. Students not asked to justify their feelings toward the posters overwhelming chose the Impressionist painting. When asked to give specific reasons for their choice, more students chose the cat poster.
What’s the Big Idea?
When researchers followed up on the experiment, they found that many of the students who had chosen the cat poster, despite liking it in more explicit terms, had not put it on their wall and were generally dissatisfied with their choice. Researchers hypothesize that (1) a more complex set of emotions accompanies the appreciation of a masterful work of art and that (2) the more complex the emotion, the more difficult it is to put into words. As a result, we are given to taking courses of action that do not coincide with our feelings, particularly when we are asked to justify them.