Misattribution of Arousal

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Definition

Misatribution of Arousal- The tendency to mislabel our feelings of fear arousal as feelings of romantic arousal.

Inorder to attribute our arousal to a feeling, we must first go through a two step process.

  1. A physiological Arousal
    • Feel warm
    • Heart rate increases
    • Palms sweat
  2. Label the Arousal
    • Large bear = fear
    • Hot member of the opposite sex = love
    • Final exam = anxiety

In other words, the misattribution of arousal paradigm occurs when arousal arises for one reason but receives another cognitive label, thereby producing a different reaction.
For example, if a person thought they were drinking decaffeinated tea when in reality they were drinking tea with caffeine, they might search for some label to give their unexplained aroused state. Later, if something frustrating happened, the person might get angrier because of their extra,unexplained arousal (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).

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Popular Studies

Shaky Bridge Experiment

Dutton and Aron (1974) conducted one of the most famous experiments using the misattribution of arousal paradigm. In this experiment, Dutton and Aron had an attractive female experimenter stand at the end of either a scary bridge (which presumably increased participantsí arousal) or a safer bridge. After male participants walked across either bridge, the female experimenter asked them to fill out a survey and gave them her phone number to call if they had any further questions. The dependent variable was to see which group of men was more likely to call the woman. The men who walked across the scary (and arousing) bridge were more likely to call the woman, most likely because they misattributed their arousal from the bridge for arousal (and attraction) for the woman (Dutton & Aron, 1974).Shaky Bridge

Roller Coaster

This study examined the effects of residual nervous system arousal on perceptions of sexual attraction. Researchers approached individuals (males, n = 165; females, n = 135) at amusement parks as they were either waiting to begin or as they had just gotten off a roller-coaster ride. Participants were shown a photograph of an average attractive, opposite-gendered individual and asked to rate the individual on attractiveness and dating desirability. Participants were also asked to rate their seatmates' levels of attractiveness. Consistent with the predictions of excitation transfer theory, for males and females riding with a nonromantic partner, ratings of attractiveness and dating desirability toward the photographed individual were higher among persons exiting than entering the ride. Among persons riding with a romantic partner, there were no significant differences in attractiveness or dating desirability ratings between persons entering and exiting the ride (Meston & Frohlich, 2003).Love at First Fright