Research Article: Language and Emotion – A Foosball Study: The Influence of Affective State on Language Production in a Competitive Setting

Date Published: May 24, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Nadine Braun, Martijn Goudbeek, Emiel Krahmer, Zhiqiang Cai.


Our affective state is influenced by daily events and our interactions with other people, which, in turn, can affect the way we communicate. In two studies, we investigated the influence of experiencing success or failure in a foosball (table soccer) game on participants’ affective state and how this in turn influenced the way they report on the game itself. Winning or losing a match can further influence how they view their own team (compared to the opponent), which may also impact how they report on the match. In Study 1, we explored this by having participants play foosball matches in two dyads. They subsequently reported their affective state and team cohesiveness, and wrote two match reports, one from their own and one from their opponent’s perspective. Indeed, while the game generally improved participants’ moods, especially winning made them happier and more excited and losing made them more dejected, both in questionnaires and in the reports, which were analyzed with a word count tool. Study 2 experimentally investigated the effect of affective state on focus and distancing behavior. After the match, participants chose between preselected sentences (from Study 1) that differed in focus (mentioning the own vs. other team) or distancing (using we vs. the team name). Results show an effect for focus: winning participants preferred sentences that described their own performance positively while losing participants chose sentences that praised their opponent over negative sentences about themselves. No effect of distancing in pronoun use was found: winning and losing participants equally preferred the use of we vs. the use of their own team name. We discuss the implications of our findings with regard to models of language production, the self-serving bias, and the use of games to induce emotions in a natural way.

Partial Text

Success and failure—everyone has experienced situations that ended one way or the other in their lives and knows how these situations made them feel. They influence our affective and mental state and can have an impact on our behavior and on how we communicate with others. In this paper, we investigated how success and failure in a competitive game alter participants’ affective states and how this subsequently influences how they describe the events that took place. In two studies, we used foosball (table soccer) as an immersive, naturalistic affect induction method and combined this with a task (e.g. writing a report) that was directly linked to the induction.

The influence of our affective state on different aspects of language production has received some, but not much, scholarly attention. Some aspects of language production have already been shown to be influenced by a speaker’s/author’s affective state. By far the most thoroughly investigated is the relationship between affective state and changes in vocal expression. Among many others, Banse and Scherer [1], Owren and Bachorowski [2], and Goudbeek and Scherer [3] describe the acoustic cues that are associated with the speaker’s affective state and can be used to correctly identify those states.

In Study 2, we set out to experimentally examine whether we did not find a difference in focus and the use of the pronoun we due to the formulation of the writing task in Study 1. Participants might have stayed too close to the text and content structure of the instructions (e.g., writing about the own and the other team was encouraged), which lead to the lack of differences. Instead of directed text production, participants in this study were asked to indicate which of a limited set of sentences best described the game they played.

The goal of our studies was to create a paradigm with a natural setting in the lab for competitive play. In an earlier study, we investigated the role of positive and negative affect (in the form of winning and losing) on language in a multilingual text corpus of soccer reports that were harvested from the involved clubs’ websites [52]. We indeed showed relationships between game outcome and affective language use. However, it was difficult to attribute authorship in online match reports and it was equally difficult to gauge the affiliation of the author, who was perhaps a professional writer writing for a club’s website, but who was otherwise detached from the club [52]. To avoid these issues, we decided to recreate a comparable setup in the lab with foosball, similar to the children’s soccer study of Baker-Ward and Eaton [27]. We wanted to investigate whether it is possible to change the affective state of participants with competitive play and that these changes, just like the different perspectives that people assume, affect other cognitive processes, in our case language production. Since the competition took place in a group, we additionally expected phenomena such as basking in successes [19] and distancing from failures [38] to influence language production and group dynamics.




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