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they couldn't tell the difference, because our emotions do not report their
true causes.
emotional misattRiBution
The men in Aron's study had no natural ability to track the true cause of
their emotions, so they attributed them to the most salient thing in view:
the attractive woman. This kind of emotional misattribution happens con-
stantly. We think we feel a certain way for one reason, when the reason is
completely different.
Some people use emotional misattribution to manipulate. For ex-
ample, watch closely the next time a political documentary wants to char-
acterize a politician as a bad guy. When his face appears on-screen, the
music shifts into an evil-sounding drone, and the image is stripped of
color, distorted, and slowed down. The director is hoping that the feel-
ings of apprehensiveness that come from the music and visual effects will
be misattributed to the politician, tricking people into being afraid of a
person when they're actually afraid of a scary noise.
Entertainment producers do the same thing. For example, there is
a trope in TV drama that I call the Leonard Cohen Gravitas Moment. It
comes at the start of the third act of the show, when things are bad and
it looks like all hope is lost. The dialogue stops, and a soulful or catchy
song—often something Leonard Cohen-like—swells as the camera slides
through a montage and a voiceover discusses the theme of the show.
Viewers feel refreshed and contemplative. But they misattribute these feel-
ings to the story when they actually come from the song.
Even though we don't know why we feel as we do, we effortlessly assign
logical causes to our emotions without realizing it. These assumed
causes are often wrong.
While one part of the mind is hard at work deciding what emotions
to generate, another is hard at work inventing reasons why we're feeling
those emotions. Sometimes those reasons are accurate, but often they are
not. Yet no matter how wrong they are, we believe them instantly and
In one of the many studies examining this behavior, researchers set
up a nylon display with four stockings in a department store and asked
shoppers which was the highest quality. Eighty percent of them said the
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