We develop a new theory of mixed affective states: a condition in which individuals report feeling multiple, contradictory emotions. Mixed affect is important because the brain often responds to traditional attempts to persuade people to adopt new or different political attitudes by activating both highly pleasant and highly unpleasant emotions simultaneously. It is this reality that defines what we call the “Fundamental Challenge of Persuasion.” In this article, we propose a method for identifying mixed affective states, and with the help of data from five very different studies, we show that such states are common reactions to political information. In addition, we highlight evidence that failing to attend to mixed affective states can cause researchers to miss important aspects of their treatment effects. Just as ambivalence is a central feature of political cognition, mixed affective states are key to understanding how ordinary people respond to the political messages they receive.
Paper co-authors: Christopher Karpowitz, Haley Denler, Amanda Gach, Savannah Henshaw, Preston Hughes, Marina Lukowski, Katy Smith