The Effects of Subjective Affective States on Memory and Judgment

Thomas K. Srull, University of Illinois
ABSTRACT - The distinction between retrieval and computational processes is used to construct a model of how subjective affective states influence product evaluations. An experiment testing the model is reported, and implications of the results for other areas of consumer research are discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Thomas K. Srull (1984) ,"The Effects of Subjective Affective States on Memory and Judgment", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 530-533.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 530-533


Thomas K. Srull, University of Illinois


The distinction between retrieval and computational processes is used to construct a model of how subjective affective states influence product evaluations. An experiment testing the model is reported, and implications of the results for other areas of consumer research are discussed.


The present paper is an extension of the author's earlier work devoted to understanding the relationship between memory and consumer judgment. A brief review of the relevant psychological literature will be presented, a reasonably precise and parsimonious theory of the relationship between memory and consumer judgment will be offered, and a specific examination of how subjective affective states can influence both memory and judgment will be reported.

Before one can hope to understand how mood and other affective states influence memory and judgment, the interdependent relationship between them must itself be understood. Unfortunately, this has proven to be one of the most difficult problems in all of social and cognitive psychology. Up until very recently, there simply was no single theory of how memory and judgment should be related to one another that was consistent with the (limited amount of) data that exist in the literature. It will be argued in the [resent paper that: (a) our understanding of the relationship between memory and judgment has increased dramatically over the past several years, (b) at least one coherent model of the process has been constructed, and (c) this model car. also be used to interpret some of the effects that affect has on product evaluation.

From a historical perspective, the relationship between memory and judgment was first investigated in the area of attitudes and attitude change. Somewhat by coincidence, this area has become directly relevant to those interested in consumer choice and decision making. For example, one of the most fundamental assumptions that was made was that the ultimate effect of a persuasive message, such as an advertisement, on both attitudes and behavior, will be a function of the information conveyed and the degree to which it is learned and remembered by the recipient. In fact, this assumption was made by most of the leading theorists in the field (e.g., Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953; McGuire, 1968; Miller & Campbell, 1959; Watts & McGuire, 1964).

Unfortunately, there is a long line of studies that have found only weak relationships between memory for information in a persuasive communication and attitude formation and attitude change (Greenwald, 1968; Insko, 1964; Miller & Campbell, 1959; Watts & McGuire, 1964). Lichtenstein and Srull (in press) have suggested that this is one of the factors that led to the "cognitive response" approach to the study of persuasion that is so dominant today (see e.g., Petty, Ostrom, & Brock, 1981).

Researchers interested in social judgment and consumer judgment have made similar assumptions. In both cases, the person is assumed to recall specific attributes or episodic events involving the target (product), and then determine the implications of these events for the judgment to be made. Theorists differ on how elaborate the intervening combinatorial process is hypothesized to be, but there is almost universal agreement that there should be a strong relationship between the evaluative implications of whatever events are recalled and the extremity of any evaluative judgment that is made. In fact, this assumption is implicitly made throughout the entire discussion of consumer choice and decision processes found in Bettman (1975). Similarly, although Lynch and Srull (1982) present an extended discussion of how standard decision rules must be modified when certain information is not recalled, they also imply that there should be a strong correspondence between what is recalled and the judgments that are made. In the domain of social judgment, this assumed correspondence between memory and judgment is so strong that Carlston (1980) has simply referred to it as the "traditional model."

Unfortunately, the universal agreement of the theorists was again met by contradictory data. For example, in what has become a classic impression formation study, Anderson and Hubert (1963) provided subjects with trait adjectives. Their essential finding was that there are strong primacy effects in impression formation (cf. Asch, 1946) but reasonably large recency effects in recall. They concluded from this that the impression judgments and memory for the trait adjectives are independently stored and accessed in memory. Dreben, Fiske, and Hastie (1979) recently reported a conceptually similar study in which they replicated these effects. These investigators also found separate independent variables that only affected recall or judgment. They also concluded from this that there is some independence between episodic memory and abstract evaluative impressions (see also Riskey, 1979).

Although there are many studies showing only a weak relationship between memory and judgment, several more recent studies have reported a relatively strong correspondence (Lichtenstein & Srull, in press; Reyes, Thompson, & Bower, 1980; Sherman, Zehner, Johnson, & Hirt, 1983). The issue has thus become one of constructing a theoretical model that specifies the conditions under which one should (and should not) expect a strong correspondence between memory and judgment.

Lichtenstein and Srull (in press) have suggested that one of the keys to understanding the recall-judgment problem, as well as to bringing a conceptual integration to the past literature, involves making a distinction between "retrieval" and "computational" processes. To illustrate, imagine one is asked "Is the Buick Regal a luxury automobile?" A retrieval model would suggest that, at least for most people, the answer to such a question has already been determined and stored in memory. Thus, one simply needs to "retrieve" it from memory in order to answer such a question.

In contrast, a computational model would suggest, at least for most of us, that the answer to such a question has not already been determined. Rather, in order to answer such a question, we need to retrieve whatever information we can about the Buick Regal, compare it to our referents for "luxury automobile," and then "compute" or figure out an answer on the spot. Of course, if we asked the same question again, we would not need to re-compute an answer but simply retrieve our previous judgment.

The Lichtenstein and Srull theory proposes that the subject's information processing objectives or "goals" are a critical mediating variable that determines the nature of the relationship between recall and judgment. The reason for this is that prior processing objectives often determine whether such judgments have been ore-stored or need to be computed on the spot.

In particular, the theory postulates that when a person acquires product-related information with the (implicit or explicit) objective of making an evaluation of that product, the global evaluation will be made at the time of information acquisition and stored in memory separately and independently from the specific information presented in the ad. If the person is later asked to make a specific judgment, the evaluation will have already been "computed" and will simply be accessed at that time. Thus, under these conditions, there is no reason to expect any strong relationship between the specific facts that are recalled at any given time and the global evaluation that is made. One can see that this is a very straightforward retrieval model in which the previous judgment and the specific episodic facts on which it is based are independently stored and accessed. It is a process that is consistent with conceptualizations outlined by Anderson and Hubert (1963) and Dreben et al. (19795.

There is at least one alternative process that might also occur. For example, when a person acquires product-related information with no specific objective in mind, or only a very general objective such as to comprehend the information being presented, a global evaluation of the product will not be made at the time of information acquisition. If later asked to make a specific evaluation of the product, the person will be forced to retrieve the previously acquired information, or some subset of it, and use it as a basis for his/her evaluation of the product. In other words, a judgment will have to be computed on the spot. Under these conditions, a strong relationship between the global evaluation and the evaluative implications of the information that is recalled would therefore be expected. After a recent review of the literature, however, Hastie, Park, and Weber (in press) concluded that these conditions are almost directly opposite to those that have been previously investigated. The few studies that have included conditions which, on the oasis of the theoretical analysis offered, are conducive to finding a strong correspondence between memory and judgment have indeed found one (Reyes et al., 1980; Sherman et al., 1983).

Lichtenstein and Srull (in press) reported several experiments based on the theoretical analysis described above. One was a more or less direct test of the model in which subjects received information and either formed impressions of the product "on-line" or received the information and did not form an integrated impression of the product until afterwards. These processing objectives were found not to have any effect on overall levels of recall or product evaluation, but they had a dramatic effect on the correspondence between the extremity of the evaluation that was made and the specific product attributes that were recalled. In fact, in each of twelve independent comparisons, the correlation between recall and judgment was higher in the impression-after than on-line condition. Lichtenstein and Srull also reported that this same effect was found regardless of whether subjects were tested after a short or long delay, and regardless of whether recall was assessed before or after the judgments were made.

Lichtenstein and Srull found in a second experiment that interpolated judgments have the same properties as interpolated retrieval attempts for impression-after but not on-line subjects. They interpreted this as direct evidence that making a product evaluation requires the retrieval of specific episodic facts, or product attributes, for impression-after subjects. However, on-line subjects, who theoretically have already made their evaluations, can simply access them independently of the episodic facts on which they are based. This experiment shows quite clearly the mediating role that processing - objectives can and the data appear to be uninterpretable in terms of any (reasonably simple) competing model of the judgment process.

The theoretical conception described above has been quite successful in accounting for past research, and it has been directly supported in several recent experiments. For both of these reasons, it is logical to expect that the model can also be used to conceptualize the role that subjective affective states might have on memory and judgment. In fact, extending the model into this domain is a very straightforward process. If the processing objectives of the subject are a determinant of exactly when a product evaluation occurs, they should also affect the influence of subjective affective states on the judgments that are made.

The model presented suggests that affective states at the time of encoding will influence the judgments of on-line subjects because the judgment is being formed at the same time the affective state is being experienced. On the other hand, affective states during encoding should not affect the evaluation of impression-after subjects if the evaluation is not "computed" until the time of judgment (assuming, of course, that subjects are in a relatively neutral affective state at that time).

In contrast to this, the correspondence between recall and judgment should be independent of any affective state, but it should be a direct function of the orienting task of the subject. The experiment reported represents a direct empirical test of these hypotheses.


The procedure was quite simple, and similar to that described in more detail by Srull (1983a) and Lichtenstein and Srull (in press). Very briefly, American and European magazines were initially searched for print ads that: (a) were as complex as possible in the sense that they contained a large amount of attribute information, and (b) pertained to products with which subjects were likely to have little prior familiarity. For example, one of the ads was five paragraphs long and described a computer-based instrument that could translate English prose into five separate languages with correct syntactic structure.

The ad was then modified to contain ten distinct attribute statements. The attributes ranged from fairly negative through neutral to fairly positive. The ad was then written in something resembling a Consumer Reports format. Overall normative evaluations of the product were generally neutral.

The design was a 3 x 2 x Z completely balanced factorial, with 30 undergraduate subjects assigned to each of the resulting 12 data cells. The first variable was related to whether subjects were in a positive, neutral, or negative mood during information acquisition and encoding. The mood induction procedure used was chosen to satisfy a number of criteria outlined by Srull (1983a). It involves a prolonged relaxation procedure in which the subject concentrates and slowly "re-lives" a previous life experience that corresponds to a particular mood. This procedure has proven to be quite effective and some of the effects it produces are inconsistent with the demand requirements of the situation (Srull, 1983a). Thus, there is converging evidence that an actual mood state is phenomenally being experienced. Most important, this procedure, unlike others such as hypnosis, allows for a truly random selection of subjects to be used.

The second variable concerned the processing objectives of the subjects. Subjects in the on-line condition were told to read the ad with the purpose of forming ar. evaluation of the product so that they would later be able to judge how desirable it would be relative to other competing brands. Subjects in the impression-after condition were told that the ad was written by an undergraduate advertising major. Their task was to read the ad in order to judge how grammatical, coherent, and interesting it was.

In each case, the ad was followed by an interpolated task in which subjects were asked to draw a map of the United States and label as many of the states as possible within ten minutes. Finally subjects in the recall-judgment condition were asked to recall the ad in as much detail as possible and then asked to make the judgment. Subjects in the judgment-recall condition were given the two tasks in the opposite order. In both cases, subjects were asked, "Assuming you wanted to purchase a product similar to the _____, how desirable do you think this particular brand would be?" The ratings were made on a scale ranging from 0 ("very undesirable") to 20 ("very desirable").


The mean levels of recall and judgment, and the within-cell correlations between recall and judgment, are presented in Table 1 for each condition. These correlations are based on the mean scale value of all attributes recalled for each subject.

There are several things that can be concluded from these data. First, the overall levels of recall do not seem to be affected by either the mood states at encoding or whether the recall protocols are collected before or after the judgments are made.

Second, and replicating earlier effects reported by Lichtenstein and Srull (in press), the correspondence between recall and judgment is a direct function of two factors. Most important is the orienting task or processing objectives of the subjects. In particular, the correlations between recall and judgment are substantially higher in the on-line condition. In the present study, this was true in each of six independent comparisons. This is a finding that is consistent with the work of Lichtenstein and Srull (in press), as well as that reported in other domains (Reyes et al., 1980; Sherman et al., 1983).



Table 1 also indicates that the correlation between recall and judgment was consistently higher in the recall-judgment than judgment-recall condition. Again, this was true in six out of six separate comparisons. Although many of these differences are quite small, their stability is noteworthy and such differences are doubtlessly important from both an applied and theoretical perspective.

It is also clear from Table 1 that affective states at the time of encoding have a direct effect on the product evaluations that are ultimately made, but only for those subjects who are forming an evaluation of the product online. It is noteworthy that the product evaluations deviate from their normative baselines for both the positive and negative moods and in both the judgment-recall and recall-judgment conditions. In contrast, affective states (at the time of encoding) do not appear to have any systematic influence on the judgments of impression-after subjects.

Once again, although the effects of encoding mood are only of moderate size, they appear to be quite stable and they replicate effects found under other comparable conditions (Srull, 1983a). These effects are also likely to be important from both an applied and theoretical perspective.


In short, the results of the present experiment provide additional support for the type of model proposed by Lichtenstein and Srull (in press). Although the model was originally constructed to account for the mediating effects of processing objectives on memory and judgment, the mechanisms postulated are obviously relevant to examining at least some of the effects that affective states have on both memory and judgment. Since conceptually distinguishing between retrieval and computational processes has proven to be extremely useful in other areas of consumer behavior (see e.g., Brucks & Mitchell, 1981; Mitchell & Smith, 1982; Smith, Mitchell, & Meyer, 1982), it is likely that one will see many more models of this type being used in consumer research. The major advantage of the Lichtenstein and Srull approach is that the model is stated at a level abstract enough to incorporate many different input and output variables. Similarly, it can be related to a number of different domains.

One of the most important facets of future work will be to relate this work specifically to other domains of inquiry that have been of interest to consumer researchers. For example, the type of processing objectives investigated are likely to be spontaneously elicited as a function of the psychological involvement in the overall situation. Another important determinant is likely to be the degree of prior knowledge on the part of the individual consumer. For example, Srull (1983) reported a study in which mood states had effects identical to those reported here for low familiarity subjects. However, there was virtually no effect for high familiarity subjects. This finding is easily incorporated by the present model if one is willing to assume that only low familiarity subjects will compute a new evaluation at the time of information acquisition. In contrast, when asked about a product with which they are already highly familiar, consumers will most often have already made an evaluation, and thus be more or less immune to the effects of temporary mood states. Thus, the degree of prior knowledge is also likely to be a critical mediating variable. These issues, and many more like them, will doubtlessly be the focus of much future research.


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