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Bumper Stickers Can Incite Emotions & Cognitive Interplay

Bumper Stickers Can Incite Emotions & Cognitive Interplay

A new research effort suggests bumper stickers engage social communication by stimulating drivers and passengers to interact.

The premise challenges traditional theory that views freeways and other superhighways as “non-places of negligible social interaction,” where drivers pass each other at high speeds, stop infrequently, and are otherwise largely insulated from one another.

“Bumper stickers open up the possibility to try to imagine who it is that would have such a message on their car,” said Walter Goettlich, a University of Kansas doctoral student in sociology.

“They can make you feel a certain way. Or you can see something and say, ‘Oh, that’s one of those people,’ and other times just be flummoxed.”

Goettlich presented his research at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in Montreal.

In the course of his research, he drove more than 10,000 miles on the interstate system in the eastern half of the United States gathering data, conducting interviews, and observing his own reactions to stickers he encountered.

“Certainly, not everyone who reads a given sticker will attempt to make sense of it, and many will not even take notice in the first place,” he said. “But for those who do, the practice of reading such inscriptions is not a trivial matter.”

Goettlich identifies a set of interpretive strategies drivers use to make sense of sticker messages while on the road. The tactics include labeling, affective, and puzzle modes of reading.

He suggests the messages are a form of cognitive shorthand that helps driver-reader stay safe within the limits of driving at high speed on superhighways.

When using the labeling mode, readers activate a pre-established association of values. For example, a respondent mentioned assuming a New York Yankees sticker indicated arrogance or that a Harley-Davidson sticker symbolized patriotism.

The affective mode is characterized by an emotional response in the driver-reader to a sticker, and by extension to the driver whose car bears that sticker, such as anger when encountering a message that does not match the observer’s view.

As compared with the other strategies, the puzzle mode is an open-ended attempt to interpret messages that do not activate value associations or strong emotions.

Using this mode, reader-drivers often rely upon external resources such as Internet searches or social media to make sense of otherwise obscure sticker texts. The use of these techniques, Goettlich argued, extends the social space of such encounters well beyond the superhighway itself.

Goettlich finds the puzzle mode is an effect of recent changes to sticker manufacturing, specifically the shift from mass-produced stickers to mass-customized ones.

Bumper sticker messages are increasingly specific, and in some cases unique. This specificity requires a new interpretive orientation. Mass-customized production, as available through sites such as CafePress or Zazzle, further allow drivers to create sticker messages in response to others they have seen on the road.

In these ways, the highway becomes a space for drivers and passengers to interact.

“It’s a form of social encounter,” Goettlich said.

“I think it’s important to pay attention to this, especially as many political pundits and social critics lament declining public involvement. In these kinds of spaces, especially highways, malls, and airports, how do we maintain social connections?¬†And what are the limitations of these connections, particularly if we already have somebody pegged or labeled as something?”

Source: University of Kansas

Bumper Stickers Can Incite Emotions & Cognitive Interplay

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2017). Bumper Stickers Can Incite Emotions & Cognitive Interplay. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/08/14/bumper-stickers-can-incite-emotions-cognitive-interplay/124644.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Aug 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Aug 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.