Disillusionment: a prototype analysis

Cognition and Emotion 34 (5):947-959 (2020)
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Abstract

Disillusionment is acknowledged to be a painful process with important personal and social consequences. However, scientific conceptualisations of the experience are inconsistent. Across four studies, we examined whether lay conceptions of disillusionment produce a consistent pattern of features. In Study 1 (N = 204), we extracted 19 features of disillusionment from open-ended participant definitions. In Study 2 (N = 131), participants rated the centrality of these features and indicated that features such as discovery, disappointment, and loss, were highly representative, while features such as hopelessness, orientation, and truth, were more peripheral. In two further studies, we used experimental designs to test the diagnosticity of these features. In Study 3 (N = 155), participants rated vignettes descriptions as more disillusioning when they were based on more, rather than less, prototypical disillusionment features. Given that disappointment is a feature of disillusionment, we conducted Study 4 (N = 60) to test whether the extracted features effectively distinguish disillusionment from disappointment. Overall, we found evidence to suggest that disillusionment contains a consistent set of features, and represents a state of negative epistemic affect associated with the violation of core assumptions. These results create avenues for research on disillusionment, its antecedents and its consequences.

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