A Visceral Account of Addiction

Authors: George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University

Publication: Getting Hooked: Rationality and Addiction (book)

Year: 1999

Focus Area: Prevention, Decision Making

Relevance: Victims of fraud are not victims of addiction, but the methods used to remind recovering addicts why they quit taking a drug could be applied to fraud prevention programs. In both cases, time diminishes the effect of an unpleasant experience and makes the possibility of relapsing (taking a drug again, or saying “yes” to a deal presented on the phone).

Summary: Addiction can be viewed as the overpowering of willpower by an immediate, visceral need that focuses attention on relieving suffering (in this case, the discomfort of not having the drug). This visceral need focuses attention both on this need as compared to other desires (hunger, fear) and in time (today’s need rather than tomorrow’s).

  • The motivation to use a drug is immediate, visceral and subject to situational cues. The motivation to not use a drug is long-term, cerebral, and must overcome the situations that inspire cravings. These motivations are misaligned, unfortunately, making it difficult to avoid using a drug – even when a person genuinely wants to quit or avoid a relapse.
  • Non-addicts underestimate the visceral power of an addiction, and even people using drugs (including cigarettes) underestimate the hold that the drug has on them – smokers tend to predict that they will smoke less in the future, although this generally fails to come true.
  • Memory of pain (in this case, the pain of a craving) is fleeting, and as a result, has weak influence as a disincentive against decisions made in the heat of the moment.

Author Abstract: In the past, addiction has been viewed as a sui generis phenomenon (Baker 1988). Recent theories of addiction, however, draw implicit or explicit parallels between addiction and a wide range of other behavioral phenomena. The “disease theory,” for example, highlights similarities between addiction and infectious disease (e.g., Frawley [1988], Vaillant [1983]). Becker and Murphy’s rational-choice model of addiction draws a parallel between drug addictions and “endogenous taste” phenomena, such as listening to classical music to attempt to acquire a taste for it, in which current consumption affects the utility of future consumption (Becker and Murphy 1988). Herrnstein and Prelec’s “garden path” theory sees addiction as analogous to bad habits, such as workaholism or compulsive lying, that can be acquired gradually due to a failure to notice a deterioration in one’s conduct or situation (Herrnstein and Prelec 1992).

Full Article

Beyond Valence: Toward a Model of Emotion-Specific Influences on Judgement and Choice

Authors: Jennifer S. Lerner, Carnegie Mellon University and UCLA; Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley

Publication: Cognition and Emotion

Year: 2000

Focus Area: Emotion, Decision Making, Risk, Profile, Prevention

Relevance: Personality traits, namely a tendency towards fear or anger, can influence risk assessment. People who characteristically tend toward anger make riskier decisions. However, strategies that make people aware of their thought process as they judge risk can diminish the influence of emotion on risk assessment.

Summary: The effects of positive and negative moods on decision making have been studied, but this research studies the differences in impact between two kinds of negative mood – anger and fear – on risk assessment.

  • Valence studies – those that look simply at positive or negative mood – would predict that angry people and fearful people would have similar responses in a risk assessment test. However, this study found that the two emotions elicit different assessments of risk, even though they are both negative moods.
  • Anger – defined by certainty and a sense of individual control – leads people to make fairly optimistic risk assessments. Fear – defined by uncertainty and lack of control – leads people to make pessimistic assessments about risk.
  • This study examined people who were temperamentally prone to anger or fear – it did not study the effect on risk assessment of individual and discrete episodes of anger or fear. Systematically angry people tend to lead riskier lives than people who are characterized by fearful personalities.
  • Although people may rely on emotions to make decisions, when they are made aware of their thought processes or the consequences of their decisions, they may rely less on their comfortable appraisal tendencies.

Author Abstract: Most theories of affective influences on judgement and choice take a valence-based approach, contrasting the effects of positive versus negative feeling states. These approaches have not specified if and when distinct emotions of the same valence have different effects on judgement. In this article, we propose a model of emotion-specific influences on judgement and choice. We posit that each emotion is defined by a tendency to perceive new events and objects in ways that are consistent with the original cognitive-appraisal dimensions of the emotion. To pit the valence and appraisal-tendency approaches against one another, we present a study that addresses whether two emotions of the same valence but differing appraisals – anger and fear – relate in different ways to risk perception. Consistent with the appraisal-tendency hypothesis, fearful people made pessimistic judgements of future events whereas angry people made optimistic judgements. In the Discussion we expand the proposed model and review evidence supporting two social moderators of appraisal-tendency processes.

Full Article

The Influence of Culture on Consumer Impulsive Buying Behavior

Authors: Jacqueline J. Kacen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Julie Anne Lee, University of Hawaii-Manoa

Publication: Journal of Consumer Psychology

Year: 2002

Focus Area: Profile, Persuasion, Decision Making

Relevance: Some fraud victims, like impulse buyers, make quick decisions about a purchase. Mood, emotion, and culture can all play a part in these decisions, and profiles of fraud victims may include some of the same characteristics as impulse consumers.

Summary: In addition to mood and emotion, culture contributes to impulse buying behavior.

  • Most of the research on impulse buying behavior has been carried out in Western cultures – primarily the United States. Results of these studies should not be extended to non-Western cultures without careful consideration.
  • In general, Asian consumers made fewer impulse purchases than Caucasian consumers, even though shopping is culturally important in East Asia. This difference is attributed to the strength of collectivist cultural norms in Asian countries. Although the impulse to make a purchase is the same between people from both cultures, Asian consumers suppress this desire and act according to their cultural norms.
  • Caucasians were more likely to make impulsive purchases if they saw themselves as highly independent people; Asian consumers did not display this trend.

Abstract (from the authors): Impulse buying generates over $4 billion in annual sales volume in the United States. With the growth of e-commerce and television shopping channels, consumers have easy access to impulse purchasing opportunities, but little is known about this sudden, compelling, hedonically complex purchasing behavior in non-Western cultures. Yet cultural factors moderate many aspects of consumer’s impulsive buying behavior, including self-identity, normative influences, the suppression of emotion, and the postponement of instant gratification. From a multi-country survey of consumers in Australia, United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, our analyses show that both regional level factors (individualism–collectivism) and individual cultural difference factors (independent –interdependent self-concept) systematically influence impulsive purchasing behavior.

Full Article

Time-Inconsistent Preferences and Consumer Self-Control

Authors: Stephen J. Hoch, University of Chicago; George F. Loewenstein, University of Chicago

Publication: Journal of Consumer Research

Year: 1991

Focus Area: Persuasion, Decision Making, Prevention

Relevance: Fraudsters are essentially selling a product and often rely upon impulsive behavior to engage their target in the purchase (or a step toward purchasing, like agreeing to receive mailed information). This paper provides analysis of the interaction between desire and willpower, with explanations of some strategies that people use to avoid making impulsive decisions.

Summary: Certain situations can elicit “extreme impatience” in consumers who would otherwise make evenhanded judgments of the benefits and costs of a given purchase.

  • Time-inconsistent choices are those that would have been made differently if “contemplated from a removed, dispassionate perspective.” Self-control is a struggle between desire and willpower, and successful self control can be achieved by reducing desire or overcoming desire through strong willpower.
  • Proximity of a desired object – either physically or in time – increases desire and impatience for that object.
  • Consumers can reduce desire by distancing themselves from the object of their desire. Other strategies include avoiding situations in which they make impulsive decisions, delaying a decision, distracting themselves, or substituting another, smaller reward.
  • Consumers can increase willpower by committing themselves to a behavior other than the one they desire; for example, leaving credit cards at home to prevent impulse purchases. People also think about the benefits of delaying an impulse, add up the accumulated costs of a series of decisions, appeal to a higher power, and reflect on regret and guilt as tools – both conscious and subconscious – to increase willpower.

Author Abstract: Why do consumers sometimes act against their own better judgment, engaging in behavior that is often regretted after the fact and that would have been rejected with adequate forethought? More generally, how do consumers attempt to maintain self-control in the face of time-inconsistent preferences? This article addresses consumer impatience by developing a decision-theoretic model based on reference points. The model explains how and why consumers experience sudden increases in desire for a produce, increases that can result in the temporary overriding of long-term preferences. Tactics that consumers can use to control their own behavior are also discussed. Consumer self-control is framed as a struggle between two psychological forces, desire and willpower. Finally, two general classes of self-control strategies are described: those that directly reduce desire, and those that overcome desire through willpower.

Full Article

Impulsive Decision Making and Working Memory

Authors: John M. Hinson, Washington State University; Tina L. Jameson, Washington State University; Paul Whitney, Washington State University

Publication: Journal of Experimental Psychology

Year: 2003

Focus Area: Decision Making, Memory

Relevance: Decision making processes, and the complex factors that influence them, are significant to understanding why people fall for frauds and how scam artists manipulate their victims. This research examines the importance of working memory in valuing monetary rewards over different time periods.

Summary: When working memory is limited, people will discount future rewards more heavily, which leads to more impulsive decision making and an emphasis on immediate rewards.

  • Researchers were able to elicit impulsive decision making from subjects by asking the subjects to remember a series of numbers (a working memory task) while they chose between two monetary rewards, one available immediately and the second, larger reward, available after a randomly assigned amount of time.
  • When researchers increased the number of reward options available to the subjects, people preferred immediate rewards and discounted the delayed rewards more heavily.
  • People who had high scores on a test of impulsiveness were more likely to choose immediate rewards, as were people with low executive function. (Executive function is involved in planning, resisting temptation, and successfully navigating new situations.)

Author Abstract: Decision making that favors short-term over long-term consequences of action, defined as impulsive or temporally myopic, may be related to individual differences in the executive functions of working memory (WM). In the first 2 experiments, participants made delay discounting (DD) judgments under different WM load conditions. In a 3rd experiment, participants high or low on standardized measures of impulsiveness and dysexecutive function were asked to make DD judgments. A final experiment examined WM load effects on DD when monetary rewards were real rather than hypothetical. The results showed that higher WM load led to greater discounting of delayed monetary rewards. Further, a strong direct relation was found between measures of impulsiveness, dysexecutive function, and discounting of delayed rewards. Thus, limits on WM function, either intrinsic or extrinsic, are predictive of a more impulsive decision-making style.

Full Article

Rage and reason: the psychology of the intuitive prosecutor

Authors: Julie H. Goldberg, UC Berkeley; Jennifer S. Lerner, Carnegie Mellon University; Philip E. Tetlock, The Ohio State University

Publication: European Journal of Social Psychology

Year: 1999

Focus Area: Decision Making, Emotion

Relevance: The effect of emotions on decision making can be moderated by social situations, suggesting that there may be specific methods to adjust the impact of emotions in certain decisions.

Summary: When angry, people display consistent biases in their decision making, including an increased tendency to blame individuals for problems, assume that unclear actions are hostile, and punish others for their mistakes. In this study, feelings of anger were elicited by asking subjects to watch a video in which a teenager is beaten by an adult. Afterwards, the participants were asked to judge four scenarios in an ostensibly unrelated set of questions.

  • When told that the adult in the first video had either escaped punishment, the viewers were more likely to make punitive judgments of the scenarios presented in the second half of the study. The authors suggest that this is a kind of moral compensation, making up for the lack of social order and justice in part one by enforcing it strongly in part two.
  • However, when they were told that the adult had been sufficiently punished, they were more evenhanded in their assessment of the scenarios in part two.
  • Although emotions (in this case, anger) can influence decisions, they do not always have an influence. The effect of anger was removed when people were told that justice had been served.

Author Abstract: This study explores the conditions under which experimentally primed anger influences both attributions of responsibility and the processes by which people make such attributions. Drawing on social functional theory, it was hypothesized that people are best thought of as `intuitive prosecutors’ who lower their thresholds for making attributions of harmful intent and recommending harsh punishment when they both witness a serious transgression of societal norms and believe that the transgressor escaped punishment. The data support the hypotheses. Anger primed by a serious crime ‘carried over’ to influence judgments of unrelated acts of harm only when the perpetrator of the crime went unpunished, notwithstanding the arousal of equally intense anger in conditions in which the perpetrator was appropriately punished or his fate was unknown. Participants in the perpetrator-unpunished condition also relied on simpler and more punitive attributional heuristics for inferring responsibility for harm.

Full Article

How to Make Better Choices

Authors: Kate Douglas, Dan Jones

Publication: New Scientist

Year: 2007

Focus Area: Decision Making, Prevention

Relevance: This article draws from scientific research to provide a brief introduction to factors that influence decision making in everyday life.

Summary: Everyday decision making draws on emotion and rational (cognitive) thought. Recent research from psychologists and neuroscientists can provide insight into these processes and yield ten pointers to help people make better decisions and feel happier about the results of their choice.

  • In a number of cases, additional information, time or options only made decision making more difficult.
  • Emotions have a variety of influences on decision making. For example, anger can lead to riskier choices, while disgust can promote caution.
  • This article includes explanations in layman’s terms of a number of important psychological terms, including framing, loss aversion, affective forecasting and confirmation bias.

Author Abstract: This article looks at the science behind being able to make better decisions. The author outlines several concepts designed to help you make better decisions. These concepts include going with your gut instinct, considering your emotions, staying focused on the topic, not getting upset over small inconveniences, taking a different perspective, being aware of social pressure and having someone else make the decision for you.

Full Article

Cognitive Load Has Negative After Effects on Consumer Decision Making

Authors: Siegfried Dewitte, K.U. Leuven; Mario Pandelaere, K.U. Leuven; Barbara Briers, K.U. Leuven; Luk Warlop, K.U. Leuven


Year: 2005

Focus Area: Decision Making, Time

Relevance: Fraud targets who delay their decision making in order to make  smarter choices at a later time may not be successful in that goal. People have trouble making decisions while they are occupied with another mental task, and prefer to put off a decision until a later time when they anticipate making a better decision. This work shows that delaying the decision may not improve the outcome, at least within a limited time frame.

Summary: Previous work has shown that people have trouble making decisions when they are distracted with other mental tasks (high cognitive load). This work studies the lasting effect of mental tasks on decision making after the cognitive load is removed.

  • This research found that demanding mental tasks lead to simplistic decision making both during the mental task and after the task is completed. In these experiments, consumers who had recently performed a challenging mental task relied more on easily available information, rather than actively seeking out more information.
  • Subjects’ energy levels – influenced by listening to either fast-paced or slow sequences of tones – impacted the kinds of information that subjects focused on.

Author Abstract: Concurrent cognitive load has a devastating effect on consumer decision making. Implicit in the theorizing about cognitive load seems to be that this negative effect disappears when the load is removed. Three experiments explored whether cognitive load produces after-effects and showed that various types of prior cognitive load increase the subsequent impact of easily available information on brand choice (study 1), product similarity ratings (study 2), and the quantity of food consumed in a taste test (study 3). Information availability was manipulated by means of a salience manipulation (poster display in study 1 and position of product attribute in study 2), and an accessibility manipulation (study 3).

Full Article

Negotiating with Yourself and Losing: Making Decisions with Competing Internal Preferences

Authors: Max H. Bazerman, Northwestern University; Anne E. Tenbrunsel, University of Notre Dame; Kimberly Wade-Benzoni, Northwestern University

Publication: Academy of Management Review

Year: 1998

Focus Area: Prevention, Decision Making, Emotion

Relevance: Enabling people to make good decisions and avoid fraud can involve listening to both one’s rational thoughts (the should self) and intuitive feelings (the want self).

Summary: This article argues that an individual’s internal struggle between what he wants to do and what he thinks he should do can be thought of as taking place between the “want self” and the “should self.” Want is conceptualized as emotional, affective, impulsive and hot headed, while should is rational, cognitive, thoughtful and cool headed.

  • The want self dominates at the moment of decision making.
  • The want self tends to dominate when deciding on a single option. Single options reduce the need to justify the decision, which leads to less rational and more emotional decision making. The need to justify a decision activates the should self.
  • The authors caution that the want self is not always wrong: a disagreement among the two selves “signals the need to think harder about the the information provided by each of the two selves.” In particular, the want self may process information that is difficult to articulate but nonetheless important; in other words, hunches and gut feelings should not necessarily be ignored.
  • Negotiating and striking a deal with the want self can be particularly important because the want self can simply override the should self at the moment of decision making.

Author Abstract: The field of organizational behavior includes the study of how individuals organize and manage conflict among themselves. Less visible has been the study of conflicts occurring within individuals. We propose that one form of intrapersonal conflict is the result of tension between what people want to do versus what they think they should do. We argue that this want/should distinction helps to explain the “multiple-selves” phenomenon and a recently discovered group of preference reversals noted in behavioral decision and organizational behavior research. We develop a history of knowledge on intrapersonal conflict, discuss how conflicts between what one wants to do and what one should do result in inconsistent behavior, connect this pattern of inconsistency to recent literature on joint versus separate preference reversals, and outline prescriptions for the management of intrapersonal conflict.

Full Article

Free will in consumer behavior: self-control, ego depletion, and choice

Title: Free will in consumer behavior: self-control, ego depletion, and choice

Authors: Roy F. Baumeister, Erin A. Sparks, Tyler F. Stillman, Florida State University, Tallahassee; Kathleen D. Vohs, University of Minnesota

Publication: Journal of Consumer Psychology

Year: 2008

Focus Area: Decision Making, Consumer Behavior, Self-control

Relevance: People with compromised capacity to make rational rather than impulsive decisions may be particularly vulnerable to fraud. Fraud prevention efforts may be better able to encourage good decision making by understanding what factors influence a person’s ability to successfully exercise willpower and good decision making.

Summary: This paper argues that free will is best understood as an evolutionarily adaptive ability to exercise self-control, follow rules, and make smart choices. This capacity for willpower functions like a muscle; it therefore has limited capacity and can be depleted and restored.

  • Exercising self-control (e.g. resisting the temptation to eat cookies, or trying to control an emotional response to a film) in one task reduces subjects’ ability to exercise it in subsequent tasks. The authors term this “ego depletion.” People in a state of “ego depletion” are more likely to make impulse-driven decisions. People can still exercise self-control when in this depleted state; several short-term antidotes to depletion have been tested, such as cash incentives and thinking about one’s life values, which increase the demonstrated ability to exercise self control when in a state of ego depletion.
  • Similarly, making “effortful choices,” those that involve a large number of decisions or choices with no clear answer, also causes ego depletion.
  • Poor ability to exercise self-control and ego depletion are linked with low blood glucose. In one experiment, a glass of lemonade with sugar was enough to eliminate the effect of subjects’ self control being worn out.

Author Abstract: Consumer behavior offers a useful window on human nature, through which many distinctively human patterns of cognition and behavior can be observed. Consumer behavior should therefore be of central interest to a broad range of psychologists. These patterns include much of what is commonly understood as free will. Our approach to understanding free will sidesteps metaphysical and theological debates. Belief in free will is pervasive in human social life and contributes to its benefits. Evolution endowed humans with a new form of action control, which is what people understand by free will. Its complexity and flexibility are suited to the distinctively human forms of social life in culture, with its abstract rules, expanded time span, diverse interdependent roles, and other sources of opportunities and constraints. Self-control, planful action, and rational choice are vital forms of free will in this sense. The capacity for self-control and intelligent decision making involves a common, limited resource that uses the body’s basic energy supply. When this resource is depleted, self-control fails and decision making is impaired.

© 2007 Society for Consumer Psychology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Full Article