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