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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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How Emotion Shapes Behavior: Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather Than Direct Causation

Authors: Roy F. Baumeister, Florida State University; Kathleen D. Vohs, University of Minnesota; C. Nathan DeWall, Florida State University; Liqing Zhang, Peking University

Publication: Personality and Social Psychology Review

Year: 2007

Focus Area: Emotion, Decision Making

Relevance: Both perpetrators of fraud and those working to prevent it take advantage of the power of emotion in shaping behavior. Anticipation of regret is a powerful force that may prevent people from halting participation in a fraud, even if they have suspicions it may be fraud –the anticipation of regret associated with giving up on a legitimate opportunity may be worse than the anticipation of regret if one continues with what may be a scam.

Summary: This article argues that emotion does not cause behavior, but rather influences behavior as a feedback mechanism. Anticipation of emotion strongly influences behavior; emotions also functions as feedback that enable people to learn from past actions. (The article distinguishes automatic affective responses from more conscious emotion.)

  • Emotion does impact behavior, though usually indirectly. Emotion may hamper cognitive processing, encourage foolish risk taking, and distort perceptions of likelihood – e.g. an angry person will estimate the odds of being cheated by a car salesman as higher than a sad person.
  • Behavior can be understood as pursuing emotion as a desired outcome. Anticipated emotion often leads to caution and choosing the safe, readily defensible option.
  • Emotions function to provide feedback and evaluate a given behavior or course of action.
  • Anticipation of regret is powerful: Most people refused an offer of a small cash incentive to trade a lottery ticket they had been given, for another with the same statistical probability of winning. “The only reason to refuse this advantageous trade was the anticipation of regret one might feel if one traded away the winning lottery ticket.”

Author Abstract: Fear causes fleeing and thereby saves lives: this exemplifies a popular and common sense but increasingly untenable view that the direct causation of behavior is the primary function of emotion. Instead, the authors develop a theory of emotion as a feedback system whose influence on behavior is typically indirect. By providing feedback and stimulating retrospective appraisal of actions, conscious emotional states can promote learning and alter guidelines for future behavior. Behavior may also be chosen to pursue (or avoid) anticipated emotional outcomes. Rapid, automatic affective responses, in contrast to the full-blown conscious emotions, may inform cognition and behavioral choice and thereby help guide current behavior. The automatic affective responses may also remind the person of past emotional outcomes and provide useful guides as to what emotional outcomes may be anticipated in the present. To justify replacing the direct causation model with the feedback model, the authors review a large body of empirical findings.

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