All Negative Moods Are Not Equal: Motivational Influences of Anxiety and Sadness on Decision Making

Authors: Rajagopal Raghunathan, New York University; and Michel Tuan Pham, Columbia University

Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

Year: 1999

Focus Area: Emotion, Decision Making

Relevance: Risk and reward expectations are essential components of fraud schemes, and the effect of emotion on victims’ decision can determine their vulnerability to particular types of scams as well as fraud in general. Techniques that allow people to sidestep their emotions when making decisions could be beneficial in prevention efforts.

Summary: Previous studies of the effect of emotion on decision making have been too simplistic, comparing only positive and negative emotions. This study looks into the effects of different kinds of negative emotions, namely anxiety and sadness, and finds that they have different influences on decision making.

  • Sad people were more interested in risky but potentially highly rewarding options, while anxious people preferred safe but lower yielding options.
  • The authors propose that it was not the risk that was appealing to sad people, but rather the high reward that influenced their choice.
  • The effect of negative emotions diminished when subjects were asked to make the same choices on behalf of another person, rather than for themselves.
  • The authors note that this did not address situations that have high or low potential losses, and suggest that decisions might differ in these scenarios.

Author Abstract: Affective states of the same valence may have distinct, yet predictable, influences on decision processes. Results from three experiments show that, in gambling decisions, as well as in job selection decisions, sad individuals are biased in favor of high-risk/high-reward options, whereas anxious individuals are biased in favor of low-risk/low-reward options. We argue that these biases occur because anxiety and sadness convey distinct types of information to the decision-maker and prime different goals. While anxiety primes an implicit goal of uncertainty reduction, sadness primes an implicit goal of reward replacement. We offer that these motivational influences operate through an active process of feeling monitoring, whereby anxious or sad individuals think about the options and ask themselves, “What would I feel better about . . .?”

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A Hot/Cool-System Analysis of Delay of Gratification: Dynamics of Willpower

Authors: Janet Metcalfe, Columbia University; Walter Mischel, Columbia University

Publication: Psychological Review

Year: 1999

Focus Area: Persuasion, Decision Making, Prevention, Emotion

Relevance: Willpower can be manipulated – both positively and negatively – when people make decisions. The hot-cold framework provides suggestions on the subtleties of willpower manipulation and suggests potential techniques and explanations to increase willpower.

Summary: How are people able to control their actions and feelings if their initial drive is “ruled by a pleasure principle, and largely indifferent to reason”? This paper describes a theoretical framework of hot and cool systems to explain the delay of gratification paradigm (and is limited in scope to this paradigm alone).

  • The ability of a child to sacrifice an immediate reward for a larger,  but delayed reward, has been shown to predict social and cognitive outcomes later in life, including SAT scores.
  • The authors propose that the “cool cognitive” system and the “hot emotional” system interact when willpower is used to overcome an immediate desire.
  • Control strategies include hiding the stimulus (desired object) or ignoring it, both of which decrease the intensity of the hot system. Alternatively, efforts to activate the cool system include distracting oneself, either with another object or internally.
  • Photographs of desired objects were far easier to resist than the object itself. Even telling oneself that a desired object (i.e. a piece of candy) is a photograph can increase the length of time one is able to resist.

Author Abstract: A 2-system framework is proposed for understanding the processes that enable – and undermine – self-control or “willpower” as exemplified in the delay of gratification paradigm. A cool, cognitive “know” system and a hot, emotional “go” system are postulated. The cool system is cognitive, emotionally neutral, contemplative, flexible, integrated, coherent, spatiotemporal, slow, episodic, and strategic. It is the seat of self-regulation and self-control. The hot system is the basis of emotionality, fears as well as passions – impulsive and reflexive – initially controlled by innate releasing stimuli (and, thus, literally under “stimulus control”); it is fundamental for emotional (classical) conditioning and undermines efforts at self-control. The balance between the hot and cool systems is determined by stress, developmental level, and the individual’s self-regulatory dynamics. The interactions between these systems allow explanation of findings on willpower from 3 decades of research.

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The Heat of the Moment: Modeling Interactions Between Affect and Deliberation

Authors: George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University; Ted O’Donoghue, Cornell University


Year: 2007

Focus Area: Emotion, Decision Making

Relevance: Impulsive behavior, according to this paper, can be seen as the triumph of the affective (emotional) mind over the deliberative (rational) mind. This simplification extends to many decision scenarios, but there are subtle variations that influence some decisions. Furthermore, emotions should not be seen as entirely negative influences on decision making.

Summary: Throughout history, human behavior has been seen as a dual-process model: a struggle between opposing forces, whether passion and reason, id and ego, or emotion and cognition. This paper attempts to consolidate these theories into a model of behavior that is influenced by “deliberative processes” that are goal-oriented and “affective processes” that include both emotions and motivational drivers.

  • The deliberative and affective systems have their own objectives, are influenced by the environment, and combine to produce behavior. This model assumes that the affective system comes into play first, and is then moderated by the deliberative system, or willpower.
  • In decisions between options that have different time frames (intertemporal choice), “the affective system is primarily driven by short-term outcomes, whereas the deliberative system cares about both short-term and long-term outcomes.”
  • In risky decision making, the deliberative system weighs the value of the options presented, while the affective system can contribute to inaccurate assessments of probability and tendencies to avoid risk.
  • One application of this theory applies to situations in which people who have few financial resources use up their willpower in daily decisions, in which they are constantly pressured to keep costs down. This theory suggests that people in this situation may be more prone to impulsive behavior when making decisions about inexpensive things because they have used up their resources of willpower.

Author Abstract: Drawing on diverse lines of research in psychology, decision making, and neuroscience, we develop a model in which a person’s behavior is determined by an interaction between deliberative processes that assess options with a broad, goal-based perspective, and affective processes that encompass emotions and motivational drives. Our model provides a framework for understanding many departures from rationality discussed in the literature, and captures the familiar feeling of being “of two minds.” Most importantly, by focusing on factors that moderate the relative influence of the two processes, our model generates a variety of novel testable predictions. We apply our model to time preferences, risk preferences, and social preferences.

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Hot-Cold Empathy Gaps and Medical Decision Making

Authors: George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University

Publication: Health Psychology

Year: 2005

Focus Area: Emotion, Decision Making

Relevance: Scam artists can elicit emotional responses in their victims. These “hot” affective states can lead people to make rash judgments about subjects that they would normally weigh carefully before deciding.

Summary: Anger, fear, hunger and cravings are examples of the range of “hot” affects that can influence decision making. People who are in a “hot” state have trouble imagining how they would behave if they were in a “cool” affective state, and vice versa. Furthermore, people in a given affective state cannot easily imagine the behavior of another person, who is in the opposite affective state.

  • People in “hot” states give more weight to their current desires, without acknowledging that their preferences may change when they “cool off” – and that a “cooler” affect would allow them to make better decisions for the long run.
  • On the other hand, people in “cold” states underestimate the potential of affect to sway their decision making in future situations, and do not take adequate action to avoid “hot” states.
  • These empathy gaps can be classified temporally. Prospective gaps occur when looking ahead to future decision making situations, while retrospective gaps occur when people inaccurately recall a decision that they made in the past. Interpersonal gaps occur when two people are in different affective states and cannot correctly predict or understand each other’s motivations.
  • Loewenstein applies these findings to the ethics of medical decision making, in which empathy gaps are common. Doctors and patients must span hot-cold empathy gaps to make appropriate decisions, but are often in different emotional states when making these decisions.

Author Abstract: Prior research has shown that people mispredict their own behavior and preferences across affective states. When people are in an affectively “cold” state, they fail to fully appreciate how “hot” states will affect their own preferences and behavior. When in hot states, they underestimate the influence of those states and, as a result, overestimate the stability of their current preferences. The same biases apply interpersonally; for example, people who are not affectively aroused underappreciate the impact of hot states on other people’s behavior. After reviewing research documenting such intrapersonal and interpersonal hot-cold empathy gaps, this article examines their consequences for medical, and specifically cancer-related, decision making, showing, for example, that hot-cold empathy gaps can lead healthy persons to expose themselves excessively to health risks and can cause health care providers to undertreat patients for pain.

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The Role of Affect in Decision Making

Authors: George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University; Jennifer S. Lerner, Carnegie Mellon University

Publication: Handbook of Affective Science

Year: 2003

Focus Area: Decision Making, Emotion

Relevance: This textbook chapter on emotion’s involvement in decision making provides a comprehensive introduction to the study of decision making. A number of common terms in decision research are defined in this chapter, often with easily understood examples.

Summary: Traditional decision theory focused on cognitive decision making but largely ignored the importance of emotions in decision making until the late 1980s, but now “contemporary decision research is characterized by an intense focus on emotion.” Current theory identifies two kinds of emotions that influence decisions: expected emotions, which are expectations about future emotional consequences of a decision, and immediate emotions, which are emotions felt while making a decision.

  • Expected emotions can moderate decision making by influencing how people weigh probabilities, value potential rewards versus losses, and attempt to avoid disappointment or recrimination about the decision they are making. The effects of expected emotions are often strong when people make decisions about risk or decisions with delayed consequences.
  • Immediate emotions are determined by anticipation of a decision or factors unrelated to the decision at hand. Intense emotions have larger impacts on decisions and are more difficult to manipulate or suppress.
  • Historically, emotions have been seen as negative influences on decision making. Lately, however, more value has been awarded to emotions and “gut feelings” as legitimate tools in decision making – as long as they are used along with other decision making techniques.

Author Abstract: Our goal in this chapter is to highlight and organize these new emotion-related developments in decision research. We organize our review around a general theoretical framework for understanding the different ways in which emotions enter into decision making. Such a framework, we hope, can facilitate integration of the wide-ranging findings that have emerged from recent research and shed new light on several central topics in decision theory, such as how people deal with outcomes that are uncertain and how they discount delayed costs and benefits.

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Risk as Feelings

Authors: George F. Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University; Elke U. Weber, Columbia University; Christopher K. Hsee, University of Chicago; Ned Welch, Carnegie Mellon University

Publication: Psychological Bulletin

Year: 2001

Focus Area: Decision making, Emotion, Risk

Relevance: Financial decisions – including decisions to buy into a deal that turns out to be a fraud – often require an assessment of risk and reward. This paper explains one theory about the importance of emotion in weighing risky decisions.

Summary: Past research on decision making has been “consequentialist” – built upon the assumption that people make decisions based on their assessment of the consequences of the various options available to them. This approach to decision making accounts for anticipated emotions, or emotions that a person expects to experience in the future as a result of the decision, but does not incorporate anticipatory emotions, or the “immediate visceral reactions […] to risks and uncertainties.”

  • This paper proposes a risk-as-feelings hypothesis in which emotional responses like worry and anxiety, which develop in reaction to the decision making task itself, influence cognitive evaluations about the probability and desirability of potential outcomes.
  • These emotional responses can contradict cognitive, or rational, assessments of risk – making people more or less willing to make a particular risky decision than one might expect.
  • This article is focused on decisions about risk, but the authors suggest that the main points can be extended to other kinds of decisions.

Author Abstract: Virtually all current theories of choice under risk or uncertainty are cognitive and consequentialist. They assume that people assess the desirability and likelihood of possible outcomes of choice alternatives and integrate this information through some type of expectation-based calculus to arrive at a decision. The authors propose an alternative theoretical perspective, the risk-as-feelings hypothesis, that highlights the role of affect experienced at the moment of decision making. Drawing on research from clinical, physiological, and other subfields of psychology, they show that emotional reactions to risky situations often diverge from cognitive assessments of those risks. When such divergence occurs, emotional reactions often drive behavior. The risk-as-feelings hypothesis is shown to explain a wide range of phenomena that have resisted interpretation in cognitive-consequentialist terms.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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