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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