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Are emotions needed to make decisions?

Are emotions needed to make decisions?

Oprah.com says:

It turns out, though, that for most people there is no such thing as a purely rational self. Decision making is intrinsically linked to our emotions, so much so that when a person suffers damage to her orbitofrontal cortex-a part of the brain just behind the eyes that's strongly involved in processing emotions-she can lose her decision-making ability entirely. (We're talking any decision, like which day to schedule a doctor's appointment or whether to use a blue or black pen.) "If it weren't for our emotions," says science writer Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, "reason wouldn't exist at all."

Is this really so? Lab experiments on humans on this would certainly be unethical, so I suspect Lehrer might be talking about some nature-did-the-experiment-for-us case (Phineas Gage style). Is anyone familiar with the details, e.g. from Lehrer's book or elsewhere?


Phineas Gage style indeed (is that a precursor to Gangnam style?) - ironically (referring to one large iron rod), Phineas Gage's accident is believed to have entirely removed his OFC, as well as parts of his PFC. Though Gage likely suffered some mental changes, his recovery was a far cry from any sweeping "lose his decision-making ability entirely" diagnosis, even with injuries more extensive than just the OFC, so I think we can safely rule out the statement above without resorting to unethical experimentation.

This misconception may have originated with Antonio Damasio:

Antonio Damasio, in support of his somatic marker hypothesis (relating decision-making to emotions and their biological underpinnings), draws parallels between behaviors he ascribes to Gage and those of modern patients with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala. But Damasio's depiction of Gage has been severely criticized…

In neuroscience, this type of error is called a "reverse inference". For example, if we find that a particular region of the brain is active when subjects experience an "emotion", we can't then conclude that it always means subjects are experiencing that "emotion" when it is active. That brain region may have other functions besides that emotion, many other brain regions may be involved in experiencing that emotion, and different regions may be involved in different contexts.

Furthermore, in modern emotion traditions, the distinction between emotion and cognition in general tends to be blurry, to the extent that some popular emotion models argue that the two cannot feasibly be separated. In other words, depending on your preferred model, "emotion" may refer to all cognition (the entire brain), so the answer to your question would be… yes?

Note: I don't know anything about Jonah Lehrer's book, but Wikipedia says:

On March 1, 2013, following revelations that Lehrer has been caught in numerous falsifications in his œuvre of writings, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced the book was taken "off sale" after an internal review.


The unconscious, emotions, and our decision-making process

Do you view yourself as Mr. Spock when it comes to decision-making? Do you believe that you make decisions based on facts? That you consider relevant facts and make the best decision based on that? Yeah, you do. Right? And I guess you suspect where I am going with this… In this article, I will present some facts that will change the way you think about decision-making, and that are extremely useful when working as a designer.

Susan Weinschenk is a b e havioral psychologist and her book 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People was one of the first books I read about the psychology of design. Since then she has been my hero. In one of her online classes, Brain and Behavioral Science, she states that around the year 2000, researchers within the field learned that most of the decisions we make are unconscious. In fact, up to 90% of our decision-making is unconscious. Susan sais that:

“We often like to think that we’re like Mr. Spock in Star Trek, and very rational and logical. But we’re not. And, if you want to really reach people, if you want to communicate with them, if you want to persuade them, you need to figure out how to talk to the unconscious part of their mind.”

Daniel Kahneman has contributed greatly in shaping this new view on decision-making. He is a psychologist that has spent his life working on the psychology of judgment and decision-making. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on behavioral economics. He is pretty good at what he does in other words, and in his famous book Thinking, Fast and Slow he explains that our brain has two systems. An automatic System 1 and the effortful System 2. Kahneman writes:

“System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 on the other hand, allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it”

When System 2 is active we humans experience that we are in charge, we are concentrated and we are making decisions. But System 2 consumes glucose at a fast rate so it is not possible for us to stay in System 2 mode for too long, therefore most of our decisions are made by System 1. When System 1 makes a decision and passes it on to our awareness, to System 2, we experience that the decision made by System 1 is the intuitive one. We also experience that we have made a conscious decision even though we have not.

Let me give you an example. Jonathan Gottschall describes an experiment that a team of psychologists made in his book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. They placed 7 pairs of socks in a box and asked shoppers to pick the best pair. The shoppers choose a pair after examining the socks and gave a full story that explained their decision. The chosen socks had the nicest color, softest texture, etc. But, all the socks were identical. Still, the shoppers told themselves stories that made the decisions seem rational.

About 90% of the time we are like Homer Simpson and 10% like Mr. Spock. Knowing this, knowing that humans communicate and make decisions unconsciously, for the most part, is valuable for us designers. Then we can choose what to communicate to their unconscious instead of leaving it to chance. And how do we communicate with the unconscious? Through basic emotions.

So, what are the basic emotions? According to Neel Burton, psychiatrist, philosopher, and author of the book Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions, the concept of basic emotions dates back at least to the first century. Basic emotions were first used in the Book of Rites, a Chinese encyclopedia that identifies seven ‘feelings of men’: joy, anger, sadness, fear, love, disliking, and liking. In the 20th century, Paul Ekman identified six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise, and Robert Plutchik eight, which he grouped into four pairs of opposites: joy-sadness, anger-fear, trust-distrust, surprise-anticipation. Basic emotions are unconscious and uncontrollable, and more like a reaction than a deliberate action.

Working as a user experience designer I often talk about emotions with the product owner and other stakeholders. I might ask them what kind of emotions they want the user to experience while engaging with their product, and they look at me like I am some kinda crazy person. Emotions? What? That is scary! Why is this UX designer talking to us about emotions? This is often new territory for them and it can take some time before they get it.

As user experience designers, we need to investigate which emotions users experience when interacting with our product. This can not be left to chance. We want the users of our products to experience emotions like joy, happiness, love. Working with user journey maps is essential but there are also a few tricks you can use to increase the positive emotions of users quite easily.

  • Use images and animations that make the experience feel fun and alive. Don’t underestimate the influence of a picture of a smiling face.
  • Use emotionally loaded words like peace, love, good, successful, lucky, thankful, etc.
  • Tell a story. Make the experience an adventure and add pleasant surprises along the journey. Also, people remember stories much better than facts.
  • Personalize the experience. It is very pleasant when a website greets me with “Hi Dina, nice to see you again”.
  • Use humor. A user experiencing joy is a happy user. Just don’t overdo it, and the context is super important. Limit the humor when selling insurance or legal advice.

Working with journey mapping (sometimes called the Persona’s narrative) is great. By using the tool you get a nice overview of the user’s emotional experience while interacting with your product. Your main focus is to eliminate the sad/angry faces and limit the confused ones. This because bad impressions have a greater impact and are quicker to stick then good ones, according to Daniel Kahneman.

The Nielsen Norman Group has a great guide on how to make user journey maps, check out “Journey Mapping 101” for more information and a template that can help you get started.

I am going to end with an amazing example of how basic emotions can be used to communicate with the unconscious part of our mind. Inspired by all the cat people I work with.


The Psychology Behind Irrational Decisions Has A Lot To Do With How You Manage Emotions

We go window shopping, see something that we don’t need, but since it’s on sale we buy it. Although we like to think the decisions we make in life are driven by reason, sometimes our choices are more irrational. We are more likely to make decisions based on previous experience and intuition, rather than by careful analysis.In TED-Ed's latest video, “The Psychology Behind Irrational Decisions” host Sara Garofalo explains we make decisions that are not “rational”' from a purely economical point of view, meaning they don't necessarily lead to the best result.So why do we still make irrational decisions?Loss aversion is what behavioral economists call the tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Garofalo explains in the video that this approach to decisions is susceptible to taking mental shortcuts that can lead to irrational decisions. Situations that involve probability are notoriously bad for applying heuristics, any type of problem solving deemed not to be perfect but sufficient for immediate goals .Meanwhile, in conjunction fallacy, our brain tricks us into picking options that are more detailed than general ones. For example, in one study, researchers asked the participants to consider a regular six-sided die with four green faces and two red faces, where the die will be rolled 20 times and the sequence of greens (G) and reds (R) will be recorded. They were asked to select one sequence, from a set of three, and rewarded $25 if the sequence they selected appears on successive rolls of the die (RGRRR, GRGRRR. GRRRRR). More than half of the participants chose the second sequence, although option one is contained within it and is shorter than the other options.The anchoring effect can also influence our decision-making since it’s often used in marketing and negotiations. In other words, businesses can raise the prices that people are willing to pay. So, although we don’t need that shirt, the fact that it’s “on sale” entices us to make a purchase.Other theories suggest irrational behavior stems from the inability to override automatic emotional responses, or let our feelings and experiences get the best of us. Humans act irrationally as a consequence of biasing influences and strongly and consistently affected by the way a question is presented. A University College London study found even when both options lead to the same result participants were more likely to gamble at the threat of losing £30 than the option to keep £20. In the same study, brain imaging revealed that the amygdala, the region that controls emotions and mediates the "fight or flight" reaction, underpinned this bias in the decision-making process.Moreover, people with more rational behavior had greater brain activity in the prefrontal cortex — the region known to be involved in higher-order executive processes — suggesting that their brains are better equipped to deal with emotions in a more balanced reasoning process.Despite cognitive basis, we can overcome our brain's heuristics by learning to be aware of them. When we encounter a situation involving numbers, probability or multiple details — let’s pause for a second, and consider that the intuitive answer may not be what's best after all. Youtube

We go window shopping and see something that we don’t need, but it’s on sale, so we buy it. Although we like to think the decisions we make in life are driven by reason, sometimes our choices are more irrational. We are more likely to make decisions based on previous experience and intuition, rather than by careful analysis.

In TED-Ed's latest video, “The Psychology Behind Irrational Decisions” host Sara Garofalo explains we make decisions that are not “rational”' from a purely economical point of view, meaning they don't necessarily lead to the best result.

Loss aversion is what behavioral economists call the tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Garofalo explains in the video that this approach to decisions is susceptible to taking mental shortcuts that can lead to irrational decisions. Situations that involve probability are notoriously bad for applying heuristics, any type of problem solving deemed not to be perfect but sufficient for immediate goals.

Meanwhile, in conjunction fallacy, our brain tricks us into picking options that are more detailed than general ones. For example, in one study, researchers asked the participants to consider a regular six-sided die with four green faces and two red faces, where the die will be rolled 20 times and the sequence of greens (G) and reds (R) will be recorded. They were asked to select one sequence, from a set of three, and rewarded $25 if the sequence they selected appears on successive rolls of the die (RGRRR, GRGRRR. GRRRRR). More than half of the participants chose the second sequence, although option one is contained within it and is shorter than the other options.

The anchoring effect can also influence our decision-making since it’s often used in marketing and negotiations. In other words, businesses can raise the prices that people are willing to pay. So, although we don’t need that shirt, the fact that it’s “on sale” entices us to make a purchase.

Other theories suggest irrational behavior stems from the inability to override automatic emotional responses, or let our feelings and experiences get the best of us. Humans act irrationally as a consequence of biasing influences, and are strongly and consistently affected by the way a question is presented. A University College London study found even when both options lead to the same result, participants were more likely to gamble at the threat of losing £30 than the option to keep £20. In the same study, brain imaging revealed that the amygdala, the region that controls emotions and mediates the "fight or flight" reaction, underpinned this bias in the decision-making process.

Moreover, people with more rational behavior had greater brain activity in the prefrontal cortex — the region known to be involved in higher-order executive processes — suggesting that their brains are better equipped to deal with emotions in a more balanced reasoning process.

Despite cognitive basis, we can overcome our brain's heuristics by learning to be aware of them. When we encounter a situation involving numbers, probability or multiple details — let’s pause for a second, and consider that the intuitive answer may not be what's best after all.


6 Ways To Control Your Emotions and Make Better Decisions

Are you aware that we typically make several thousand decisions a day?

From what to eat, where to shop, what to post online, and with whom you spend time, average adults are faced with a plethora of choices from the moment we wake up. This is one of the reasons why we usually find it difficult to make the right decision. But it’s not so much as the number of options that seem scary: it’s the likelihood of picking the wrong choice.

Is there a single right way to make better decisions in life and work? What is the role of emotions in decision-making? Can we really control how we feel in order to obtain the desired results?

Editor's note: to culminate Mental Health Month, we are happy to share today's contribution by Cris Antonio, Chief Editor of Scoopfed.

The Science of Decision-Making

Notable psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that there are two systems in the brain that collaborate whenever we want to make a choice.

The first system is in charge of quick, automatic responses. For instance: say you’re asked to complete the phrase “like a hot knife through ______”. It probably didn’t take much time for you to answer “butter”. That’s system #1 at work. On the other hand, the second system is accountable for solving more complex problems, such as advanced mathematical formulas or how to parallel park.

Every time we need to make a decision, systems one and two interplay so we can seamlessly do tasks with minimal effort. However, we tend to choose more poorly whenever much of our mental energy or focus is compromised. This usually happens when we feel burned out from our jobs, lack quality sleep, or have been over-thinking. Thus, we sometimes say things we regret in the heat of a moment, or disappoint ourselves for choosing a poor alternative.

Controlling Your Emotions = Making Better Decisions

Now that we understand how we make decisions, the next question becomes: can we make better ones even though we’re so riled up by our emotions? Given practice and patience, the answer is YES – it’s possible. Here are six tips to get you started.

Pause and assess the situation.

This simple act can save you headaches down the road. Give your brain enough time to evaluate the current situation so you can make the right choice. Use this tactic when:

  • You’re asked a complicated question
  • You’re feeling agitated and might snap at another person
  • Your response could mean the difference between loss or gain
  • You feel that you might say something you’ll later want to retract

For bigger decisions (like marriage or a career switch), you may want to take more time in weighing your options. Why not use the weekend to hike or meditate? This should clear your mind so you can think about the pros and cons of each choice. But for situations that need lightning-fast answers, pausing for a second is your secret weapon to give better responses – without being snarky.

Don't always rely on your gut.

Intuition, more commonly known as “gut feeling”, is one of our most basic instincts. It helps us identify cues in the environment so we avoid danger and survive. But avoid trusting this human sense when it comes to games of chance (i.e. circumstances that rely on a 50/50 probability). The best examples would be gambling and the stock market.

So when can you rely on your gut? When there are skills or experience involved.

You’re ready to shift to the nonprofit sector but your experience is in finance. You’re worried that you might be making the wrong choice. Using tip #1, pause before finalizing your decision. Ask yourself: “how do I feel about this job?”. Then list the pros and cons of what could happen once you make the switch. If you have an inexplicable feeling of assurance, then that’s your gut telling you to assert yourself and grab your dream job.

But if you’re playing poker and you sense that it might just be your lucky night, don’t bet on it. Games of chance don’t rely on skill – so you might end up losing more than you bargained for.

Put it in writing.

Various experts such as psychologist James W. Pennebaker, have pointed out how writing can help us understand our lives better, keep track of our growth, and yes – aid us in picking the right choices. If you’re at a crossroad in your life right now or have experienced a traumatic situation, writing down your feelings can help you gain a different perspective.

You’re not going to feel better right away – however, keeping notes about your day is a tried-and-tested form of therapy. It’s free, it gives you some alone time, and you can review your thoughts later for more clarity.

Narrow your options.

Ever wondered why Trader Joe’s keeps their grocery options limited? It’s because the bigger the selection, the more room there is to make a regrettable decision. This may sound counterintuitive, but narrowing your options will indeed help you avoid picking something you’ll later be unhappy about.

Let’s say you’re a fresh graduate who has plenty of talents: you’re good with people, can write 500-word articles for the press, and don’t mind speaking to a room of 100 executives to pitch an idea. This means you can take on a bunch of jobs. But sending out resumes to 10 or 20 companies at once is only going to give you a headache. And it goes without saying that if you don’t target your application to the talents that best apply to the job, you might not be considered for the position.

Focus instead on two or three companies while asking these questions:

  • Why do you want to work for these firms?
  • Are you qualified for the position you’re about to fill?
  • What is their benefits/compensation package?
  • What experience do you plan to gain from them?
  • How long do you intend to stay?
  • What’s the percentage that you’ll be hired over other candidates?

Narrowing your selection will not only save you a lot of stress, science says you’ll be happier with the choice you’ve made, too!

Ask the majority.

Humans are very prone to bias. Although some of these biases can help us form opinions, it’s not wise to follow them when making decisions. Confidence for example, is a great trait to have. It allows us to view things in a positive light and sell our talents the right way. However, we may become overconfident of the skills we’ve acquired over time. Notice how even the most powerful leaders and managers typically make wrong decisions?

One of the best tricks to choosing the right decision – especially if it involves big risks – is to ask for a second opinion. For example:

You’re surprised that your organization’s leader doesn’t approve of the crowdfunding video you just made. He’s convinced that it doesn’t reflect the group’s vision. This makes you upset as you spent days working on the project. You now have a choice: upload it on the video platform without his approval OR call for a team meeting.

Don’t just trust your experience or gut-feel. The reason for this is because our overconfidence often makes us overlook critical details that would be important for the final outcome.

Avoid burnout.

Do you have a huge decision to make? Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Lynda Shaw suggests sleeping on it.

We all understand that sleep is important yet, many of us still stay up late to finish assignments, binge-watch, or mindlessly scroll on social media. Getting enough rest has plenty of benefits, but one of the most critical is that, a good night’s rest helps our brains analyze information faster and more accurately.

Feeling stressed, confused, or anxious? Get some rest. Not only will you feel refreshed after waking up, your mind will be clearer to pick a better option.

Everyone can be afraid of picking the wrong choice. So how do you make sure you get the right one 99 percent of the time? Take care of yourself. Take a second to analyze your emotions so you can better manage them. Our feelings are a huge part of who we are – but they don’t have to control us. Once you have a better grasp of your mind and body, you’ll have less regrets about the decisions you make.


The Psychology of Ethical Decision Making or Why We Make Immoral Decisions

There are several areas of research that can give us insight into ethical decision making.

Ethical Decision Making and the ‘Meat Paradox’

I’d like to ask you two questions. Is animal torture morally wrong? I’m imagining (unless we have a few psychopaths out there) that you all said yes. My second question is do you eat factory-farmed meat? Did you answer yes again?

This is the ‘meat paradox’. When we feel bad about the lives of the animals we are consuming but we eat them anyway. We know that animals reared in factory conditions suffer terrible conditions and live very short lives before they are put to death. Yet, we continue to make the decision to eat meat. So what has happened to our ethical decision making?

By examining the way we justify our decision to eat meat knowing how animals are farmed, we can understand other kinds of decision making.

What happens to ethical decision making if our behaviour contradicts our beliefs?

To eat meat but to dislike killing and harming animals causes tension in humans. According to psychologist Hank Rothgerber, there are several ways to relieve this tension:

  • Dissociation – Don’t relate meat products to animals
  • Perceived behavioural change – Lie about being a vegetarian
  • Denial of animal mind – Animals are not the same as humans
  • Behavioural changes – Stop eating meat

I’m going to focus on behavioural changes to highlight ethical decision making.

Behavioural Changes in Our Identity

The most obvious way to relieve this tension is to change our own behaviour and simply stop eating meat. But for many, this is not that simple. Yes, sure, veganism is on the rise, but it is still an antagonistic issue.

To highlight this point, in the UK recently, there was a huge debacle about a food store that started selling vegan sausage rolls. One presenter went so far as to say that no one wanted them. It seems that vegans have to have pretty tough skin in today’s society.

So are you the type of person that likes to stand out from the crowd? Are you not afraid of debate, conflict or confrontation? Or would you rather live a more peaceful life and not get involved in other people’s arguments?

Let’s look at the meat paradox again.

Psychologists Brock Bastian and Steve Loughnan are studying what effects eating meat has on those that abhor animal suffering. This is a complex subject for many people and it leads to questions about our identity.

For many people, eating meat is intrinsically tied up with who we are. Think about the manly connotation of eating meat.

The guy at the barbeque flipping over sizzling steaks. How much stick do you think he would get if he invited his mates round and cooked vegan sausages? Would he still be considered ‘one of the lads’? A real man? Would he be teased about his food choices?

Meat is manly food. You are what you eat and if you only eat stuff like lettuce you must be some animal-loving softie. One study highlights men’s attitudes to meat eating and vegetarians.

“Red meat is (commonly considered) a strong, traditional macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food” while a leaner alternative like soy is generally seen as “weak and wimpy.” Study author

This study into ethical decision making shows why it can be so hard to change our behaviour.

Ethical Decision Making and the Trolley Dilemma

The Trolley Dilemma is a thought experiment designed to test ethical decision making. The basis of the test is that you see a railroad trolley speeding down the rail track. The brakes have obviously failed. In its path are five workmen who have no chance of getting off the track in time.

However, there is a slip track. If you throw the lever on the trolley, you can steer the trolley onto this track to avoid hitting the five men. Unfortunately, there is one workman on this slip track who also cannot get off the track. So, do you throw the lever?

  • Do you leave the trolley on its original path where it will kill five men?
  • Do you steer it onto the slip track where it will kill one man?

The majority of people would take action and steer the trolley onto the slip track where it kills one man.

However, when it comes to ethical decision making, people can have very different reasons for throwing the lever.

Utilitarians – Will throw the lever to save the maximum number of lives. They think about the consequences of their actions.

Virtuous – Throws the lever because that’s what a virtuous person would do. They care about their character, not necessarily their actions.

Deontologist – Won’t throw the switch because any kind of killing is wrong. This type of person focuses on their actions which are either right or wrong, rather than the consequences of their actions.

Christian – Won’t throw the switch because killing is against the will of God.

Ethical relativist – Won’t throw the switch because aiding any person’s death is culturally wrong and illegal. They believe that all ethical decisions vary from culture to culture and are just a matter of opinion.

Now, just to make things a little harder, here is one further scenario in the trolley problem.

There are still five men on the track and it is still speeding towards them in a trolley with no brakes. However, this time in order to save them, you have to throw a man on the track in front of the trolley to stop it hitting them.

Do you throw the man on the track?

In this scenario, the majority of people would not throw a man into the path of the speeding trolley. But why not? The results are exactly the same. One man dies and five are saved.

It appears that it is much easier to make immoral decisions if we distance ourselves somewhat. When the dilemma gets a little too close and personal we opt out. Which brings us back to the meat paradox.

Cognitive Dissonance

As individuals, we have a set of beliefs and thoughts (cognitions) that make us who we are. If there is a contradiction between what we think and what we do (dissonance), something has to change to reconcile the two.

As it is easier to change our thought process than our behaviour, we usually change the way we think. There are three ways we can do this:

  1. Play down the importance of our beliefs to fit in with our behaviour.
  2. Add more beliefs that fit with our behaviour to outweigh the dissonant beliefs.
  3. Change the dissonant beliefs so that they don’t bother us as much.

So how does cognitive dissonance work in real life? Let’s return to the meat paradox one last time. You are against animal suffering and torture but you eat factory farmed meat. How can you reconcile these two opposing beliefs?

Actually, society makes it easy for us. Meat is packaged in a way to distance us from the cruelty of the slaughter process. We use terms like ‘pork’ and ‘veal’ instead of pigs and calves to further distance us from our meat.

Furthermore, we put pretty pictures of farm animals roaming fields and looking content on the packaging. But it wouldn’t take much for us to open our eyes and make better moral decisions.

When it comes down to ethical decision making, perhaps rather than expending all this mental energy justifying the wrong decisions, we should just try to be more honest and open.

Copyright © 2012-2021 Learning Mind. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact us.


Emotion and decision-making under uncertainty: Physiological arousal predicts increased gambling during ambiguity but not risk

Uncertainty, which is ubiquitous in decision-making, can be fractionated into known probabilities (risk) and unknown probabilities (ambiguity). Although research has illustrated that individuals more often avoid decisions associated with ambiguity compared to risk, it remains unclear why ambiguity is perceived as more aversive. Here we examine the role of arousal in shaping the representation of value and subsequent choice under risky and ambiguous decisions. To investigate the relationship between arousal and decisions of uncertainty, we measure skin conductance response-a quantifiable measure reflecting sympathetic nervous system arousal-during choices to gamble under risk and ambiguity. To quantify the discrete influences of risk and ambiguity sensitivity and the subjective value of each option under consideration, we model fluctuating uncertainty, as well as the amount of money that can be gained by taking the gamble. Results reveal that although arousal tracks the subjective value of a lottery regardless of uncertainty type, arousal differentially contributes to the computation of value-that is, choice-depending on whether the uncertainty is risky or ambiguous: Enhanced arousal adaptively decreases risk-taking only when the lottery is highly risky but increases risk-taking when the probability of winning is ambiguous (even after controlling for subjective value). Together, this suggests that the role of arousal during decisions of uncertainty is modulatory and highly dependent on the context in which the decision is framed. (PsycINFO Database Record

(c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved).

Figures

FIG 1. Experimental design

FIG 1. Experimental design

Participants completed a computerized lottery task where each lottery depicted a…


Examples of heuristic affection

To see how the heuristic affect works, we will look at some practical examples. The first example is so obvious that it seems very simple. The second, perhaps not so much.

To begin, imagine a scene in which two children are going to play at a park. One of the children has played on the swings at his grandparents’ home for a long time and since he loves them so much and has had fun with them, he has positive feelings toward the swings in the park. When he sees them, he immediately makes the decision to go to the swings because he believes that he will have fun, despite the risks of falling off the swing (high profit, low risk) and runs towards them.

However, the other child recently fell from a swing while playing elsewhere. This child, when he sees the swings, believes these are a bad choice (little benefit, high risk). Both children have taken a mental shortcut to decide on the advantages and disadvantages of playing on the swings. Neither one has stopped to try to realistically assess the benefits and risks, but rather have made their decision based on a memory.

This seems so simple and so obvious in a child. As adults we also do it in many situations where, if we dedicated a little time to think reflectively, we would make another decision.

In these decisions, heuristics how we perceive advantages and disadvantages. While these mental shortcuts allow people to make quick and often reasonably accurate decisions, it can also lead to poor decision-making.

As an example, think of advertising. In advertising, strategies are used to make you feel good. They arouse your positive emotions and incite your passions or introduce you to a way of life that you identify with or would like to have.

That makes you much more receptive when buying or more willing to pay more for products and services they offer. In fact, it works so well so that we may feel inclined to buy products thinking they cover a need we do not really have. Even not being able to access the object that covers the alleged need can case us anxiety.


Contents

Anticipated emotions Edit

Loewenstein and Lerner divide emotions during decision-making into two types: those anticipating future emotions and those immediately experienced while deliberating and deciding. Anticipated (or expected) emotions are not experienced directly, but are expectations of how the person will feel once gains or losses associated with that decision are experienced. [4] A great deal of research has focused on the risk/return spectrum that is considered in most decisions. For example, students may anticipate regret when deciding which section of a class is best to register for, [5] or participants in a weight-loss plan might anticipate the pleasure they will feel if they lose weight, versus the negative feelings unsuccessful efforts may engender. [6]

Generally, it is the contemplation of incremental losses or gains that generates anticipated emotions in decision-makers, as opposed to their overall condition. This means that an investor who imagines losing a small amount of money will generally focus with disappointment on the lost investment, rather than with pleasure on the overall amount still owned. Similarly, a dieter who anticipates losing two pounds may imagine feeling pleasure even though those two pounds are a very small percentage of what needs to be lost overall.

Also, decision-makers tend to compare a possible result of a decision against what could have happened, rather than to their current state: for instance, game participants who could win $1000 and end up with nothing base their disappointment on the loss of the hoped-for prize, rather than on the fact that they have no less money than they had when they began the game. This process, and the anticipation of such emotion, is referred to as a counterfactual comparison.

Finally, decision-makers tend to weight possible outcomes differently based on the amount of delay between the choice and the outcome. Decisions made with a time delay – intertemporal choice – tend to involve different weights on outcomes depending on their delay, involving hyperbolic discounting and affective forecasting. These effects are then connected to anticipated emotions as the decision is being contemplated.

Immediate emotions Edit

True emotions experienced while decision-making are termed immediate emotions, integrating cognition with somatic or bodily experienced components within the autonomic nervous system and outward emotional expressions. These may or may not be connected to the decision at hand, however while contemplation of the decision’s consequences may give rise to immediate emotions, known as anticipatory or integral influences, immediate emotions can also be related to the current environment or the dispositional affect of the person. Although unrelated to the decision under consideration, this type of emotion can still impact the decision-making process as an incidental influence. [7]

Immediate emotions tend to operate differently from anticipated emotions. First, when they are intense they tend to negate the probability of the possible outcome for example, a fear of flying experienced while deciding how to travel may lead a person to choose driving even though air safety statistics would show air travel to be statistically less likely to present a danger. The intense emotions can exact a higher influence on the decision than the probabilities under consideration. Also, immediate emotions can be very sensitive to how vivid the possible outcome is to the decision-maker. Again, a fear of flying may be enhanced by the vividness of the mental image of a plane crash may be in the mind of the decision-maker. Finally, how soon an outcome may happen impacts the related immediate emotions: the sooner the impending possible outcome, the more intense the emotion associated with that event. Overall, these emotions are real, experienced emotions, as opposed to those anticipated while thinking about possible outcomes, and as such can very powerfully impact decision-making. [8]

The somatic marker hypothesis (SMH), formulated by Antonio Damasio, proposes a mechanism by which emotional processes can guide (or bias) behavior, particularly decision-making. [9] [10]

Emotions, as defined by Damasio, are changes in both body and brain states in response to different stimuli. [11] Physiological changes (e.g., muscle tone, heart rate, endocrine release, posture, facial expression, etc.) occur in the body and are relayed to the brain where they are transformed into an emotion that tells the individual something about the stimulus that they have encountered. Over time, emotions and their corresponding bodily change(s) become associated with particular situations and their past outcomes.

When making decisions, these physiological signals (or ‘somatic markers’) and their evoked emotion are consciously or unconsciously associated with their past outcomes and bias decision-making towards certain behaviors while avoiding others. [11] For instance, when a somatic marker associated with a positive outcome is perceived, the person may feel happy and motivated to pursue that behavior. When a somatic marker associated with the negative outcome is perceived, the person may feel sad and the emotion may act as an internal alarm to warn the individual to avoid a course of action. These situation-specific somatic states based on, and reinforced by, past experiences help to guide behavior in favor of more advantageous choices and therefore are adaptive.

According to the SMH, two distinct pathways reactivate somatic marker responses. In the first pathway, emotion can be evoked by the changes in the body that are projected to the brain—called the "body loop". For instance, encountering a feared object like a snake may initiate the fight-or-flight response and cause fear. In the second pathway, cognitive representations of the emotions can be activated in the brain without being directly elicited by a physiological response—called the "as-if body loop". For instance, imagining an encounter with a snake would initiate a similar flight-or-fight response "as-if" you were in that particular situation (albeit perhaps a much weaker one). In other words, the brain can anticipate expected bodily changes, which allows the individual to respond faster to external stimuli without waiting for an event to actually occur. [12]

According to Dunn, "the somatic marker hypothesis proposes that ‘somatic marker’ biasing signals from the body are represented and regulated in the emotion circuitry of the brain, particularly the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), to help regulate decision-making in situations of complexity and uncertainty". Therefore, in situations of complexity and uncertainty, the marker signals allow the brain to recognise the situation and respond quickly. [13]

Pfister and Böhm (2008) have developed a classification of how emotions function in decision-making that conceptualizes an integral role for emotions, rather than simply influencing decision-making. [14]

The four roles played by emotions in this framework are:

  • Providing information: This includes both positive and negative emotions that arise directly from the options being considered by the decision maker, who can then evaluate choices with this "information." This role is especially likely when the felt emotion is reducible that is, easily reduced to a simple comparison (for example, attraction and repulsion), and unequivocally positive or negative. Pleasure and displeasure make up the spectrum of these emotions.
  • Improving speed: While making a good decision is important, making a quick decision is also important. Therefore, emotions and associated somatic conditions can offer mechanisms for encouraging a decision maker to decide quickly, especially when one or more options are potentially dangerous. Hunger, anger and fear can all induce a speedy decision.
  • Assessing relevance: Emotions help decision makers decide whether a certain element of the decision is relevant to their particular situations. Each person’s personal history and state(s) of mind leads to a different set of relevant information. The two such emotions most studied to date are regret and disappointment.
  • Enhancing commitment: In some ways, making the decision best for the self may be construed "the best" overall. However, acting in the best interests of others is also important in human civilization, and moral sentiments, or emotions, serve to help decision makers commit to such a decision rather than being drawn back toward pure self-interest. Emotions such as guilt and love help decision makers make such commitments.

This framework can help in exploring such concepts as ambivalence, tendencies toward particular types of action, and sustaining difficult choices over time.

Research done by Isen and Patrick put forth the theory of "mood maintenance" which states that happy decision-makers are reluctant to gamble. In other words, happy people decide against gambling, since they would not want to undermine the happy feeling. [15]

Alternatively, the influence of negative feelings at the time of decision-making was studied by Raghunathan and Tuan Pham (1999). They conducted three experiments in gambling decisions and job selection decisions, where unhappy subjects were found to prefer high-risk/high-reward options unlike anxious subjects who preferred low-risk/low-reward options. They stated that "anxiety and sadness convey distinct types of information to the decision-maker and prime different goals." It was found that "while anxiety primes an implicit goal of uncertainty reduction, sadness primes an implicit goal of reward replacement". [16] Thus emotions cannot simply be classified as positive or negative as we need to consider the consequences of the emotions in ultimate decision-making.

Another important factor is the memory of events in decision making. The mood someone has works as "a retrieval cue" whereby happy feelings make positive materials come to mind which in turn have great impact on the decisions that are made. The same is true of negative feelings. [17] Bower coined the term state-dependent remembering for this phenomenon. [18] Bower and others stated that emotions and feelings cannot be extracted from the human mind. The emotions felt in a particular situation will be recorded in the emotional memory and can be activated when the person faces a similar situation or has to make a difficult decision in a short period of time. Often the decision maker is unaware of previous experiences in similar situations. [18] [19]

Much research has been conducted on the various impacts of emotion on decision-making. Studies indicate the complexity and breadth of those impacts. Listed below are some examples of their results.


Don’t Let Emotions Screw Up Your Decisions

Think about a time you were weighing an important decision at work or considering a big expense such as a buying a house, making a hefty financial investment, or a starting a new business. Such decisions are inherently complex, and — no matter how much experience we have making them — working through the pros and cons of each choice can be overwhelming. Our emotional reactions to these choices may be useful in directing our attention and energy toward what we feel are the most important aspects of the decision. Yet intense emotions may lead us to make misguided decisions or outright disastrous ones.

An amusing example comes from the 1991 movie Defending Your Life. In one scene, the character Daniel Miller (played by Albert Brooks) is preparing for a salary negotiation the next day with his boss. To try out the tough bargaining strategy he is planning to use, he enlists his wife’s help. His wife makes various salary offers, and Daniel rejects every one of them, insisting that he cannot take the job for a penny under $65,000. As Daniel refuses to budge from his position, his wife starts to make him increasingly attractive offers.

The next scene is Daniel’s negotiation with his boss. His boss opens the discussion by saying, “Daniel, I am prepared to offer you $49,000.” Before he even finishes his sentence, Daniel replies: “I’ll take it.” Daniel’s decision to be tough got derailed by the emotions he failed to anticipate: the anxiety triggered by sitting in front of his boss and negotiating with him.

Emotions can cloud our judgment and influence our decisions when triggered by the situation at hand, as in Daniel’s case. But research shows it is also possible for emotions triggered by one event to spill over and affect another, unrelated situation.

Imagine, for instance, that you hit heavy traffic while driving to work. Later that day, you have an important meeting with a client who is interested in placing an order for the new product that your company is launching. You initiated the product’s development and oversaw its creation. So there’s a lot at stake for you. By the time you reach the office, you are 45 minutes late for work and fuming with anger. Since your meeting isn’t for another hour, you should be able to push your anger aside by then, right? In fact, my research suggests we are often unable to do so. Emotions triggered by an event completely unrelated to a new situation can influence our thinking and decisions in that situation.

Further Reading

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In one study, Maurice Schweitzer of the Wharton School and I asked a group of participants to estimate the weight of a person based solely on a picture of that person. Participants were paid for the accuracy of their estimate. After they provided their estimates, we asked them to watch a short movie clip. Some participants watched a clip from a National Geographic special that portrayed fish at the Great Barrier Reef. Others watched a clip from the movie My Bodyguard that showed a young man being bullied — a clip that we’d found in a pilot test makes people feel angry due to the aggressive and unfair treatment the young man experiences. All participants were given another participant’s estimate of the weight of the person they had just evaluated and asked whether they wanted to revise their initial estimate.

For the participants who saw the clip from My Bodyguard, the anger they experienced while watching the video clip carried over to this next, unrelated task. It led them to largely distrust and disregard the other person’s estimates and to rely instead on their initial judgments. In fact, a full 74% of these participants did not attach any significance to the advice they received. By contrast, only 32% of participants who watched the neutral National Geographic clip disregarded the advice. Disregarding the advice was costly: listening to it would have led to greater accuracy in their judgment — and thus greater pay.

As this research shows, anger triggered by a prior, unrelated experience that, from an objective perspective, should not influence our current judgments or decisions can make us unreceptive to what others have to say. In related research, Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California and Larissa Tiedens of Stanford University found that anger triggered by something unrelated to the decision at hand also affects how we evaluate others’ ideas. Many jobs include the task of evaluating the ideas of others, including our colleagues, customers, employees, friends, and family members.

In one study, Wiltermuth and Tiedens had participants first complete a writing task and then evaluate ideas generated by others. Half were led to believe they would be judging high-quality ideas and likely be making positive evaluations. The other half believed instead that they would be judging low-quality ideas and probably evaluating them negatively. For the writing task, some participants were told to write about a time in their life when they felt extremely angry. Others were asked to write about how they spent the previous day, a task designed to put them in a neutral emotional state.

The result? Although most participants, whether angry or neutral, preferred to evaluate good rather than bad ideas, those who were induced to feel angry found the task of evaluating others’ low-quality ideas much more appealing than did participants in the control condition. In addition, the angry participants were less interested in evaluating others’ high-quality ideas than were those in the control condition. It seems that anger can increase the appeal of criticizing others and their ideas.

Our feelings can offer relevant and important feedback about a decision, but irrelevant emotions triggered by a completely unrelated event can take us off track. The next time you drink a bitter cup of coffee or have an argument with a loved one, pause to consider how your emotional reactions could linger as you enter into important task or weigh a complex decision. Fortunately, we often can choose when to perform each of the many tasks required of us. This should allow us to evaluate ideas and advice from others when we believe we are most capable of doing so objectively and thoroughly.


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In fact, much of Lerner’s research focuses on how emotions can influence decision-making—and not always for the better. Your gut, to the extent that it reflects your feelings, might be steering you wrong.

Take anger, one of the emotions Lerner and other psychologists understand best. Where fear breeds uncertainty, anger instills confidence. Angry people are more likely to put the blame on individuals, rather than “society,” or fate. Anger makes people more likely to take risks and to minimize how dangerous those risks will be. Other researchers have shown that angry people rely more on stereotypes and are more eager to act. It’s an activating emotion: In lab studies, people shown angry faces crave a reward more intensely.

This trigger-happy impulse is evolutionarily adaptive, Lerner said. “We evolved in hunter-gatherer times,” she told me recently. “If someone steals your meat, you don’t think ‘Should I go after him?’ No! You strike back quickly.”

For a 2003 study, Lerner had a group of U.S. citizens read either a news story about anthrax mail-threats, which was meant to make them feel afraid, or one about celebrations of the 9/11 attacks by some people in Middle Eastern nations, which was meant to elicit anger. Those who were made to feel angry saw the world as less risky, and they also supported harsher measures against suspected terrorists. We saw this angry certainty play out in Congress: Only one member, Barbara Lee, a Democratic representative from California, voted against the authorization to use military force against terrorists in the wake of the attack.

“We said, ‘We’re acting, we’re striking back,’” Lerner said. “Everyone agreed.”

She also sees anger’s influence on this election cycle. Americans are angry, and many of them want a brusque, brash leader who will hold the bad guys accountable. According to Lerner, anger can be beneficial during the primaries. It’s good for voter turnout. “Anger is the primary emotion of justice,” she said. “With Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the Trump campaign, there was a lot of anger driving them. It brought people to the table.”

But when it comes to actually electing someone, anger confuses more than it helps. Anger simplifies our thinking. People switch to rules of thumb—ban all the Muslims!—instead of carefully considering refugee policy and its implications.

“Right now, we shouldn’t be thinking in a shallow way,” Lerner said. “Now, we need to be thinking about very specific policy tradeoffs. Anger gets you in the game, but once you’re in the game, you need to think.”

Surprisingly, though, happiness isn’t much better at inspiring good decisions. Several studies have shown that people who were in a positive mood put more faith in the length of a message, rather than its quality, or in the attractiveness or likability of the source. Given that it’s typically the amicable job interview that results in an offer, this might explain some of the economic advantages that flow to tall men or attractive people.

Under certain circumstances, sadness can be good, since it fosters systematic thought. The slightly melancholy, to whom no option appeals very much, will dutifully think, “on the one hand, x, but on the other hand y,” Lerner said. And that’s good! But too much sadness can set off rumination— “you keep thinking x, x, x, x,” she said—which is not going to get you any closer to signing on the dotted line (or not!) with satisfaction and relief.

What’s more, sadness might make you more impatient. A 2013 study by Lerner and others found that people who felt sad accepted up to 34 percent less money in order to get paid now, rather than three months from now. But at least it might make you more generous toward others: She’s also found that sad people allocate more to welfare recipients than angry people would, since the angry would likely blame poor people for their own misfortune.

There appears to be no mood that would put you in the perfect frame of mind for, well, making up your mind. So what’s a decision-maker to do? The best bet might be to accept that you’re going to have emotions, but to try to keep them from influencing your thought process.

First, you could make yourself wait to react—though this can be hard when you have the perfect email retort burning through your drafts folder. You could also try to reappraise the situation, for example by viewing a layoff as a chance to finally pursue a lifelong goal, rather than as a crushing defeat.

Or, you could try to make your emotions irrelevant to your decision. Lerner recommends making a rubric with every element of a decision that’s important to you. For example, those deciding between two houses might list the number of bedrooms, the price, and the quality of the local schools. Next, assign each factor a weight—.2 or .5 and so on—so that all of the factors add up to one. Then score each option based on each dimension, and multiply the weights by the scores. You should end up a score that reflects the total, impartial assessment of each house’s relative merit.

Of course, people want their houses to “feel like home,” which introduces emotions back into the equation. But like flipping a coin and seeing if the result disappoints you, you can at least see what Robot You would choose. That might help reveal what Irrational-Human You truly desires.


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