Do “Hot” Emotions Lead to Better Decisions?

-*Do people in an agitated emotional state tend to make decisions they later regret?

Popular wisdom counsels against making decisions when influenced by “hot emotions” including feeling HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired,
This guidance is based on the assumption that these physical and emotional experiences lead to regrettable decisions, such as relapsing to substance use.

Shane Frederick

Shane Frederick

Contradictory theories and research findings compete to explain the process of emotional decision-making.
One view, suggested by Princeton’s Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman with Shane Frederick of Yale, is that these two modes operate sequentially:  Intuitive judgments (“reflexive system”) are rapidly generated, whereas the analytical decisions (“reflective system”) are slower, and involve monitoring and modifying initial intuitive responses.

Andreas Glöckner

Andreas Glöckner

A contrasting view is that the two thinking modes work in parallel, and are applied in different decision environments, proposed by Max Planck Institute’s Andreas Glöckner and Tillman Betsch of Universität Erfurt.

J. Scott Armstrong

J. Scott Armstrong

Similarly, there are two divergent views of the quality of emotional decision-making.
One position is that the intuitive mode’s emotional approach may lead to faulty decisions, argued by Decision Research’s Donald MacGregor and J. Scott Amstrong of Wharton.

Marius Usher

Marius Usher

A counterpoint view is that the intuitive mode yields equal or better decisions compared with the analytical mode, offered by Tel Aviv University’s Marius Usher, Ran Brauner, and Dan Zakay with Zohar Rusou of Open University of Israel and University College London’s Mark Weyers.

Antonio Damasio

Antonio Damasio

Consistent with this view that intuitive thinking can enhance decisions, University of Southern California’s Antonio Damasio suggested that uncomfortable physical states like hunger, can provide access to unconscious processes that may determine decisions later rationalized with more rational explanations:  We feel, therefore we are, despite Descartes’ contrary assertion, he argued.

Dan Zakay

Dan Zakay

An integrative view is that decision quality depends on consistency (“transitivity”) between thinking modes during decision-making and characteristics of the decision, proposed Tel Aviv University’s Zohar Rusou and Marius Usher, with Dan Zakay of IDC Herzliya in their comparison of thinking during intuitive or analytical tasks.

Based on these views of thinking during decision making, the HALT theory that physiological arousal leads to poorer decisions was tested by asking hungry people to make complex choices.

Denise de Ridder

Denise de Ridder

Utrecht University’s Denise de Ridder, Floor Kroese, Marieke Adriaanse, and Catharine Evers asked volunteers to avoid eating and drinking between 11 p.m. the night before the experiment and 8:30 – 9:15 am, when they arrived at the lab.

Antoine Bechara

Antoine Bechara

Half of the participants received breakfast before beginning the task, whereas the remaining group immediately began the Iowa Gambling Task, developed by University of Southern California’s Antoine Bechara, Antonio Damasio and Hannah Damasio, with Steven W Anderson of University of Iowa to simulate real-life decision making using uncertainty, rewards, and penalties.

Iowa Gambling Task

Iowa Gambling Task

Participants received four decks of cards and were told to earn as much money as possible and lose the least possible when they selected one card at a time.
Cards in decks A and B had a 100 Euro payoff, whereas those in decks C and D has a 50 Euro reward.

In addition, decks A and B also had cards with a larger penalty than in decks C and D.
Consequently, selecting cards from decks A and B resulted in a loss, whereas cards from C and D led to a gain.

Floor Kroese

Floor Kroese

Hungry participants selected more cards from decks C and D, leading to greater financial gains.
Similarly, hungry participants made equally astute decisions about long term payoffs when choosing between 50 Euros in 21 days instead of 27 Euros today.

People in a “hot” emotional state like hunger actually made better decisions involving uncertain outcomes because recognized the risks of loss associated with higher rewards, concluded de Ridder’s team.
This team’s findings contrasts to conventional belief that impulsivity impairs decision-making.

  • When do you make better decisions in “hot” states like “HALT”?

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