Tag Archives: Donald MacGregor

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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Emotional Awareness Enables Focus, Risk-taking Even When “Stressed”

Jeremy Yip

Jeremy Yip

Greater emotional understanding enables people to quell the “incidental emotion” of anxiety while they focus on decisions, according to Wharton’s Jeremy Yip and Stéphane Côté of University of Toronto.

Stéphane Côté

Stéphane Côté

Incidental emotions that influence decision-making have been called “the affect heuristic” by University of Oregon’s Paul Slovic, Melissa Finucane of the East-West Center, Ohio State’s Ellen Peters, and Donald MacGregor, then of Decision Research.

Paul Slovic

Paul Slovic

People with greater emotional intelligence can separate unpleasant thoughts and feelings from decision making and are less likely to show the affect heuristic bias in risky decisions.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud considered this ability to separate unpleasant thoughts and feelings as a defense mechanism deployed unconsciously to reduce anxiety and preserve self-esteem.
He called this experience “isolation,” contrasted with “compartmentalization,” which he defined as separating unpleasant emotions from each other.

Roy Baumeister

Roy Baumeister

Florida State’s Roy F. Baumeister, with Karen Dale then of Case Western, and Baruch College’s Kristin L. Sommer, documented recent studies that demonstrate “isolation” as a defense mechanism or coping strategy to contain negative feelings, “emotional contagion,” and “spillover.”

John Mayer

John Mayer

Yip and Côté demonstrated the relationship among emotional intelligence, evoked anxiety and propensity to make riskier choices in their lab studies of more than 100 volunteers, who completed the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test developed by Yale’s Peter Salovey and David R. Caruso with John D. Mayer of University of New Hampshire.

David R Caruso

David R Caruso

One group received an anxiety-provoking assignment:  One minute to prepare a videotaped speech shown to peers studying “academic and social standing” at the university.
The other group was given a less stressful assignment:  Prepare a grocery list.

Volunteers in both groups could choose their compensation for participating in the study: Receive $1, or take a one in 10 chance to receive $10.

Melissa Finucane

Melissa Finucane

For those given the stressful speech-writing task, people who scored higher on emotional intelligence chose the riskier option to receive $10 three times as often as those who scored lower on emotional intelligence.

In contrast, volunteers who completed the low-stress task made similar choices for compensation no matter the level of emotional intelligence.

Ellen Peters

Ellen Peters

However, people can learn emotional awareness skills to enable mental focus and contain unrelated incidental emotions, according to related studies by Yip and Côté.

They demonstrated this ability to contain anxiety when some volunteers in the speech-writing task were told they “might feel worried” because making a speech is an anxiety-producing task.
Other speech-creators received no further instructions.

Kristin Sommer

Kristin Sommer

Yip and Côté “primed” no emotion among some grocery list-creators by saying that they “may feel no emotion” or no instructions.
Participants were then primed to separate their emotions from their decision-making by being told that their emotions were irrelevant to their decisions.

 Volunteers read information about the benefits of receiving flu injections and consequences of no inoculation during flu season.
Then participants were given the option to register for nearby flu injection clinic.

The reminder that emotions were irrelevant to decisions changed previous results, by increasing the frequency that participants with lower emotional awareness chose the riskier option of not attending the flu injection clinic.

 The findings suggest that adults can reduce emotional bias in decision-making by explicitly identifying emotions and separating them from critical thinking processes

Questions that enable people to separate emotions, thoughts, and decisions include:

  • How do I feel right now?
  • What is causing me to feel that way?
  • And are my feelings relevant to the decision I need to make?

-*How do you avoid the affect heuristic when making decisions?

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