How Emotions Affect Decision Making

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The following report was written as part of my graduate studies in General Psychology. It has not been published anywhere but this site. Please contact me before reusing or reporting this paper.

Course: Cognitive Psychology

Assignment: The first sentence in each paragraph answers the questions asked about the two cited research papers.

How Emotions Affect Decision Making 

Emotions affect decision-making in subtle ways that we may not always recognize. Once an emotionally-fueled decision has been made, we tend to continue to use the imperfect reasoning behind it, and as such “…a mild incidental emotion in decision-making can live longer that the emotional experience itself” (Andrade & Ariely, 2009, p. 2). We perpetuate past decisions and related inferences in two ways: (1) by ”behavioral consistency,” which means we try not to contradict ourselves as we move forward; and (2) by “false consensus,” which means we use inferences from our decisions to act how we think others expect us to (Andrade & Ariely, 2009, p. 2).

Someone about to make an important life decision should be counseled to carefully and objectively analyze the reasoning behind the various options before making a final choice. They should consider any recent emotional situations and/or decisions they have made. A review of the past course of action should be examined to see if a change of course is called for. As a practical application, listing out the pros and cons of various scenarios can help them to be seen more objectively.

Other emotions such as fear or sadness affect decisions in a variety of ways (Andrade & Ariely, 2009). There have been many mood-manipulating studies on decision-making, including decisions made after getting a gift, decisions made after receiving unfair offers in negotiation, and the choice of college based on the weather at the campus visit (Andrade & Ariely, 2009). The various studies conclude that not only does mood affect both simple and major decisions, but also that “[t]he impact of the mood induction on judgment was still present one week later” (Andrade & Ariely, 2009, p. 2).

Additional research by Ariely and Loewenstein (2005) showed that sexual arousal affects judgment when making sexual decisions; the authors acknowledge that most people are generally aware of this. However, they found that “heat of the moment” arousal overwhelms insight, judgment, and self-control due to “…dramatic cognitive and motivational changes…” (Ariely & Loewenstain, 2005, p.97). The researchers recommend that if an individual is susceptible to such situations, it is best to try to avoid them because insight, awareness and willpower cannot be relied upon to prevent unwise decision-making in the heat of the moment (Ariely & Loewenstein, 2005).

The readings as a whole suggest it would be wise to have more self-awareness of our physical and mental health as we make our daily decisions. I think this is easier said than done considering all of the physiological and psychological processes that strongly affect our moods. Fortunately, I know it can be done. I’ve seen people talk themselves out of emotionally-fueled bad decisions by rationally looking at the big picture, the various options, and probable end results.


Andrade, E.B., & Ariely, D. (2009). The enduring impact of transient emotions on decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Development Processes, 109(1), 1-8. doi 10.1016/j.obhdp.2009.02.003

Ariely, D. & Loewenstein, G. (2005). The Heat of the Moment: The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 87-98. doi 10.1002/bdm.501

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