Judgment, Emotion, Decision Making, and Intuition

The interactions between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are complex.  Not to mention the enigma of influence from genes versus environment.  Creative researchers in psychology and other fields attempt to make sense of the intricate workings of our brains – exploring such issues as our judgment and decision making processes including how we might view certain tradeoffs, emotions’ influences on our behaviour, and the intuitions that guide us rightly or wrongly.  Understanding our judgments, emotions, decision making, and intuitions not only helps us understand ourselves or others, but may influence discussions surrounding our cultures, policies and laws.

Below are 3 recent, intriguing studies that explore different aspects of judgment, emotion, decision making, and intuition.  These studies give us fascinating insight into how our brains work, yet leave us with many questions.

Judgment and Decision Making:

(Inesi, M. E. et. al., (under review). Substitutes and thresholds: The dynamic interplay of power and choice in satisfying the need for control. Psychological Science.)

Which would you rather have – power or choice?  The truth is according to a recent study you’d most like to have control in either the form of power or choice.  Turns out, when people lack power, they demand choice.  If they have plentiful choices, they don’t strive for power.  The researchers opine that this might be useful in the workplace giving the example of making a “seemingly powerless person feel better about their job and their duties by giving them some choice, in the way they do work or what projects they work on.”  Ultimately, they say, it’s about feeling in control of your life.

Are power and choice really interchangeable aspects of control?  Do more choices mean more control?  In fact, some interesting studies regarding the “paradox of choice” demonstrate that having more choices isn’t all that great.  Because when we have too many things to choose from, we question our ultimate choice.  Power seems synonymous with control, yet the choices before you are out of your control – they are merely illusions.  Still the study is interesting – noting the decisions we might make to stay in control.

Emotion:

(Winterich, K.P. & Haws, K.L. (2011), “Helpful Hopefulness: The Effect of Future Positive Emotion on Consumption,” forthcoming October at the Journal of Consumer Research.)

Hopeful consumers make healthier choices than happy ones according researchers.  The authors conducted several different studies to tease out emotions arising from thinking about the past, present (e.g. pride and happiness), or future (e.g. hope).  In one experiment, hopeful participants consumed fewer M&M’s than those who experienced happiness.  In another, authors found consumers who focused on the past chose unhealthy snacks.  Then they found that someone anticipating feeling proud (i.e. being hopeful that they will be prideful) prefers would choose fewer unhealthy snacks than someone experiencing pride (i.e. experiencing an emotion in the present).  And finally, they compared future emotions both positive and negative (e.g. hopefulness, anticipated pride, fear, and anticipated shame) and found that positivity and future focus enhanced self-control.   The take away – hopefulness will keep you healthy.

How do these findings reflect on our consumption behaviours? If  hope keeps us healthy, how can we harness that emotion so we might stay healthy even on rainy days?  Many watch shows like “The Biggest Loser” and gain hope from watching contestants’ transformations, hope that inspires many to change their lifestyles.  Unfortunately, many who start out with good intentions, let them go along the way – just think of how many New Year’s resolutions involve losing weight, and yet many don’t ever reach their goal.  When do we lose the emotion that can influence our health?  How can we remember to stay hopeful?  Perhaps in finding this answer, we might develop ways to foster a healthier culture?  Or maybe that’s too idealistic.

Intuition:

A study published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology this spring looked to see if we can distinguish between criminals and non-criminals. The researchers showed pictures of Caucasian males, ages 20 to 29 half of whom were convicts (both for violent crimes like rape or murder and for non-violent crimes like theft or forgery) to subjects and asked them to rate how likely each man was to have committed a crime.  They found that they could identify criminals on sight (though not whether their crimes were violent or not).

The study brings up questions about how we view or judge criminals.  Do we pick the one man out of a line-up because we think he looks like a criminal?  Do we profile those we might think look like criminals?  Are their reasons for these differences both social and physical?  How practical is it for us to rely on this intuition, especially if the intuition is wrong? Might we convict someone based on our intuition before they’re proven guilty?  How well do we trust a gut feeling?

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