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The Science of Decision Making

September 15, 2009
Posted by Susan Weissman

There’s a lot of great research coming out demonstrating the impact of emotions on decision making. Apparently, we owe it all to B. F. Skinner (a very prominent and highly regarded Harvard psychologist) who said “emotion is one of the fictional causes to which we attribute behavior.” Apparently, his thinking dominated our culture for a good part of the last century and it’s only recently we are challenging his premise and building a body of evidence demonstrating our emotions DO influence our decisions. Jennifer Lerner,a professor at Harvard Kennedy School, runs a laboratory doing all kinds of great research. They are researching “incidental emotion” and it’s impact on behavior. For example, you’re driving to work and get cut off by a crazy driver, you’re angry and aggravated and when you get to work this anger influences other decisions you are making. Apparently anger makes you more optimistic and likely to take more risks (go figure!). In one study they showed a four minute movie designed to illicit sadness and then had people go shopping. They demonstrated that people who felt sad spent more money and were less discriminating in their purchases. Very interesting stuff with all kinds of marketing implications. We know we are on the right track when we work hard to move people emotionally through metaphor and story telling.

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