How Feelings Influence Your Decisions

How feelings affect your decisions

You are certainly not surprised that your feelings influence your decisions. How many times have you regretted making a decision in a certain emotional state? You have probably noticed that you are more willing to take risks when you are happy and that the exact opposite happens when you are worried.

It’s not very promising if you are angry and make decisions. However, neither is it when you’re euphoric. But do you really know how your feelings affect your decisions? Has the first impression in the decision-making process carried you away? Do you know how your emotions “help” you in making a decision?

The great value in knowing how to give in to ourselves is that each and every one of the feelings can stop at any moment – and that can happen all the time and with ease.

David R. Hawkins

Affect heuristics and decision making

Affect heuristic is a mental abbreviation that enables people to solve problems efficiently and quickly. It is also said that emotions (fear, joy, surprise, etc.) play a role in decision making.

It is a process that takes place subconsciously and leads to faster decisions. This enables people to act without having to constantly search their brains for relevant information. It takes place quickly and unintentionally in response to a stimulus.

rain head

Affect heuristics usually come into play when we are weighing the risks and benefits of something, depending on the positive and negative feelings we associate with a stimulus. Listening to your heart is basically the same.

Researchers have found that if you have positive feelings about something you are likely to underestimate its risks and overestimate its benefits. When you feel negative about an activity, you are overestimating the risks and assuming fewer benefits.

Examples of affect heuristics

To better understand how affect heuristics work, here are a few examples. The first example is so obvious it almost seems too simplistic. The second maybe not so much.

First, imagine a scene in which two children are going to play in the park …

  • One of the children played on the swing at his grandparents’ house for a long time. Because she likes it so much, has a lot of fun with her and associates positive memories with her, she has positive feelings about the swings in the park. When they see them, the child immediately makes the decision to go to the swings because they think they will have fun. And that despite the risks of falling off the swing and running towards her. That is the high profit, low risk assessment .
  • However, the other child recently fell off a swing while playing elsewhere. When this child sees a swing, he or she thinks that it is a bad choice to use it, because they judge: low profit, high risk.
boy swing

Both children took a mental shortcut to weigh the pros and cons of rocking. Neither of them paused to try to realistically assess the benefits and risks, but made their decision based on memories.

It seems so simple and obvious with children. As adults, we act the same way in many situations, and if we reflected a little better, we would probably often choose differently.

In our decisions , the affect heuristic plays a role in how we perceive advantages and disadvantages. While these mental shortcuts allow people to make quick, and often quite accurate, decisions, they can also lead to poor decision-making.

Now think of advertising. In advertising, strategies are used to make you feel good. They let positive emotions arise in you, inflame your passion or introduce you to a way of life that you identify with or that you would like to have. This makes you much more receptive to purchases or makes you willing to pay more for a product or service. It actually works so well that we want to buy products that we think will cover what we need and don’t already have. It can even lead to anxiety if we do not have access to the supposedly necessary item.

A couple of scientific observations

A study by Lichtenstein et al. from 1987 has shed much light on the important role affect heuristics play in decision-making. People make their judgments about an activity or technology based not only on what they think about it, but also on how they feel about it. The researchers have shown that assessments of benefits and risks are negatively correlated with each other.

That is, people underestimate the risks when they have a more optimistic view of the benefits. The same is true in the opposite case: the higher the risks, the fewer potential benefits.


A little later, in 1980, Robert B. Zajonc argued that affective responses to stimuli are often the first automatic responses that then have an impact on how information is processed and evaluated.

In 2000 , Finucane et al. theorized that positive feelings towards a situation lead to a perception of lower risks and higher profits – even if this is of course not appropriate in all situations.

In any case , people are far from making decisions based on pure reason. Like it or not, our minds are prepared to make quick decisions and usually don’t take into account all of the information we have. In fact, we often make decisions before we even realize we did it.

Don’t confuse feelings with reality

When we talk about reality, we are talking about
what we can objectively perceive with our senses. She is not … >>> More

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