Essays on Emotion and Decision Making
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CitationDorison, Charles. 2020. Essays on Emotion and Decision Making. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractEmotions serve as the foundation upon which humans make many of their most important life choices. Despite this fact, prior research has only begun to scratch the surface of the role of emotion in decision making. The present dissertation aims to help fill this gap. The first essay (collective N = 12,028) provides evidence for an emotion-specific, rather than valence-general, model of decision making for addictive substance use. In a nationally-representative, longitudinal survey, results reveal that the frequency of self-reported sadness (but not other negative emotions) in 1995 predicted not only smoking at the time of the survey, but also relapse up to 20 years later. Four pre-registered experiments found further causal evidence for emotion-specificity using self-report measures of craving, behavioral measures of impatience, and bio-behavioral measures of puffing topography. The second essay provides evidence that selective exposure (i.e., the tendency to prefer information that confirms, rather than disconfirms, one’s prior beliefs) partly stems from faulty affective forecasts. Specifically, political partisans systematically overestimate the strength of negative affect that results from exposure to opposing views. Five pre-registered experiments (collective N = 2455) provide support for this overarching hypothesis across communication medium (verbal vs. written), communication author (U.S. president vs. U.S. senator vs. voter), and the political spectrum (liberal vs. conservative). Additionally, we provide evidence that underestimation of agreement with the content of opposing partisan communication drives this forecasting error, and that correcting mistakenly extreme affective forecasts can reduce selective exposure. Finally, the third essay draws on seven pre-registered experiments (collective N = 3,149) to identify errors in affective perspective taking during disagreement. We find that, in contrast to predictions based on cognitive dissonance theory, (1) the predominant affective reaction to disagreement is anger (not anxiety), and (2) individuals systematically over-estimate the anxiety (but not anger) felt by counterparts. Taken together, the present work extends understanding of the vital role of emotion in driving decision making in personal, professional, and political contexts. Simply put, emotion and decision making are inextricably intertwined.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365779
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