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Affect, Value and Choice : How Incidental Affect Influences Decisions


Everyday decisions are never made in a void -- a busy environment surrounds a decision maker as he or she makes a choice. Previous research has clearly demonstrated that unrelated factors, specifically incidental affect, can influence decisions, often in an unwanted and unnoticed manner (Wilson & Brekke, 1994). However, there has yet to be a systematic examination of the influence of incidental affect on decision-making processes. This dissertation explores the effects of incidental affective stimuli on financial decisions. Through this work I aimed to demonstrate global effects across stimuli categories, characterize the type of decisions susceptible to influence, and uncover insights on the process through which affect is incorporated into decision making processes, specifically valuation. Chapter 1 presents 3 studies that demonstrated robust evidence for the influence of incidental affective pictures on gamble decisions. We found that affective stimuli drive predictable changes in gamble acceptance, and that affective reactions to the pictures mediate this effect. Our results further show that affect influences choice indirectly, by altering valuation parameters such as loss aversion, and that these effects specifically target gambles that are ambiguous in value. These findings have important implications for integrating affect into models of financial choice. Chapter 2 examined more closely the relation between affect and valuation, through a motivation framework. Using a paradigm that paired different types of affective judgments and approach/ avoidance response tendencies, we found that hedonic 'liking' judgments differed from 'wanting' judgments (judgments of motivational value) across genders, in their susceptibility to motivational state, and finally in their relation to approach/avoidance actions. Bridging the data from both studies through a combined analysis demonstrated evidence that 'wanting' judgments were more broadly predictive of gamble acceptance, than 'liking' judgments. These findings support the hypothesis that incentive evaluations transfers from incidental reactions into decision valuation calculations, thus influencing choice

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