Decision making is based on myriad cognitive and emotional factors. Research has suggested that people who are angry tend to take more risks than those who are not. This could be because angry people may view the outcome as more positive and therefore are willing to take the risk. However, other research has shown that anger can elevate feelings of frustration and cause people to avoid risk-taking behaviors. The mechanisms that contribute to these decisions are both affective (HOT) and conceptual (COLD). Angry people who rely on affective/emotional mechanisms may be more sensitive to the negative consequences that can result from risk taking, while those who rely on conceptual decision-making processes may be averse to any negative outcomes and more motivated by the potential positive results. Jolie Baumann of the Department of Psychology at Northeastern University in Boston wanted to see how these unique cognitive processes influenced risk-taking behavior in angry participants.
In a recent study, Baumann recruited angry and nonangry participants and had them complete HOT and COLD risk-taking experiments to determine how anger influenced decision making. She found that when affective/emotional, HOT information was limited and only COLD, conceptual decision making was utilized, the angry participants were more likely than nonangry participants to take risks. However, when using affective/emotional HOT information, all participants took fewer risks. Baumann points out that her findings do not imply that anger predicts only hot or cold decisions—but rather that risk-taking behavior is influenced by both conceptual and affective mechanisms underlying anger. In sum, individuals with anger tend to use both processes to weigh potential rewards associated with risks. “Studying the characteristics of varying risk-taking opportunities more directly will ultimately enable increased confidence in predictions regarding how an emotion will impact any isolated case of risky decision making,” she said.
Baumann, J., DeSteno, D. (2012). Context explains divergent effects of anger on risk taking. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029788
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