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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA professor explains how emotions affect decision-making

Your heart may sometimes outweigh your brain when it comes to decision-making, according to a UA researcher.

At a conference held in India in December of 2011 by the Centre of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Allahabad, scientists from around the world talked about research involving decision-making. Alan Sanfey, an assistant psychology professor at the UA who is currently on leave to conduct research in the Netherlands, presented his research on social decision-making.

“It was an opportunity to present work to the Indian science community and also to international scientists,” Sanfey said.

According to Sanfey, social decision-making happens when a person takes others into account before deciding what to do.

“The decisions I talked about during the meeting are characterized by the fact that I have to figure out what I want and believe, and also what you want and believe in order to make the best decision,” he said.

Sanfey explained that one of the biggest aspects to social decision-making is the influence of emotions.

“We would argue that emotions always come into play with decision-making,” he said. “One of the problems with standard models of decision-making is that often they don’t include emotions. Even in financial decisions, where some people think emotions are not typically involved, we use them to guide us poorly or guide us well.”

Music freshman Ariana Iniguez said most of her decision-making comes from rationalizing.

“There’s some cases where my gut immediately has a feeling and it’s the impulse that I go with,” Iniguez said. “But most of the time I am thinking about consequences. Like, if I choose to do this, what will be the outcome of it?”

Mia Moa, a biochemistry sophomore, said she is usually aware of how her feelings affect her decision-making.

“You are going on past experiences, so I feel like you already know how you feel about something,” Moa said. “So why not go with how you feel so then you know maybe how something is going to turn out in the end.”

Throughout Sanfey’s research, he has completed numerous experiments in relation to decision-making, including how emotions control rational decision-making and past choices.

“I think with decisions, it is a mixture of a lot of things,” said Ashuntis Dunbar, an undeclared sophomore. “I usually make a pro and con list to see if it will change my mind, but in the end I go with my intuition.”

Sanfey explained that while rational methods of decision-making are used with bigger decisions, most daily choices are driven by emotions and experiences.

“Most bigger models of decision-making are typically made presuming we have a rational mindset towards things, that when we have a complex decision to make we will outweigh the pros and cons,” Sanfey said. “Certainly we can do this, but we don’t tend to make life-changing decisions on a daily basis, but the smaller ones may be influenced by emotions.”

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