How Anxiety Leads to Suboptimal Decisions under Risky Choice Situations

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Zhiyong Yang, Professor and Department Head (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: The current research proposes that situationally activated anxiety—whether incidental or integral—impairs decision making. In particular, we theorize that anxiety drives decisionmakers to more heavily emphasize subjective anecdotal information in their decision making, at the expense of more factual statistical information—a deleterious heuristic called the anecdotal bias. Four studies provide consistent support for this assertion. Studies 1A and 1B feature field experiments that demonstrate the role of incidental anxiety in enhancing the anecdotal bias in a choice context. Study 2 builds on these findings, manipulating individuals’ incidental anxiety and showing how this affects the anecdotal bias in the context of message evaluations. Study 2 also provides direct evidence that only high-arousal negative emotions such as anxiety/worry enhance the anecdotal bias, not just any negative emotion (e.g., sadness). While the first three studies examine how incidental anxiety impacts choice, the last study demonstrates the effect of integral anxiety on decision making, manipulating anxiety by intensifying participants’ perceived risk. Our results show that—consistent with findings from our first three studies—the anecdotal bias is enhanced when anxiety is heightened by individuals’ perception of risk.

Additional Information

Risk Analysis, 35(10), 1789–1800
Language: English
Date: 2015
anecdotal bias, anxiety, suboptimal decisions

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