Affect and Decision Making
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Type of Work3 pages
Citation of Original PublicationStickney, Lisa T. (2009). Affect and Decision Making. Decision Line, 1-3.
Intellect is to emotion as our clothes are to our bodies; we could not very well have civilized life without clothes, but we would be in a poor way if we had only clothes without bodies. [Alfred North Whitehead] S ixteen years ago, Fineman (1993a) called for a more contextualized view of affect and emotion in research. Among the questions he asked were how are de-cisions and decision making impacted by people's emotions, and how does affect alter or guide the decision path? Few have attempted to answer his questions. Instead the prevailing view is that emo-tionality is the antithesis of rationality. In addition, organizations, places where decision making routinely occurs, have been viewed as fundamentally rational places with emotional displays consid-ered unacceptable and disruptive (Ash-forth & Humphrey, 1995). Both of these beliefs are inaccurate. Organizations are not bastions of reasoned discourse, but "emotional arenas" (Fineman, 1993b), and the myth that organizations are ra-tional places devoid of affect can impede effective decision making. As for the link between reason and affect, it is much closer than many think. Neurobiological research demonstrates that affect is an essential component of rational decision making. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is home to affective reactions. When dam-aged, individuals consistently make poor decisions or no decisions, suggesting that emotionality and decision making are inexorably intertwined (Damasio, 2005). In the words of LeDoux (1996), "cognition is not as logical as it was once thought, and emotions are not always so illogical" (p. 35). This brings us back to Fineman's (1993a) basic question: How does affect influence decisions and decision making? Before taking a closer look at the relationship between affect and decision making, we need working definitions for the terms associated with emotionality. The definitions used in this article are fairly standard and accepted in the emo-tion literature. Affect is a generic label that encompasses both moods and emotions. Moods are low-intensity, relatively endur-ing feelings usually without a known an-tecedent, while emotions are more intense, short lived, and have a clear cause. Both moods and emotions are relevant to deci-sion processes in organizational contexts because they have the potential to influ-ence judgment and decision making in organizations. Emotions can have a direct effect on decision making because they come with an awareness of their origin, so a response can be consciously planned. Moods are important to study because their effects are often subconscious. Thus, emotions and moods may infuse bias into the decision-making processes.