Trust your heart: Emotions may be more reliable when making choices

February 23, 2009

When choosing a flavor of ice cream, an item of clothing, or even a home, you might be better off letting your emotions guide you, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Our current research supports theories in evolutionary psychology that propose that our emotions can be conceived as a set of 'programs' that have evolved over time to help us solve important recurrent problems with speed and accuracy, whether it is to fall in love or to escape from a predator," write authors Leonard Lee (Columbia Business School), On Amir (University of California, San Diego), and Dan Ariely (Duke University).

"We investigated the following question: To what extent does relying on one's feelings versus deliberative thinking affect the consistency of one's preferences?" write the authors. To get at the question, the authors designed experiments where participants studied and chose among 8-10 products, sometimes relying upon their emotional reactions and sometimes calling upon cognitive skills. Their conclusion: "Emotional processing leads to greater preference consistency than cognitive processing."

The researchers made some additional discoveries about eliciting consistent choices from participants. The study participants tended to make more consistent choices when products were represented by pictures instead of names; when pictures were in color (rather than black and white); when participants were encouraged to trust their feelings when making their choices; when the participants had greater cognitive constraints (i.e., when they were asked to memorize a ten-digit number as opposed to a two-digit one); and when the products tended to be more exciting (a pen with a built-in FM radio receiver) rather than functional (an LED book light).

It seems the old adage "trust your heart" is true for consumers. "If one buys a house and relies on very cognitive attributes such as resale value, one may not be as happy actually purchasing it," write the authors. "Indeed, our results suggest that the heart can very well serve as a more reliable compass to greater long-term happiness than pure reason."

More information: Leonard Lee, On Amir, and Dan Ariely. "In Search of Homo Economicus: Cognitive Noise and the Role of Emotion in Preference Consistency." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2009.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: No way? Charity's logo may influence perception of food in package

Related Stories

Musical tastes offer a window into how you think

July 22, 2015

Do you like your jazz to be Norah Jones or Ornette Coleman, your classical music to be Bach or Stravinsky, or your rock to be Coldplay or Slayer? The answer could give an insight into the way you think, say researchers from ...

IBM Watson dices, kneads and prompts kitchen cooks

June 23, 2015

IBM is on a recognition roll with Watson. From businesses to sports to medical science, IBM is calling up Watson's muscle in finding patterns and relationships hidden among data and unearthing discoveries via smart machines, ...

Chimpanzees show ability to plan route in computer mazes

April 13, 2015

Chimpanzees are capable of some degree of planning for the future, in a manner similar to human children, while some species of monkeys struggle with this task, according to researchers at Georgia State University, Wofford ...

Recommended for you

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.