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Lecture 2: The emotional effect on decision-making

A good decision would be made when the perspectives from both sides are taken.
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There has been much evidence showing that our decisions are affected by emotion. And here is an interesting example of consumer behaviour. Some economists want to know if our willingness to pay for non-profit activity, such as wildlife rescue, will be influenced by emotional factors. They compared between two conditions of advertisement. In one advertisement, people were persuaded that the giant panda was endangered and on a map, its settlement was presented as a picture of a lovely panda. The image induced a strong feeling in people and they would pay more a great deal of money to rescue pandas. However, the amount of money to pay did not go proportionally to the number of panda settlements.
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In another advertisement, people were told the same story but the panda settlement was presented as a geometric symbol. People paid less money for rescuing one settlement, compared to the ‘emotional advertisement’. However, by this advertisement, the payment went proportionally to the number of settlements. The experimenter demonstrated that our financial decisions may be influenced by two different ways of information processing. The willingness to pay would be better scaled to the amount of panda to rescue when we reason the numbers visualized as symbols. In contrast, the relationship between willingness to pay and the amount of panda is less scaled, when emotion plays a key role.
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It should be noted that emotion has an effect not just before we make a decision but also after we made a decision. The emotion derived after decisions are made can be very strong, such as the feeling of disappointment and regret. In psychology, such a post-decisional feeling can be categorized by different scenarios of comparison. The feeling of disappointment derives from a comparison between what we expect and what we actually got. Disappointment refers to a bad outcome that fails our expectation. In contrast, elation is a positive feeling that the outcome fulfils our expectation. When there are multiple options, a comparison may occur between the outcomes from different options.
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For example, when we find our choice leads to a worse outcome, compared to another option that we did not choose, there is a feeling of regret. Both disappointment and regret are very strong emotional experiences that would shape our decisions. For example, we may make a decision to do something because we are afraid of losing a single chance. How regretful it’ll be if we just miss the chance? This could be why salespersons always quote something like ‘Don’t make yourself regret’ – our current decision can be influenced by the emotional experience we anticipate to have when a decision is done.
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Now the session is coming to the end and I think I owe you an explanation to the big question. The big and fundamental question, that is, why do people make a decision in this way?
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You might think all the cases we presented here just tell one thing: human beings are not as good calculators as machine, and our decisions are not always ‘rational’. Is that bad news to us? From the point of psychology, our mental ability is limited and our rationality, if we refer it to calculation with 100% accuracy, is also limited. From the point of cognitive neuroscience, our rationality is bounded because the capacity of information processing is limited by the finite numbers of neurons and neural connections. From the point of evolutionary psychology,
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the human way of making decisions just reflects our adaptation to the environment: to increase the chance of survival, we sacrifice accuracy for efficiency. In other words, we usually make a quick solution, via some mechanisms such as heuristics, rather than contemplating the ‘best’ solution.
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Such bounded rationality may reflect a unique goal in human action: we usually look for a satisfactory solution, which is cost-effective for our limited mental capacity. We do not always look for an optimal solution that maximizes utility. Instead, to reach an optimal would be a goal set by computer programs. To distinguish these two goals are critical to clinical practice. Because one of the major aims for patient-dentist communication is to clarify the goal that both sides want to achieve. For example, in chronic orofacial pain, some patients look for a treatment to restore their daily life by reducing pain to a satisfying level. While some patients look for a perfect treatment to ‘eliminate’ their pain. Different decisions should be reached for different goals.
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Here I’d like to follow the issue of bounded rationality. This is not just a theoretical issue but something relevant to clinical practice. As I mentioned earlier, to set a reasonable goal for treatment is critical to patient-dentist communication. Sometimes arguments simply derive from a discordance between the patient’s goal and the dentist’s goal of treatment. It is possible that patients pursue an ‘optimal solution’ that would perfectly solve all the problems. However, from the perspective of dentists, such an optimal solution would be too costly or unrealistic to achieve. It is also possible that dentists want to achieve an optimal solution to patients’ problems, regardless its cost. However, what patients require is a satisfactory solution that alleviates their problems to an acceptable level.
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It should be noted that patients and dentists have different views
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because their knowledge is bounded by their own perspectives: patients have limited knowledge about the biological basis of treatment, and dentists are not aware of the psychosocial needs of patients. That’s why sharing information between patients and dentists are so important. A good decision would be made when the perspectives from both sides are taken.

Last but not least,

There is something more unique to human beings, that is our emotions. In the video, we will describe how our decisions are affected by emotion.

Emotion doesn’t only influence our decision before we make it, but also after we made a decision. The emotion derived after decisions are made can be very strong, such as the feeling of disappointment and regret.

Why do people make a decision in this way?

Aren’t we rational to make a better decision for ourselves? We are making stupid decisions every day, aren’t we? Is that bad news to us?

You could find more in this step. And please share your thought with us! Are we really bad decision-makers? What we can do to change that?

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Brain, Behaviour, and Dentistry

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