Fear from Afar, Not So Risky After All Distancing Moderates the Relationship Between Fear and Risk Taking

An emerging and promising line of research has explored the role of emotion regulation in risky decision making (e.g., Heilman et al., 2010; Miu & Crisan, 2011; Panno et al., 2013), with a particular focus on the reappraisal strategy. However, reappraisal is a general strategy that encompasses various tactics. One such tactic is psychological distancing, which typically involves taking a distant perspective to see “the bigger picture”. Distance has been found to decrease emotional intensity (Van Boven et al., 2010), particularly the intensity of basic emotions such as fear and anger (Katzir & Eyal, 2013). In addition to its emotion regulatory benefits (e.g., White et al., 2019), psychological distance has been found to reduce probability weighting biases (Sun et al., 2018) and framing effects in risky decision problems (Raue et al., 2015). These effects are usually explained by a reduction in emotional intensity as distancing allows individuals to zoom out and transcend features of the here and now. The three studies presented here seek to contribute to this literature by examining how psychological distance moderates the influence of anger and fear on risk seeking. Three preregistered and well-powered studies (total N = 1,372; one correlational and two experimental) were conducted on mTurk using CloudResearch. mTurkers were able to participate if they had at least 95% approval rate, 500 HITs approved, and if they were currently residing in the US. Additional (preregistered) exclusion criteria were set for those who had completed the study (e.g., failed attention and bot checks, spent less than 2-3 minutes on the entire survey, indicated low English proficiency). The results indicated that the association between trait fear and risk aversion was reduced among individuals with high levels of habitual distancing (Study 1) and when participants imagined that the decision scenarios were temporally and physically distant (Study 2). Study 3 manipulated both emotions (anger vs. fear) and distancing (immersed vs distant). The results indicated that incidental distancing increased optimistic risk estimation.Taken together, these findings suggest that the impact of basic emotions like fear on risk can vary as a function of psychological distance. Such insight is of particular relevance to the field of judgment and decision making. Indeed, decision makers who engage in distancing might find themselves less influenced by incidental emotions. Additionally, decisions themselves may induce psychological distance when they involve temporally, physically, and socially distant targets. These findings also have important implications for organizations, especially now as leaders across the globe navigate the current pandemic.

Lewend Mayiwar
Lewend Mayiwar
PhD Candidate (expected 2023)

Emotions, judgment and decision making, open science & reproducibility.