Self-Distancing Moderates the Effect of Incidental Fear vs. Anger on Risk Taking and Loss Aversion


Studies have shown that incidental and normatively irrelevant emotions can carry over and bias decisions. However, people respond to and manage their emotions in different ways. Thus, incidental emotional influences might depend on how individuals regulate their emotions. In a preregistered experiment, we examined how the regulation of fear and anger impacts risk-taking and information processing in a task that mimics complexity and uncertainty. Drawing on the appraisal tendency framework, we propose that fear and anger lead to opposite effects on risk-taking and that these effects are moderated by decision makers’ use of a tactic of emotion regulation known as self-distancing. Participants were asked to recall and describe a fear-inducing or anger-inducing event from either an immersed or self-distanced perspective. Next, they completed the Iowa Gambling Task for our measure of risk-taking. A series of linear mixed random-effects models supported our hypotheses. First, incidental fear reduced risk-taking relative to incidental anger, and this effect reversed among participants who engaged in self-distancing. Second, self-distancing reduced reliance on intuitive information processing during the task. Third, analytical (but not intuitive) processing was negatively related to risk-taking. Finally, exploratory analyses revealed that fearful and angry people’s choices were driven more by their sensitivity to losses and gains than their sensitivity to risk. Incidental fear led to an aversion to decks associated with frequent losses.

Academy of Management Proceedings