Decision Affect Theory: Emotional Reactions to the Outcomes of Risky Options

Barbara A. Mellers*, Alan Schwartz, Katty Ho, Ilana Ritov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

563 Scopus citations


How do people feel about the outcomes of risky options? Results from two experiments demonstrate that the emotional reaction to a monetary outcome is not a simple function of the utility of that outcome. Emotional responses also depend on probabilities and unobtained outcomes. Unexpected outcomes have greater emotional impact than expected outcomes. Furthermore, any given outcome is less pleasant if an unobtained outcome is better. We propose an account of emotional experiences associated with outcomes of decisions called decision affect theory. It incorporates utilities, expectations, and counterfactual comparisons into hedonic responses. Finally, we show that choices between risky options can be described as the maximization of expected emotional experiences, as predicted by decision affect theory: That is, people choose the risky option for which they expect to feel better on average.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)423-429
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1997
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors received financial support from a National Science Foundation grant (SBR-94-09819) awarded to the first author We wish to thank Jon Baron, Terry Boles, Alan Cooke, Lisa Ord$oA$nTez Rick Larrick, Philip Tetlock, and Tom Wickens for helpful comments


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