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Theses Doctoral

A Process Tracing Approach to Understanding the Influence of Incidental Moods on Attention and Decision Strategies in Mixed-domain Risky Choice

Gong, Rui

The affect and decision literature has established that incidental moods affect our decisions and choices. Yet few studies have gathered process data to examine the role of affect on the cognitive processes underlying decision-making. The primary purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the effects of induced moods on the process and outcomes of decisions under risk, using mixed-domain financial problems. In two empirical studies, an eye tracker was used to record decision-makers’ distribution of attention across specific aspects of the decision problems, and transitions in attention. Both studies tested for possible mood congruency effects and mood effects on depth of processing in the decision-making task.

In Study 1, viewing of short movie clips was used to induce either happy or sad mood in participants, who then made choices between pairs of mixed-domain options consisting of a probabilistic gain coupled with a probabilistic loss. Data were also gathered in a control condition, where participants were instructed to use an EV-calculation strategy, a prototypical integrative compensatory strategy. In Study 2, instead of movie clips, the mood induction task involved reading a sad or neutral news story. Inclusion of a neutral condition enabled inferences about the specific effect of the induced sad mood condition. Also, the decision task in Study 2 was modified in structure by always pairing a sure option with a mixed-domain risky option.

Study 1 results showed significant differences in choices and in attention transitions between the EV-instruction and the induced mood conditions, but no significant differences between the happy and sad induced mood conditions. Participants with induced moods showed relatively more evidence of heuristic strategy use, but analytic strategies remained the modal strategy in all conditions. Importantly, key types of attention transitions were shown to reliably predict the frequency of observed choices consistent with optimal (EV- maximizing) and heuristic strategies. Study 2 found significant effects of problem structure (domain) on choices and distribution of attention. Participants in general had longer fixations and showed more EV-maximizing choices for problem structure 2 (sure loss versus mixed risky option) than for problem structure 1 (sure gain versus mixed risky option) problems. Across both studies, however, the results did not demonstrate any effect of specific induced incidental mood on decision-making. Limitations of the findings and future research directions are discussed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cognitive Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Corter, James E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 8, 2021