Affect as an Ordinal System of Utility Assessment
59 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2016 Last revised: 5 Mar 2018
Date Written: 2015
Is the perceived value of things an absolute measurable quantity, as in economists’ notion of ‘‘cardinal utility,” or a relative assessment of the various objects being evaluated, as in economists’ notion of ‘‘ordinal utility”? We believe that the answer depends in part upon which judgment system underlies the evaluation. Specifically, we advance the proposition that due to its distant evolutionary roots, the affective system of judgment is inherently more ordinal (less cardinal) than the cognitive system. That is, structurally, the affective system is designed to perform evaluations in a manner that is inherently more comparative than the cognitive system, focusing more on the relative ranking of various alternatives than their assessment in absolute terms. Results from six studies provide converging support for this general hypothesis and show how this novel proposition can explain classic judgment phenomena such as the greater scope-insensitivity and reference-dependence of affect-based judgments.
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