Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts About Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality

19 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2006

See all articles by Paul Slovic

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

Melissa Finucane

East-West Center; Kaiser Permanente - Center for Health Research

Ellen Peters

Ohio State University - Psychology Department; Decision Research; University of Oregon

Donald G. MacGregor

MacGregor-Bates, Inc.

Abstract

Modern theories in cognitive psychology and neuroscience indicate that there are two fundamental ways in which human beings comprehend risk. The analytic system uses algorithms and normative rules, such as probability calculus, formal logic, and risk assessment. It is relatively slow, effortful, and requires conscious control. The experiential system is intuitive, fast, mostly automatic, and not very accessible to conscious awareness. The experiential system enabled human beings to survive during their long period of evolution and remains today the most natural and most common way to respond to risk. It relies on images and associations, linked by experience to emotion and affect (a feeling that something is good or bad). This system represents risk as a feeling that tells us whether it's safe to walk down this dark street or drink this strange-smelling water. Proponents of formal risk analysis tend to view affective responses to risk as irrational. Current wisdom disputes this view. The rational and the experiential systems operate in parallel and each seems to depend on the other for guidance. Studies have demonstrated that analytic reasoning cannot be effective unless it is guided by emotion and affect. Rational decision making requires proper integration of both modes of thought. Both systems have their advantages, biases, and limitations. Now that we are beginning to understand the complex interplay between emotion and reason that is essential to rational behavior, the challenge before us is to think creatively about what this means for managing risk. On the one hand, how do we apply reason to temper the strong emotions engendered by some risk events? On the other hand, how do we infuse needed "doses of feeling" into circumstances where lack of experience may otherwise leave us too "coldly rational"? This article addresses these important questions.

Keywords: Rationality, risk analysis, risk perception, the affect heuristic

Suggested Citation

Slovic, Paul and Finucane, Melissa and Peters, Ellen and MacGregor, Donald G., Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts About Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality. Risk Analysis Volume 24, Issue 2, Date: April 2004, Pages: 311-322 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=931686

Paul Slovic (Contact Author)

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
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541-485-2403 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon - Department of Psychology ( email )

Eugene, OR 97403
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)

Melissa Finucane

East-West Center ( email )

1601 East-West Road
Honolulu, HI 96848
United States
808-944-7254 (Phone)
808-944-7298 (Fax)

Kaiser Permanente - Center for Health Research ( email )

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United States
808-432-4754 (Phone)

Ellen Peters

Ohio State University - Psychology Department ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

Donald G. MacGregor

MacGregor-Bates, Inc. ( email )

1010 Villard Ave.
Cottage Grove, OR 97424
United States
(541) 942-5727 (Phone)

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