Monday, November 13, 2017

Choices of decreasing value should provoke decreasing anxiety, but it doesn't work that way -- aversive vs. unrewarding

Shenhav, Amitai, Carolyn K D Wolf, and Uma R Karmarkar. 2017. “The Evil of Banality: When Choosing Between the Mundane Feels Like Choosing Between the Worst”. PsyArXiv. August 3.

Abstract: Our most important decisions often provoke the greatest anxiety, whether we seek the better of two prizes or the lesser of two evils. Yet many of our choices are more mundane, such as selecting from a slate of mediocre but acceptable restaurants. Previous research suggests that choices of decreasing value should provoke decreasing anxiety. Here we show that this is not the case. Across three behavioral studies and one fMRI study, we find that anxiety and its neural correlates demonstrate a U-shaped function of choice set value, greatest when choosing between both the highest value and lowest value sets. We show that these counterintuitive findings can be accounted for by decision-makers perceiving low-value items as aversive rather than simply unrewarding. Decision-makers thus experience anxiety from competing avoidance motivations when forced to select among such options, comparable to the competing approach motivations they experience when choosing between high-value items.

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