Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Risk-as-feelings

Risk as feelings:
What is the emotional experience of risk and how does it influence decision-making and behaviour?


Weighing up the risks
Example of a variant of the "Shell game"

14 year old Billy is at a fete and his parents have given him some money to spend on lunch. As he's about to head to the burger stand a sign catches his eye. The sign is brightly colored and states that big prizes are available to those who attempt the game. The cost of entry would mean Billy would not be able to buy lunch, [grammar?] he weighs up his options, as well as the difficulty of the game. The game consists of guessing which shell out of 3 contains a colored ball, [grammar?] this is done after they are quickly shuffled past their point of origin. If the correct shell is chosen a prize will be given, however if the wrong shell is chosen then there is no reward and the money wasted. What Billy is being faced with is a risk; he lacks the knowledge of where the ball is and he may lose the money he could buy food with.

Every day we face challenges, large or small, [grammar?] they require that we weigh up the risks and benefits of a course of action. Often this is done unconsciously, sometimes it is all consuming. This chapter considers how we experience and respond to risk. It provides a summary of early and major theories such as the risk as feelings hypothesis. It discusses the advantages, limitations and biases of the different approaches. Understanding how emotions influence decision making provides insights into why people react differently to risk.

Focus questions:

  • What is risk?
  • What is the emotional experience of risk?
  • How does risk influence decision-making?
  • How does risk influence behaviour?

Definition of riskEdit

  • Risk is a statistical probability or belief held that harm or danger will occur from engaging in an activity or certain behavior.[1] Risk is characterised by a varying amount of uncertainty and possible negative consequences[2]. Measuring risk and what causes it varies from person to person and is affected by several factors. For example [grammar?] past experience, where if a person experiences a risk event without receiving any negative consequences, they may become desensitized to it(Hertwig & Wulff, 2021).

Theoretical frameworkEdit

Modern theories on risk and how it affects behaviour tend to focus on two distinct models:

  • Risk as analysis: Where an individual responds to danger with logic, reason and with scientific deliberations. Risk analysis is often undertaken using an Analytic system, and requires time and conscious control.(Peters et al., 2005).
  • Risk as feelings: Where an individual responds to risk with a fast, intuitive and instinctive reaction.(Traczyk et al., 2015). Risk as feelings is often placed within the experiential system.

Developed by George Loewenstein [grammar?] the Risk as feelings hypothesis identified how emotional reactions dirive[spelling?] behaviour and also how these emotional reactions often misperceive[spelling?] risk (Kobbletvedt & Wolf, 2009). This was further explored in the work done by Paul Slovic which highlights the interplay between emotion and reason and the advantages, biases and limitations of different approaches. This chapter will be mainly focusing on the Risk as feelings hypothesis.

Affect Heuristic Model:Edit

  • Affect when used in this context is when an individual relies on the emotion that they are currently experiencing to make judgements on risk (Paek & Hove, 2017). This model was developed by Slovic who highlighted that emotion is an important guiding factor in making decisions. An individual will use conscious/unconscious associations when faced with making a decision that has positive or negative feelings associated with it. This model features a distinction between emotional sensations and cognitive reasoning processes. Emotion in this model is described as belonging to the experiential system.
  • If a person has an overt reliance on risk as feelings model, they will develop the affect heuristic. The Risk as Feelings hypothesis suggests that even subtle affective reactions that are associated with risky situations have influence over behavior.

Positive VS Negative Affect:Edit

  • When an individual has positive affect, it often means they have a higher number of beneficial judgements and a reduced amount of judgements of risk.
  • Negative affect is the opposite of this, with an increased amount of risk judgements and lower amount of beneficial judgements.
  • Some studies have had results that lean towards the possibility that an individual's beliefs about the possible likelihood of a hazards consequences plays a large role in affective judgements of risk.(Walpole & Wilson, 2021)

[for example?]

Risk and Hazard, what is their relationship?

In some contexts, risk can be applied to a situation where there is a possibility of physical, social or financial harm due to a hazard. A hazard is an event or situation that has the possibility to become harmful to a person or group. The main difference between risk and hazard is that hazard is a physical entity while risk is only an implication for what hazard could do to a person(Rohrmann)

Sign that warns of a possible hazard

Affect and mental imagery:Edit

  • The correlation between mental imagery and anticipatory emotions has been widely studied. Holmes and Matthew[factual?] found that individuals who imagine unpleasant events happening would experience more anxiety than those in the study who only thought about the verbal meaning behind the description of those events(Traczyk et al., 2015).
Experiment exampleEdit

Sixty undergraduate students were instructed to read ten short descriptions of risky situations. Following this the participants were asked to imagine they were in those situations and to write down the first series of thoughts associated with those situations that came to their mind which could range from positive to negative. After this participants were then assessed on the valence of their emotions evoked by the associations using a five-point scale; the riskiness of the situation using a ten point scale. Results found that the emotional valence of the thoughts caused by thinking about a risky situation were generally negative.

Experiential System/Analytic system:Edit

  • Experiential system: A system that is defined by its fast intuitive response time and operates at an unconscious level(Slovic et al., 2004).
  • Analytic system: uses logic and mathematical reasoning and normative rules.

Key differences between Experiential and Analytic systems[3]:

  • Pleasure-pain oriented/Reason oriented
  • Behavior is mediated by feelings and vibes regarding past experiences/ Behavior is mediated by conscious and current apprisial[spelling?] of events.
  • Self-evident/ Requires logic and evidence to be justified
  • Some studies have shown that those who rely on the faster process could possibly be able to have more accurate and efficient judgements then those who use the other system (Walpole & Wilson, 2021).

Example of the Experiential System:

Denes-Raj and Epstein created an experiment where individuals could win one dollar by drawing a red jellybean from a jar. They found that individuals would choose jars with more beans in it overall (7 red beans in 100) then jars with a smaller overall number (1 in 10). When those individuals were asked why they chose the jars with more beans they responded that even though they knew the probability was against them they felt that with more red beans in that jar they had a better chance at winning.

Image of jelly beans.


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What is the emotional experience of risk?Edit

Examples of risk perception models:

Availability heuristic: Tom's been watching the news more. He's been worried about the recent outbreak of Monkeypox and has been watching the news and searching online for more information on it. Tom has been wearing his facemask and limiting the amount of time he leaves home. While no cases have been reported in his town Tom believes it's better to be safe than sorry.

Optimistic bias: June frequently goes above the speed limit in order to get home faster after work. She doesn't like being late for her family's dinner. While June knows that it's breaking the rules and dangerous she still does it. June believes she isnt[grammar?] posing a danger to others since she's a safer driver then those who cause crashes due to speeding.

Optimistic bias is when an individual believes the risks posed by something are less dangerous for them then others who might engage in it.

Explaining risk perceptionEdit

  • Risk perception is how an individual or group evaluate and judge hazards they are or could be exposed to in the future. These perceptions are heavily influenced by the societal values and norms that an individual or group exist in. How dangerous a risk is viewed or if an Indvidual[spelling?] is ready to accept the risk is dependent on what kind of hazard it is, personal beliefs and experiences and societal influences(Rohrmann). When encountering a risk for the first time an individual will often respond with emotions such as dread and fear which may result in a tendency to overestimate the danger and severity of a hazard(Paek & Hove, 2017).
Risk Perception model that showcases the variety of aspects that influence a persons[grammar?] perception of a risk

Early theory of emotional experience of riskEdit

  • Fischoff and Slovic developed the Psychometric Paradigm, a theory that suggested perceptions of hazards were formed by a set of beliefs that would come together to make two possible dimensions: Dread and Unknown risk(Walpole & Wilson, 2021).The psychometric model suggested that people judge risk based on: the severity of the risk not being controllable, feeling dread from the risk, risk of global consequences, risk of fatalities, and the that the risk has not been experienced before(Paek & Hove, 2017)..


  • In the Affect, Risk, and Decision-Making paper Published by Slovic and their colleagues there is a compilation on the findings found in early psychometric studies on Risk Perception. These studies found that feelings of dread had a positive association with public perception and acceptance of risk for a variety of hazards(Peters et al., 2005).The feeling of dread can be explained as beliefs regarding the controllability of hazards, feeling that there are grave consequences coming and feeling dread itself.

Unknown RiskEdit

Unknown Risk can be explained as:

  • The degree to which information regarding the risks posed by a hazard are known to an individual.
  • If the risk is new or has been experienced in the past.
  • If the effects of the risk are delayed or immediate.

[for example?]

Limitations of this model: Could be improved with the addition of further factors that were not originally included, for example moral risks. Due to use of aggregated data in the original studies for this model, individual differences can not be taken into account.

Elaboration likelihood modelEdit

Example of the two possible routes
  • This model developed by Petty and Cacioppo suggests that there are two routes for processing persuasion messages, the central and peripheral route. The central represents an elaborate and thought out way of processing a persuasion message, the peripheral route relies on cues for processing(Yuen & Lee, 2003). These two routes play a role in decision making and risk assessment. The mood a person is currently experiencing determines what route is chosen. A positive upbeat mood means the peripheral route is chosen, while a more negative upset mood causes the central route to be chosen. For risk this means a person in a more positive mood is likely to assume a more positive outcome and expectations regarding a possible risk while the opposite would happen with someone currently in a more negative mood.

Relevant Risk Communication models:Edit

Of the four models of Risk Communication identified by Vincient Covello two are relevant to this chapter, the Mental Noise and Negative Dominance models because emotions negatively impact the individual's ability to think clearly.

  • Mental Noise model: hypothesizes that when an individual is placed in a high stress situation such as during a environmental disaster that their ability to think clearly is impaired as mental noised[say what?] interferes with their being ablility[spelling?] to respond rationally(Davis, 2002). Mental noise will also interfere with a person's ability to hear information and even remember instructions(Northwest Center of Public Health Practice University of Washington).
  • Negative Dominance model: hypothesizes that when an individual or group are placed in a highly stressful situation that they will pay keen attention to the information around them. This means that while they are in this situation that biases may emerge and those with them will start to pay more attention to negative information while tuning out positive information. These biases may be further reinforced if the people and environment around them are negative(Sato, 2015).

How does risk influence decision-making[grammar?]Edit

To illustrate how risk influences decision-making an in-depth example will be used. Peer pressure helps provide a case where certain groups will willingly engage in risky decision-making. The main group that will be discussed is adolescents[grammar?] males, and to help with this topic the "hot and cold" dual process model will be explained.

The Hot and Cold model as discussed by Luisa Kessler and colleagues is a variant of the dual process system with a focus on adolescents. Cold (analytic) system is what determines decision making. Hot (Experential[spelling?]) is impulsive and motivates adolescents for engaging in emotional challenges and sometimes overrides the cold system due to the immediate short-term rewards offered by engaging in those challenges[4].

Peer PressureEdit

Figure that shows an example of peer pressure

Peer pressure can be explained as an indirect or direct influence by a group targeting an individual to change themselves, do similar acts or complete tasks in order to fit into or be accepted by the group.

  • A study on the Peer influence on Risk-taking behavior found that there was a significant effect from Peer Pressure on Risk-taking, Risk preference and Risky decision making(Gardner & Steinberg, 2005).
  • The results of this selected study hinted at the possibility of age varying how strong a influence peer pressure is. Whilst all groups were affected, there was a stronger correlation between Peer Pressure and risk [missing something?] in adolescents and young adults.
  • The study also found that younger males were more likely to weigh the possible benefits of risk taking over the costs at a more frequent rate then young women did.

The main limitations of this study were that an experiment can not fully predict how people would act in a real situation. For example while such studies suggest teenagers might commit crimes in the company of other young men, adult men often commit crimes alone(Gardner & Steinberg, 2005), making the findings therefore ambiguous.

How does risk influence behaviourEdit

Risk-taking behavior is any behavior that may have a possible positive outcome or the chance of a negative outcome.

Teenagers have been found to engage in risk-taking behavior at a higher level then other age groups. This is possibly due to a increased sensitivity to reward brought on by the still developing reward center of the brain.


When it comes to risk-taking Jens,O Zinn broke it down into three main categories: Risk as an end in itself, risk as a means to an end, and risk as a response to vulnerability.

Risk as an end in itself:Edit

Jimmy has been an experienced Mountain climber, when he's climbing [grammar?], he feels like he's truly himself. He enjoys pushing his limits and a good challenge. Today he's attempting skydiving, although he's never done it before he's excited to attempt a new challenge.

    Example of Risk as a end in itself. The excitement of taking risks is what causes a individual to engage with risks.
    : [5].

Risk as a means to an end:Edit

Sarah has been preparing to assist with her fellow Red-Cross emergency aid workers at nearby town that has been ravaged by a flood. It's dangerous work but Sarah wants to help out, she's always believed in mateship and looking out for one another even in hard times.

Risk as a response to vulnerability:Edit

Samuel is in a dangerous situation with no easy way out. He's spent most of his savings on gambling and now he can no longer pay off the debts he owes. The only options he has left is selling his car and treasured family heirlooms or face losing everything.

Domain Specific risk-taking:Edit

  • Risk taking for some can be found to be Domain Specific, meaning in one aspect of their life only (ie recreation, social, financial). This refers to how a person may engage in risk taking in one area but not for others.
  • Weber identified a scale to measure this, with perceived risks, expected benefit and assessed risk in six domains which include: Gambling,investing, Ethical choices,Healthy choices, social interaction and recreation(Weber et al., 2012).
  • The scale has found that those who are known to engage in risks such as bungee jumping would typically score highly on the relevant scale ie Rereational[spelling?]. This is while also having average possibly risk-averse scores for the other scales.

Positive Risk-taking:Edit

  • This is risk-taking when there is not only a possible beneficial outcome but is also desirable to do.
  • Duell and Steinberg created a framework that would suggest the possible features positive risk-taking has, these include:
  • It is beneficial to the individuals well-being
  • low severity in possible costs ie no danger to health and safety
  • It is socially acceptable.
Drink driving is an example of Negative risk-taking. This is due to it being a behavior that is dangerous to the person partaking in it, socially unacceptable and illegal

Negative Risk-taking:Edit

  • This is risk-taking where the risk is illegal, or it has dangerous consequences.
  • Some studies have linked individuals that exhibit behavioural traits such as a impulsiveness would be more likely to engage in substance abuse and were less likely to engage in pro-social behaviors (Fischer & Smith, 2004).
  • Some studies have results that possibly suggest that women are less likely to engage in negative risks then men. This is attributed to women perceiving risk at a higher level than men do(Fryt & Szczygiel, 2021).

Both positive and negative risk-taking share factors that predict them occurring. One such example of this is sensation seeking which has been linked as a predictor factor to the risk-taking of both illegal and legal risks(Fryt & Szczygiel, 2021).


Risk avoidance can be defined as an individual avoiding activities or events in order to not be hurt or affected by possible harm. If an individual's perceptions of a risk lean towards severe negative outcomes, it's likely they will actively avoid the risk to prevent those outcomes from happening(Lorian & Grisham, 2010). The presence of anxiety has been hypothesized in some cases to be a form of information hinting at the presence of a threat in the nearby environment. Following this anxiety could push an individual to avoid facing that threat. This theory can be backed up with those who have clinically severe anxiety having chronic risk-avoidant behaviors.[6].

Loss Aversion:Edit

When the possible loss or harm from a risk is focused on more heavily then any possible benefit or win from the risk.

Case study: Bob is at the arcade and is playing one of his favourite games. He's surpassed his old high score and has come to a possible choice. He can either leave now with only just beating his score or try to beat the next level and leave with a even higher score. If he loses however, he won't even get a chance to record his score and it will be game over.

Bob has the potential of gaining more points(Apporach[spelling?] motivation) or losing and getting a worse score(avoidence motivation)

Safety Bias:Edit

A bias that some have where they will attempt to avoid anything that could pose any perceived harm to them. While this can be helpful in some cases, the safety bias itself has been linked to the development and continuation of anixety[spelling?] in some studies.


Risk is an unavoidable part of daily life and how we respond to its challenges can affect us in both negative and positive ways. We can indulge in risks to the point that it's unhealthy but also attempt to avoid them to the point where it becomes a consuming fear.It's important to try to keep a balance between how you feel and think. A[grammar?] over reliance on either one while ignoring the other is unhealthy and leads to negative side effects.

See alsoEdit





  1. "APA Dictionary of Psychology". Retrieved 2022-08-28.
  2. Hillson_20__20Murray-Webster-with-cover-page-v2.pdf (
  3. Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts about Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality - Slovic - 2004 - Risk Analysis - Wiley Online Library
  4. Feedback negativity and decision-making behavior in the Balloon Analogue Ri...: EBSCOhost (
  5. Full article: The meaning of risk-taking – key concepts and dimensions (
  6. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2005.11.003 | Elsevier Enhanced Reader