Heuristic of Affectivity: How we Feel is How we Think

In a world of haste, emotions rule. There is hardly time to reflect, to think better, with calm and balance. Hence, the heuristic of affectivity tells us that a large part of the decisions we make are made according to our state of mind.

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The heuristic of affectivity tells us that emotions determine a large part of our thoughts and, consequently, our own decisions. Something like this has great relevance, for example, in the way we feed ourselves, in what we buy and in what we react to the daily difficulties of life, where there is not always time to reflect, to think better.

In a world of haste, evaluations based on the merely emotional govern a large part of our behavior. We would all love, undoubtedly, to have more time to filter and process much of the information we receive. It would be great to be able to stop the seconds of the clocks and stop the time, to appreciate in a more relaxed way everything that surrounds us.

However, such a nuance is not always possible. Hence, we often emit responses, behaviors and choices in a matter of seconds without these previously passing through the mental room of analysis and the tapestry of reflection. Thus, specialists in the field, such as Daniel Kahneman, cognitive psychologist, Nobel Prize winner and decision-making expert, point out something interesting to us.

When we think fast, we often do not do it well. And we do not do it for a simple reason: because we do not feel good either, because our mood is not in all cases the most favorable. After all, people can not choose “the way we feel” and when more complex emotions take control, reality becomes more complicated.

“Nothing is as serious as it seems when you think about it calmly.”

-Daniel Kahneman-

The heuristic of affectivity, what is it?

The heuristic of affectivity reminds us that the world of emotions is more powerful than we can believe at first. In fact, neuroscientists are not mistaken when they point out that the human being is, above all, an emotional creature that, one fine day, learned to think.

Moreover, Antonio Damasio, cognitive neurobiologist recognized for his work as a disseminator, explains in The strange order of things, that emotions, understood basically as somatic markers, influence much of our reasoning. Thus, and although we sometimes assume that “controlling thought we will dominate emotions”, the thing is not as simple as it seems.

Affective heuristics: quick answers to everyday needs

A heuristic is a mental shortcut. It is a strategy that we use to solve a specific problem quickly and as simply as possible. In this way, we understand that affective heuristics are responses and choices that we make unconsciously based on how we feel at that moment.

These evaluations based only on affect (not reflection) are quick and automatic. Now, does this mean that every decision we make with these heuristics is wrong? The answer is no”. As explained by Slovic, Finucane, Peters and MacGregor (2002) affective heuristics also start from our experiences.

These would be simple examples:

  • When I have had a bad day at work, I go shopping. I do it because I know that at other times it has made me feel good, and that feeling pleases me. However, this implies a risk ⇒ I will end up buying things I do not need.
  • I’m a recruiting technician in a company. I have to choose a candidate among all those I interviewed on this same day. I will choose the one who gives me more confidence regardless of their training and experience, because in other occasions it has given me good results.
  • Studies like those conducted by Dr. Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon, indicate that this type of judgments based on the heuristic of affectivity occurs when people do not have time to reflect or, when our mood It is very low and we can not think clearly, in a more reflective way.

What happens if I make all my decisions under the heuristic of affectivity?

The heuristic of affectivity shows us that this type of “mental shortcut” mediates a large part of our decisions, whether large or small. Sometimes, there is no doubt, we can act with success when we let ourselves be carried away by that first impulse, by that somatic imprint, as Antonio Damasio defines it.

However, in a good part of the time, by acting automatically and purely emotionally, we derive in harmful and even negative behaviors for ourselves. We can, for example, fall into some eating disorder, in addictive behaviors, or simply, make a decision that we later end up regretting completely.

However, to avoid (or at least control) this type of behavior, it is not at all a matter of excluding the emotional component of our mind altogether. People are basically emotions and therefore there is no need to separate them, you have to understand them, manage them, integrate them and have a command over them.

Dr. Daniel Kahneman, explains in his book Think fast, think slowly, we should promote a slower and deliberative thinking, where we do not always take the first impulse. Balance the emotions with the sense of logic, thread the feeling with the thread of appropriate reflection, will help us undoubtedly weave more thoughtful decisions and surely, even successful. Let’s try it at least.


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