Do Emotions Help or Hurt Decision Making?

Last Friday, we profiled The Market Research Event keynote speaker Dr. Kathleen Vohs. Now we have the opportunity to bring you an excerpt from her book Do Emotions Help or Hurt Decision Making? A Hedgefoxian Perspective. Here is Part One of the excerpt from her book. Look for part two later this week. In a perhaps overused metaphor, academics are sometimes classified as hedgehogs and foxes. Playing on a famous, albeit somewhat mysterious, statement by 7th century B.C. philosopher Archilochus that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” the prototypical hedgehog is a “system addict” on a quest for a unified theory of everything. Foxes, in contrast, have an appreciation of the complexities of reality that prevents them from even entertaining the possibility of any grand unifying scheme. Belying their physical image, hedgehogs are the life of the party. They take outrageous positions and push their arguments to the limit, generating heated debate. Foxes, despite their slyness, are party duds; they stand on the sidelines shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at the naivety of the hedgehogs’ wild speculations. One more strike against foxes. As the party extends into the waning hours, however, the frantic repartee of the hedgehogs can wear thin, even to the hedgehogs themselves. That’s when the host begins to long for the arrival of a third species of party animal: the hedgefox. Hedgefoxes combine the best properties of their two mammalian relatives. Like the hedgehog, the hedgefox is a synthesizer, but like the fox the hedgefox cares about, and advances theories that take account of, and make sense of, the complexities of reality. If research on emotions is a party (and the explosive growth of the topic over the past few decades has lent the topic something of a party atmosphere), the time is ripe for the entry of the hedgefox. Research on emotions has made enormous strides, stimulated by debates between researchers who have taking extreme stands on a variety of central issues. There are hedgehog emotion researchers who argue for the primacy of emotions over cognition, and others who argue, instead, that all emotions are derivative of cognition. There are advocates of the idea that moral judgments are the product of emotion, perhaps justified ex post by reasons, and those who argue that morality is a matter of logic. And, most central to the basic theme of this book, there are hedgehogs whose research focuses almost exclusively on the destructive effects of emotions and others who focus as selectively as the first group on the vitally beneficial functions that emotions serve.