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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Nov;55(5):710-7.

Influence of positive affect on the subjective utility of gains and losses: it is just not worth the risk.

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  • 1University of Maryland Baltimore County.


A modification of the procedure originally used by Davidson, Suppes, and Siegel (1956) to measure subjective utility was used to study the influence of positive affect on individuals' perceived value (utility) functions. Results indicated, as expected, that persons in whom positive affect had been induced showed a more negative subjective utility for losses than did controls. This indicates that losses seem worse to people who are feeling happy than to those in a control condition. The subjective utility functions of the two groups did not differ as much, however, when people were considering potential gain. Thus, at least in the situation tested in this study, potential gains did not seem to be more appealing (nor less so) for affect subjects than they did for controls. These findings are discussed in relation to theoretical issues in decision making and work suggesting that positive affect can promote increased sensitivity to losses in situations of potential meaningful loss.

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