Positive Affect and Decision Processes: Recent Theoretical Developments

Once consumers begin to perceive and feel a need, they develop an inner desire or drive to take action in order to meet the need. Motivation is defined as the inner need and impelling action to put out attempts to meet the need and attempt at fulfilment. When a consumer understands that there is a condition of perceived lack (need), it is converted into a choice of possibilities (wants) from which the consumer may choose. The need/desire creates tension in the consumer's thinking and an impulse to act (buy/consume) in order to meet the need or want. This emerges as a goal, which is actually the activity (act to acquire or consume), which ends the impulse to act.

The whole action may result in sentiments of happiness, indifference, or discontent. So, the study of consumer behaviour begins with an individual recognising a need and taking action to meet it. What he seeks is an ultimate objective, namely the fulfilment of a need/want.

Theoretical Developments

It holds great promise for expanding understanding customer loyalty, relationship marketing, and many other aspects of customer satisfaction as −

Affect and Focus of Attention

Affect, and attention focus has been studied for decades, but their form historically differed from what is being studied now. In the 1950s, for example, Easterbrook claimed that arousal or worry, referred to as "emotion," limited the focus of attention and lowered cue usage. Such a viewpoint was highly compatible with a line of thought emerging in the prior decades that viewed excessive motivation, "Drive" (D), or arousal as lowering cue usage and potentially interfering with performance. This interest originated from an earlier hypothesis that too much motivation or arousal—later to be conceived as the emotion of anxiety—resulted in impaired performance.

It appears that affect (feeling) and arousal were frequently considered equivalent and intertwined with motivation. At least one thinker mainly held that affect and arousal were synonymous and that emotion had no essential role other than motivation in the form of arousal. Affect, arousal, and motivation have gradually been differentiated and researched individually, while some overlap exists. In common usage, for example, anxiety, a negative affective state, is sometimes dubbed "arousal" (also known as "stress"), and it is sometimes considered that high arousal is negative in feeling tone.

The Flexibility Hypothesis

The flexibility theory says that people with positive affect are more flexible than others and can see things both ways or switch between broad and narrow focus or typical and non-typical viewpoints, as suitable in the context. For example, in three studies that looked at the influence of positive affect on the unusualness and range of word associations to common, neutral words, it was discovered that people in positive affect did not lose the more common associates when they showed more unusual associates and a broader range of first associates to neutral words.

Concerning the topic of broad and narrow focus, this type of flexibility is proposed to characterize people in a mild positive affective state so that the fact that they may tend to look at the bigger picture first, broaden their view, or integrate context into their conceptualization does not imply that they cannot focus or are limited to only the broad level of focus.

The finding of asymmetry in the effects of positive affect on positive and negative stimuli reported by Barone and Miniard is an example of a phenomenon found repeatedly in the affect literature and has significant implications for understanding the processes associated with positive affect. Positive affect was found to be an effective cue for positive material, whereas negative affect, particularly sadness, was not found to cue harmful material or did so to a much lesser extent than positive affect; similarly, the effect of positive affect on behavior such as helping and generosity was more apparent than the effect of negative affect on behavior, which did not simply produce the opposite effects.


Flexibility indicates distractibility as if attention focus cannot or is more challenging to maintain when flexibility exists. Thus, Dreisbach and Goschke argue that people in positive affect are less susceptible to perseveration (the inability to change settings, focus, or goal when the problem changes) but more susceptible to distraction (the inability to stay on target) because there is a reciprocal relationship between perseveration and distractibility. In other words, they assume that an influence that leads to people being more flexible and not being compelled to keep thinking about or responding to the same stimulus in the same way, will also lead to people being more easily distracted.

False Memory

Another ongoing line of research stemming from one possible generalization of the affect-flexibility link is the hypothesis that positive affect causes false memory. The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm has been used to study false memory. Participants in this process are shown various lists of semantically related terms (e.g., "snow," "winter," "ice," and so on) that are also connected to an essential item (e.g., "cold") that is not shown.

Then they are given a recognition test in which they are asked whether each word was previously presented, including the critical word (the one related to the theme of the presented words but was not itself presented). They are asked to say whether each word in the test was previously presented or not. The test for "false memory" is whether the essential word is incorrectly assessed as having previously been presented. According to the cognitive psychology literature, this type of false recall is prevalent, with people generally making this error as frequently as they correctly identify words that have been presented.

Cognitive Monitoring and Meta Cognition

The work on false memory, which shows that positive affect reduces false memory when people are warned that such intrusion effects frequently occur, draws attention to the role of fundamental cognitive processes in people's information processing, such as encoding strategies, cognitive monitoring, and metacognition (i.e., awareness of one's knowledge or lack thereof). Even more intriguing is that research implicates good affect as a factor in monitoring and metacognition, implying that people can control fundamental processes that govern many aspects of thinking and functioning.

According to Yang et al. (2006), those with positive affect had a better sense of whether a word was indeed provided or only "felt" like it was presented ("remember" versus "know" judgments), which is typically related to metacognition. Importantly, in the second trial, persons in the positive affect condition took better advantage of a warning about the risk of incursions from conceptually related content, possibly showing improved knowledge monitoring.

The Dopamine Hypothesis

These findings and recommendations for monitoring and metacognition are also consistent with the dopamine hypothesis of positive affect's influence on cognitive processes. This notion can aid in understanding the positive affect's facilitative effect on thinking processes. It has been claimed that good affect is associated with the production of dopamine in the brain, which stimulates regions of the brain known to be associated with thinking, working memory, attentional flexibility, and other relevant cognitive functions.

The rising amount of study on social cognitive neuroscience is beyond the scope of this chapter; however, given the context of these notions concerning positive affect's improving processes such as monitoring, it is crucial to note at least the dopamine hypothesis. Participants improved ability to consider multiple factors in the situation, including long-term welfare rather than just immediate pleasant feelings, ability to monitor and keep track of several factors in the situation simultaneously, and other indicators of more complex cognitive processing may be attributed to activation of frontal brain regions. Although space constraints prevent us from discussing social cognitive neuroscience, it is undeniably an intriguing addition to the consumer research literature.

The findings on metacognition and monitoring may also be relevant to self-control issues. Self-control is frequently examined in this context—refraining from some activity. It can also be related to sticking to a difficult or unpleasant task or competing with a more appealing task—staying at work studying when a buddy calls and proposes going to the movies. Nevertheless, self-control can also include maintaining mental attention, organizing cognitive data according to a method for remembering or working with it, and monitoring to ensure one remains on target or on task.


It is commonly understood that theoretical concerns can have significant practical repercussions, which is to be expected. Such implications have been discovered in the field of affect and cognition, where essential findings regarding affect's influence on thought processes have been investigated in applied contexts such as consumer behavior, managerial decision-making, and medical decision-making and have been found to contribute to our understanding of the processes that underpin critical phenomena in applied domains.

Updated on: 03-Mar-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started