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Affective and Deliberative Risky Decision Making

Bernd Figner and Elke Weber

Until recently, research on risky decision making has focused on ‘cold’ deliberative processes. In everyday life, however, ‘hot’ affective processes often influence or even determine our decisions and risk-taking behavior.

We investigate (a) which situational and personal characteristics lead to differential involvement of hot versus cold cognition (e.g., whether the relevant information is learned experientially or analytically); (b) how hot versus cold decisions differ in the underlying processes such as information usage, and (c) how the resulting decisions differ depending on the decision mode (e.g., with respect to risk-taking). A special focus of our research lies on age differences from adolescence to adulthood; recent work (e.g., Bechara, 2005; Figner, Mackinlay, Wilkening, & Weber, in preparation; Galvan et al., 2006) has pointed to the importance of hot processes in explaining high levels of risk taking in such populations as adolescents and drug users.

We use measures at the behavioral level (decisions in computer card games), at the physiological level (skin conductance), and at the neural level (BOLD response in brain imaging, mainly fMRI) to investigate these questions.