The Effects of Fear on Decision Making

After a tumultuous election year and the results it has now created, the one common factor that influenced many people into their choices was fear. Fear of what the world would be like under the other candidate. Fear of what the future will hold if that person becomes president. This fear of the unknown has long been tapped by both politicians and businesses to drive our decision making into what they are selling. However, prior to a decision, we often overrate the negative impact that decision will have us. This negative thinking is often not how we actually feel after the decision has been made.

Why is fear so important? Because it is an emotion that protects us from negative events. Fear exists in various aspects of our lives. Everytime we get in the car, a part of us is scared to get in an accident and be seriously hurt or killed. This emotion than dictates how we drive. Do we recognize it, stare it in the face and say “oh, well. You only live once.” Or do we drive so cautiously that the other drivers around us become angry and frustrated with our lack of risk taking. For most, it is a balance between these extremes. The emotion of fear brings about the attention to be cautious and observant prior to any decision making. Once all the risks are analyzed, we then move forward with a decision. Sometimes that process is quick and sometimes it’s antagonizing. When we don’t know the risks, our fear can often lead us away from rational thought. It’s this pathway that leads us to make decisions from a purely emotional perspective.

Now that we’ve gotten worked up about the decision and we’ve made a conclusion, how do we feel about the choice later? For most people, the level of negative emotion they felt about an outcome of a decision, drops dramatically when compared to how they felt about it before. This is the same for positive emotions as well. Prior to a decision, our expected emotions are more exaggerated than what they end up being afterwards. Why is that? Because when predicting our emotions, we don’t take into account our coping mechanisms. This is the factor that advertisers try to exploit. If we were able to take into account that we can handle a negative outcome better than we think, then we would be less prone to reacting on emotion alone.

How do we combat this? By understanding that this is part of our decision process. Our emotions are an important part of our decision making process and should not be negated. However, that doesn’t mean we have to rely strictly on them. This election cycle has shown how much emotion plays into our decisions. Fear and anger drove the entire rhetoric of both presidential candidates. Now we have to live with the consequences.

1 thought on “The Effects of Fear on Decision Making

  1. svb5694

    Interesting. It’s true that fear makes us a bit more cautious and that once we overcome it, it makes those types of decisions easier later on. When you mentioned fear of driving, it reminded me of an accident I was in on July and am still recovering from. I was always fearless (to the extent of being a safe driver of course) of driving. However, this accident took me by surprise and left me fearful of driving for a while. Long story short, the accident was out of my control, having been hit from behind, and was so bad that my injuries still cause me pain as I even type this. Once the accident was over with, I found that while driving for 15-20 min painful, it also caused fear in me I never had before. Even when I’m a passenger and traffic slows down I panic that the person behind will hit us. After a few months passed and I was exposed more to traffic, my fear has died down, and I’m more comfortable with only the pain from the accident and daily therapy acting as a reminder of what happened.
    Fear is a powerful emotion indeed.

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