Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
, 24 (2), 311-22

Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts About Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality

Affiliations

Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts About Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality

Paul Slovic et al. Risk Anal.

Abstract

Modern theories in cognitive psychology and neuroscience indicate that there are two fundamental ways in which human beings comprehend risk. The "analytic system" uses algorithms and normative rules, such as probability calculus, formal logic, and risk assessment. It is relatively slow, effortful, and requires conscious control. The "experiential system" is intuitive, fast, mostly automatic, and not very accessible to conscious awareness. The experiential system enabled human beings to survive during their long period of evolution and remains today the most natural and most common way to respond to risk. It relies on images and associations, linked by experience to emotion and affect (a feeling that something is good or bad). This system represents risk as a feeling that tells us whether it is safe to walk down this dark street or drink this strange-smelling water. Proponents of formal risk analysis tend to view affective responses to risk as irrational. Current wisdom disputes this view. The rational and the experiential systems operate in parallel and each seems to depend on the other for guidance. Studies have demonstrated that analytic reasoning cannot be effective unless it is guided by emotion and affect. Rational decision making requires proper integration of both modes of thought. Both systems have their advantages, biases, and limitations. Now that we are beginning to understand the complex interplay between emotion and reason that is essential to rational behavior, the challenge before us is to think creatively about what this means for managing risk. On the one hand, how do we apply reason to temper the strong emotions engendered by some risk events? On the other hand, how do we infuse needed "doses of feeling" into circumstances where lack of experience may otherwise leave us too "coldly rational"? This article addresses these important questions.

Similar articles

  • Précis of Bayesian Rationality: The Probabilistic Approach to Human Reasoning
    M Oaksford et al. Behav Brain Sci 32 (1), 69-84; discussion 85-120. PMID 19210833.
    According to Aristotle, humans are the rational animal. The borderline between rationality and irrationality is fundamental to many aspects of human life including the la …
  • Human Morality and Temperament
    J Kagan. Nebr Symp Motiv 51, 1-32. PMID 16335737.
    This chapter has tried to make two points. First, the concept of morality refers to a developmental cascade of phenomena whose essential features are (a) inhibition of pu …
  • Précis of The Rational Imagination: How People Create Alternatives to Reality
    RM Byrne. Behav Brain Sci 30 (5-6), 439-53; discussion 453-76. PMID 18321404.
    The human imagination remains one of the last uncharted terrains of the mind. People often imagine how events might have turned out "if only" something had been different …
  • Nonrational Processes in Ethical Decision Making
    MD Rogerson et al. Am Psychol 66 (7), 614-23. PMID 21875170. - Review
    Most current ethical decision-making models provide a logical and reasoned process for making ethical judgments, but these models are empirically unproven and rely upon a …
  • Evolved Altruism, Strong Reciprocity, and Perception of Risk
    WT Tucker et al. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1128, 111-20. PMID 18469219. - Review
    Humans have a long history of coping with particular recurring risks. We expect natural selection to have resulted in specific physiological and psychological adaptations …
See all similar articles

Cited by 236 PubMed Central articles

See all "Cited by" articles

Publication types

LinkOut - more resources

Feedback