Preferences with and without inferences: The interplay of feelings and beliefs in evaluative judgments

My talk will focus on mechanisms that underlie evaluations -- judgments of goodness and badness. Psychologists tend to examine how evaluations are influenced by descriptive information, or people's beliefs about the object. In contrast, I examine when and how subjective experiences, cognitive and affective feelings, contribute to evaluations. I will present three lines of work.

The first line of my work focuses on the feeling of difficulty triggered by recall of autobiographical memories. I will show that recall difficulty can dramatically change the evaluative implications of descriptive information retrieved from memory. I will also show that recall difficulty enters evaluative judgments via naïve meta-cognitive “theories” linking feeling to judgment.

The second line of my work focuses on the feeling of perceptual and conceptual fluency (processing ease). I will show that fluency is positively marked, perhaps through its automatic association with familiarity. The idea of positive marking of fluency explains some classic preference phenomena, such as the mere-exposure effect, beauty-in-averages effect, as well as predicts many new empirical findings, such as preference for primed, high contrast, high-duration and prototypical items.

The third line of my work examines basic affective reactions elicited by briefly presented emotional facial expression. I will show that these basic affective reactions influence evaluative judgments without producing a consciously "felt" subjective experience. Accordingly, in this last line of work, the influence of basic affect on judgment resists mis-attributional interventions targeting conscious feelings (which reliably eliminate the effects of recall difficulty and fluency experiences). This finding raises the possibility that some evaluations are driven by unconscious affective states.

In discussing all three lines of my research, I will raise the question of when a psychological process gives rise to a subjective experience and when people rely on the experience to make a judgment.

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