Although intuition predicts that people should avoid negative information, deliberate exploration of negative information is ubiquitous; people are often curious about information involving death, violence or harm. An open question regarding morbid curiosity (e.g., a curiosity for information involving death, violence or harm), is whether people are influenced by others in deciding whether to explore negative information. In a series of four studies (total n = 704), we examined the impact of others’ emotions on morbid curiosity. Specifically, we contrasted the approach-oriented emotional response of fascination with the avoidance-oriented emotional response of repulsion. Participants performed a choice paradigm, in which they could choose to view intensely negative images (or not), based on visual or verbal cues. In a between-subjects design, we manipulated whether participants were told that a majority of previously tested people found the negative images fascinating (e.g., ‘I was captivated’), repulsive (e.g., ‘I felt sick looking at this picture’) or solely negative (control condition). An internal meta-analysis, that tested the effect of others’ emotions on morbid curiosity across the four studies, showed that both fascination and repulsion enhanced choice for negative images. Compared to the control condition, participants were 2.37 times as likely to choose a negative image when others found the negative images fascinating, and 1.68 times as likely when others found the negative images repulsive. These results contribute to a better understanding of the motives for morbid curiosity (e.g., sensation seeking; knowledge seeking), and the influence of social media on behavior more generally.
Can emotions justify beliefs? The contemporary debate on the epistemology of emotions centres around dominant perceptual theories and whether the strong epistemic role they afford emotions is plausible. The perceptual theory’s epistemic commitment has been called Epistemic Perceptualism (EP). I raise a novel and important objection to EP concerning the epistemic role of ‘outlaw’ emotions (Jagger, 1989). Outlaw emotions are recalcitrant emotions that go against most or many of our internalized as well as explicitly held beliefs. Take for example a woman that suffers ongoing domestic abuse at the hands of her husband in a society that normalizes such abuse as the expected and encouraged form of female disciplining. Let us suppose that the woman in question has internalized her subservient role and has no conscious reasons to feel anger at her situation. Despite believing her husband to be entitled to treat her this way, she is enraged by her predicament. Outlaw emotions such as this woman’s anger have been considered crucial to gaining knowledge that is otherwise unavailable in ideological settings (Friedman 1986; Jagger 1989). I argue that as EP stands, it cannot account for the epistemic role of outlaw emotions. This is a serious failure given the crucial role outlaw emotions have been afforded by feminist philosophers as well as many perceptual theorists themselves. I argue that only a modified version of EP, one informed by a social epistemology, where the social standing of the agent is key to the justificatory story told, can survive my objection.
We report a multi-lab direct replication of the experiment reported by Eskine, Kacinik, and Prinz (2011). They found that drinking a bitter, disgusting beverage led to higher ratings of moral wrongness across six moral vignettes than drinking a neutral or sweet beverage (N = 54). In addition, a disgusting beverage contrast (bitter versus both control and sweet) was significant among Conservative participants but not among Liberal participants. In the present research using the same beverages and moral vignettes, random effects meta-analyses (N = 1,137, k = 11 studies) revealed standardized effect sizes that were smaller than originally reported, often in the opposite of the predicted direction. This pattern held in Conservative (k = 3) and Liberal (k = 8) subgroups. Linear mixed effect regressions revealed higher ratings of moral wrongness in the bitter group compared to the control group, at least among participants naive to the hypothesis, but not in the bitter group compared to the sweet group, and there was no moderation by political ideology. In sum, the overall pattern provides little support for the theory that physical disgust via taste perception contributes to moral disgust, especially among Conservatives. That said, although rating data validated the beverage manipulation, we observed low to moderate reliability of moral wrongness in most studies and a paucity of studies with a sufficient number of participants - especially Conservative participants - in each beverage condition. These limitations temper the strength of the conclusions we can draw.
That emotions can influence our decisions is a well-established research finding (e.g., Damasio et al., 1997). Emotions can both guide choices, for instance in the form of identifying what is relevant (Phelps, 2008), but they can also influence choices in irrational ways, for instance by distorting value and introducing biases (Rick and Loewenstein, 2008). Despite these findings underlining the importance of emotions in decision-making, relatively little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying the effects of emotion on choice. I will present recent findings that demonstrate how emotions can bias our decisions in irrational ways. In two experiments, threat of shock was used to induce aversive emotional states while subjects made decisions to trust another person or to invest in risky lotteries inside the scanner. Aversive emotions differentially impacted social and economic decision-making by suppressing neural mechanisms that are specific for each of these choice domains. Specifically, in the domain of social choice, aversive emotion suppressed activity and connectivity in social cognition regions (temporoparietal junction). In the domain of risky choice, aversive emotions led to a switch form positive value coding in ventral striatum and ventromedial PFC to negative value coding in the insula. These results underline the differential influences of incidental emotions on the neural correlates of social and economic decision-making.