The Joint Effects of Task-Related Negative Affect and Task Difficulty in Multiattribute Choice

Dan N. Stone, Kathryn Kadous

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Can task-related emotions improve decision performance in some tasks but impair it in others? In this paper, we investigate whether the effects of task-related negative affect on decision accuracy depend on task difficulty. We hypothesize that increasing task-related negative affect increases decision makers' use ofscanningstrategies, i.e., of quickly but indiscriminately examining available information. In easy choice tasks, scanning strategies increase choice accuracy by increasing the amount of information acquired about the best alternatives in a choice set. But in hard tasks, scanning strategies decrease choice accuracy because decision makers spend less time examining the most important choice attributes. We examine these issues in an experiment in which 255 participants made 9 multiattribute choices in one of the four conditions created by crossing two levels of task-related negative affect (high, low) with two levels of choice difficulty (hard, easy). The results indicate that: (1) increasing task-related negative affect increased the use of scanning strategies, which increased choice accuracy in easy tasks but impaired it in hard tasks, (2) the use of scanning decision strategies mediates the effect of negative affect on decision accuracy, and (3) the effects of negative affect on choice accuracy primarily occurred in earlier choices. We conclude by discussing the limitations of our study and by arguing for greater attention to the specific decision effects of task-related emotions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-174
Number of pages16
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1997

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Sincere thanks to the KPMG Peat Marwick Foundation for grants to the first author, to the Office of Accounting Research (Department of Accountancy, University of Illinois) for financial support to both authors, to the Office for Information Management (University of Illinois) for assistance with the experiment, and to Susan Mertzlufft for assistance with the data analysis. Thanks also to Haim Mano, an anonymous reviewer, and the editor for comments on previous drafts.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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