Brexit, Donald Trump and the Colour Red: Improbable Effects of Emotions on Decisions

  • Date:
  • Time: 14:00-15:00
  • Location: Online
  • Speaker: Peter Ayton, CDR


Numerous laboratory studies reveal that incidental emotions produce distinct effects on risky decision-making: e.g. while fear induces risk-averse choices, anger promotes risk-seeking choices. Accordingly, if risky driving decisions cause car accidents, emotionally arousing events might influence accident rates. Noting studies showing effects on voters’ happiness for both the 2016 UK Brexit referendum and 2016 US Presidential election, we exploit geographic voting variation across 378 UK Local authority areas and 3141 US counties and find evidence that variations in regional electoral partisanship was associated with fluctuations in post-election car accidents. Noting Rottenstreich & Hsee’s (2004) observation that, when emotionally primed, people’s economic valuations show reduced scope sensitivity, and numerous studies reporting that the colour red induces a distinct affective response (e.g. people are judged more attractive when wearing red; red is associated with heightened anxiety), we tested the hypothesis that the colour red will reduce scope sensitivity in judged prices. Our experiments confirmed the hypothesis: the price difference between a set of six teacups and saucers and a set of twelve teacups and saucers was significantly smaller when the teacups and saucers were depicted on a red background compared to other background colours.  Finally we report a field study of economic decisions in a TV game show where contestants compete by haggling for antiques to sell at auction.  One team is always dressed in red the other team is always dressed in blue. We found that the red team achieved significantly higher profits.

The Speaker:

Peter Ayton is a Director in CDR. He previously worked at City, University of London, where he also served as Head of the Psychology Department, Associate Dean for Research and Deputy Dean of Social Sciences. He has been a visiting scholar at Princeton University, Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of California Los Angeles, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, the University of Mannheim, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bilkent University, Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University and INSEAD.

Peter’s research investigates how people make judgments and decisions under conditions of risk, uncertainty and ambiguity. He has produced four books, numerous papers in scientific journals and has also written for popular outlets such as New Scientist, Psychology Today and The Guardian.