The affect heuristic represents a reliance on good or bad feelings experienced in relation to a stimulus. Affect-based evaluations are quick, automatic, and rooted in experiential thought that is activated prior to reflective judgments (see dual-system theory) (Slovic et al., 2002). For example, experiential judgments are evident when people are influenced by risks framed in terms of counts (e.g. “of every 100 patients similar to Mr. Jones, 10 are estimated to commit an act of violence”) more than an abstract but equivalent probability frame (e.g. “Patients similar to Mr. Jones are estimated to have a 10% chance of committing an act of violence to others”) (Slovic et al., 2000).
Affect-based judgments are more pronounced when people do not have the resources or time to reflect. For example, instead of considering risks and benefits independently, individuals with a negative attitude towards nuclear power may consider its benefits as low and risks as high under conditions of time pressure. This leads to a more negative risk-benefit correlation than would be evident without time pressure (Finucane et al., 2000).
The affect heuristic has been used as a possible explanation for a range of consumer judgments, including product innovations (King & Slovic, 2014), brand image (e.g. Ravaja et al., 2015), and product pricing (e.g. the zero price effect; see Samson & Voyer, 2012). It is considered another general purpose heuristic similar to availability and representativeness in the sense that affect serves as an orienting mechanism akin to similarity and memorability (Kahneman & Frederick, 2002).
Finucane, M. L., Alhakami, A., Slovic, P., & Johnson, S. M. (2000). The affect heuristic in judgments of risks and benefits. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 13, 1-17.
Kahneman, D., & Frederick, S. (2002). Representativeness revisited: Attribute substitution in intuitive judgment. In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds.), Heuristics of intuitive judgment: Extensions and applications (pp. 49–81). New York: Cambridge University Press.
King, J., & Slovic, P. (2014). The affect heuristic in early judgments of product innovations. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 13(6), 411-428.
Ravaja, N., Aula, P., Falco, A., Laaksonen, S., Salminen, M., & Ainamo, A. (2015). Online News and Corporate Reputation. Journal of Media Psychology, 27(3), 118-133.
Slovic, P., Finucane, M. L., Peters, E., & MacGregor, D. G. (2002). The affect heuristic. In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds.), Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment (pp. 397-420). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Slovic, P., Monahan, J., & MacGregor, D. M. (2000). Violence risk assessment and risk communication: The effects of using actual cases, providing instructions, and employing probability vs. frequency formats. Law and Human Behavior, 24(3), 271-296.