Current Research

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My research investigates the roles of emotion and cognition in behavior. In particular, I focus on how inputs from the emotional system, including physiological changes and facial expressions, influence attitudes and behaviors. Effectively using and managing inputs from the emotional system is important for navigating daily life. Imagine anticipating that you need to make a choice about a medical treatment in the future. Having a strong negative reaction to a high-risk treatment option may lead you to avoid choosing that risky option, but becoming overwhelmed by that emotional response may also lead you to altogether avoid the decision. My research focuses on how the ability to effectively use emotion responses as feedback signals, and at the same time manage disruptive physiological arousal and stress, influences choices and judgments. 

Three main lines of ongoing research:

  1. The ways that emotion and cognition influence social judgment, choice conflict, and attitude construction 
    • People respond in a variety of ways to difficult choice situations, with some individuals feeling satisfied with their choices, while others continue to reconsider their choices long after a decision has been made. One question of interest is whether some people are more likely than others to anticipate and deal with the discomfort that is induced by difficult choices. It is plausible that some people have a need or desire to reduce this discomfort and do so by using regulation strategies. This research indicates that coherence shifting reduces choice-induced emotional discomfort by allowing an individual to reevaluate an option before making a judgment or a choice. Across three studies, we predicted and found that discomfort occurs in difficult choice situations, and that coherence shifting relieves this discomfort as reflected in measures of physiological arousal and self-reports of both emotions and emotion regulation (Carpenter et al., 2016). 
       
    • Health decisions are nearly always consequential and difficult. Virtually every person is faced with important health decisions at some point during their lifetime. With an interest in health psychology, my colleague and I developed an integrative account of the roles of emotion in decision-making. In Part I, we illustrate how emotional inputs into decisions may rely on physiological signals from emotions experienced while making the decision, and we review evidence suggesting that the failure to represent the emotional meaning of options can often reduce decision quality. We propose that health-related decrements in the ability to generate emotional reactions lead people to inaccurately represent emotional responses and compromise decisions, particularly about risk. Part II explores complex decisions in which choice options involve tradeoffs between positive and negative attributes. We first review evidence showing that difficult tradeoff decisions generate negative affect and physiological arousal. Next, we propose that medical decision-making will be linked to short- and long-term stress and health outcomes. An ongoing line of my research thus seeks to expand upon these ideas and combine behavioral and physiological measures to investigate the interplay between stress reactivity and choice behavior, particularly in the context of health decisions (Carpenter & Niedenthal, 2017). 
       
    • Social influence can importantly shape people’s behavior. Another ongoing line of research investigates how culture is linked to social influence. Our findings suggest that people from interdependent cultures more frequently change their subjective judgments to be consistent with the in-group judgment. This research provides converging evidence that social influence affects subjective value judgments differentially for interdependent and independent cultural groups (Carpenter, Falk, & Yoon, under review). 
  2. The influence of emotional inputs on risky choices
    • Emotional inputs are any signal to the system that indicates, either consciously or non-consciously, the presence of an affective state. These inputs include physical signals from physiological reactions, facial expressions, and body postures, among others. The goal of this research program is to examine the proposition that disrupting emotional inputs (e.g., facial expressions) leads to the inaccurate assessment of risk in a choice context, and thus meaningfully influences risk assessment (Carpenter & Niedenthal, under review).
       
    • When faced with risky decisions, people typically choose to diversify their choices by allocating resources across a variety of options. Another line of my research examines under what conditions environmental cues lead people to invest more in high-risk/high-return choice options. This work sheds light on a key process by which people manage risks (cf. Ackerman, Maner, & Carpenter, 2016). 
  3. How changes in emotion processing and creativity across the adult lifespan influence decision behavior and judgment
    • Understanding how emotions change decision behavior across the adult lifespan is another topic of growing importance. To investigate this, the impact of induced mild positive feelings on working memory and complex decision making among older adults was examined. Results indicated that older adults in a positive mood state chose better on a risky decision task than neutral feeling participants and earned more money overall. Participants in the positive-feeling condition also demonstrated improved working-memory capacity. These effects of positive-feeling induction have implications for emotion theory and practical implications for people of all ages dealing with complex decisions (Carpenter, Peters, Vastfjall, & Isen, 2013).
       
    • Situations that involve a creative outcome, such as selecting items for recipe creation or home improvement projects, are common in daily life. When making these choices people of all ages are exposed to complex and busy environments (e.g., supermarkets, doctor’s offices) where they must ignore or inhibit a vast amount of distracting information to stay focused on the task at hand. Drawing from past research suggesting that distracting information can prime older adults with concepts that improve cognitive flexibility and convergent thinking (Kim, Hasher, & Zacks, 2007), and that divergent thinking is enhanced by attending to distracting information (Kasof, 1997), another ongoing program of research examines how a vulnerability to distracting information may lead to greater creativity in both young and older adults (Carpenter & Yoon, under review).