Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Affect Heuristic in Judgments of Risks and Benefits

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Behavior and Decision Making, p.13- (2000)



This paper re-examines the commonly observed inverse relationship between perceived risk and perceived benefit. We propose that this relationship occurs because people rely on affect when judging the risk and benefit of specific hazards. Evidence supporting this proposal is obtained in two experimental studies. Study 1 investigated the inverse relationship between risk and benefit judgments under a time-pressure condition designed to limit the use of analytic thought and enhance the reliance on affect. As expected, the inverse relationship was strengthened when time pressure was introduced. Study 2 tested and confirmed the hypothesis that providing information designed to alter the favorability of one's overall affective evaluation of an item (say nuclear power) would systematically change the risk and benefit judgments for that item. Both studies suggest that people seem prone to using an affect heuristic which improves judgmental efficiency by deriving both risk and benefit evaluations from a common source - affective reactions to the stimulus item.