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The basic premise of William James’ theory of emotions - that bodily changes lead to emotional feelings - ignited debate about the relative importance of bodily processes and cognitive appraisals in determining emotions. Similarly, theories of risk perception have been expanding to include emotional and physiological processes along with cognitive processes. Taking a closer look at Principles of Psychology, this article examines how James’ propositions support and extend current research risk perceptions and decision making. Specifically, James (1) described emotional feelings and their related cognitions in ways similar to current dual processing models; (2) defended the proposition that emotions and their expressions serve useful and adaptive functions; (3) suggested that anticipating an emotion can trigger that emotion due to associations learned from past experiences; and (4) highlighted individual differences in emotional experiences that map on well with individual differences risk-related decision making.


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Lacasse, K. (2015 ). Going with your gut: How William James' theory of emotions brings insights to risk perception and decision making research. New Ideas in Psychology – in press. doi:

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Wesleyan University

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Wesleyan University