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Emotional Policy: Personal Sadness and Anger Shape Judgments about a Welfare Case



When making decisions about a welfare case, it is reasonable for one's thoughts and feelings about the potential welfare recipient to influence the decision. It is less reasonable for one's “incidental” feelings (e.g., sadness or anger arising from an event in one's personal life) to influence such decisions. In two studies, however, data reveal that incidental anger and sadness do in fact carry over, shaping welfare policy preferences. Study 1 found that incidental anger decreased the amount of welfare assistance participants recommended providing relative to neutral emotion, whereas sadness increased the amount recommended. Study 2 replicated the results and found that limiting participants’ cognitive resources eliminated the difference between sadness and anger, thus implying that differences in depth-of-thought drove the effects. In sum, the results reveal ways in which: (a) personal emotions carry over to shape preferences for public policies, (b) emotions of the same valence have opposing effects, and (c) differential depth-of-cognitive-processing contributes to such effects.