The Value of Emotion in Customer Decision Making

Decisions are constantly being made by consumers when purchasing products or services. It’s therefore important to understand what factors guide a consumer’s decision-making process. For instance, it’s well known how important cognition is when making decisions. But it may surprise some people that there’s another factor in play when you decide to eat a burrito for lunch for the third time this week: emotion.

Here at Adoreboard, it’s expected that we will try to convince you of the importance of emotion in the decision-making process. But don’t just take our word for it! There’s plenty of research to back it up. But rather than having you sift through hundreds of very dry, scientific articles, we thought we’d do that for you and provide you with some highlights right here.

Emotion is Fundamental

The vital importance of emotion in decision-making has been demonstrated through an interesting avenue: individuals with brain injury. Specifically, damage to the areas of the brain associated with emotional processing has been found to significantly impair the ability to make decisions. And these aren’t just big decisions, such as whether to get married or not; these also include simple, everyday decisions, such as deciding what to have for dinner (maybe another burrito).

Often in these cases, the individuals involved have had no change to their intellect or problem-solving abilities, indicating that their inability to make decisions can’t be explained by problems associated with memory or logical reasoning. This has led some researchers to conclude that emotion isn’t simply another aspect of the decision-making process, but a fundamental part of it, and if the link between emotion and cognition is damaged, then the ability to make decisions is impaired.

Emotion trumps Cognition

So, we now know that emotion and cognition are both vital to the decision-making process, but which aspect is more influential? Well, a recent experiment found that when confronted with a decision that has both positive and negative evaluations, people are more likely to go with their emotional evaluation rather than their cognitive evaluation.

Take, for example, a situation where the positive evaluation of an object (e.g. a burrito) is emotional in nature (e.g. “delightful”), while the negative evaluation is cognitive in nature (e.g. “unhealthy”). In this situation, the positive evaluation is more likely to influence the decision-making process due to its emotional nature, and the object is therefore more likely to be favoured.

This process can be applied to consumer behaviour. When deciding whether or not to purchase something, there are both positive and negative evaluations (i.e. getting something desired vs the cost of getting it). Therefore, if the emotions that a consumer feels toward a product are more positive in nature, then it is more likely that they will decide to purchase the item. On the other hand, the more negative the emotions, the less likely it is that they will decide to purchase the item.


Emotions and Brands

Another way a consumer’s emotions are important in business is related to brands. Consumers can have strong emotional connections with brands, and when brands do evoke emotions in their consumers, these emotions influence subsequent brand-related decision-making.

For instance, individuals who like a brand are likely to continue to make decisions in favour of the brand even when there is evidence that indicates that an alternative decision should be made. This suggests that consumers who feel strongly positively toward a brand will be more likely to forgive occasional failures made by the brand, such as cost or quality issues. It is therefore important for brands to focus on strengthening their ability to evoke emotions, as this will in turn strengthen their emotional connection with their consumers.


So, as you can see, emotion is a dominant, fundamental factor in the decision-making process of consumers. An understanding of this will allow businesses to better relate to their customers, and therefore better market their products and services. This is indicated through research, but also through the success of emotional marketing at boosting ROI (Return of Investment) across a range of industries. Check out our previous blog post showing three real life examples that demonstrate emotional marketing drives real ROI here. Hopefully we have managed to convince you of the value of emotion in customer decision making!

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Lindstrom, M. (2008). Buyology: Truth and lies about why we buy. New York, NY: Random House.
Naqvi, N., Shiv, B. & Bechara, A. (2006). The role of emotion in decision making: A Cognitive Neuroscience perspective. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 260-264.
Peatfield, N., Parkinson, J. & Intiligator, J. (2012). Emotion-based learning is biased by brand logos. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 694-701.
Rocklage, M.D. & Fazio, R.H. (2016). On the dominance of attitude emotionality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(2), 259-270.