Others behind action, emotion, and decision

Katsumi Watanabe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Human actions, emotions, and decision making are products of complex interactions between explicit and implicit processes at various levels of spatial and temporal scales. Although it may not be possible to obtain to experimental data for all the complexity of human behavioral and emotional processes in our everyday life, recent studies have investigated the effects of social contexts on actions, emotions, and decision making; these studies include those in the fields of experimental psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. In this paper, we review several empirical studies that exemplify how our actions, social emotions, and decision making are influenced by the presence of implicit external, rather than internal factors, particularly by presence of other individuals. The following are the main principles identified. (1) Unconscious behavioral contagion: Individuals tend to mimic others' actions. This tendency occurs unconsciously even when the observed and the to-be-executed movements are unrelated at various levels and aspects of behaviors (e. g., behavioral tempo and speed). (2) Neural substrates of social emotions: Various social emotions, including admiration, compassion, envy, and schadenfreude, are represented in neuronal networks that are similar to those of basic emotional processes. (3) Evasive nature of human decision making: Individuals tend to overrate their own subjective impression of and emotional reaction in forecasting affective reaction to events in the future, even though the predictive power of information from peer group is much larger in this regard. Individuals are seldom aware of the dissociation between their intended choice and excuted actions and are willing to give elaborate explanations for the choices they, in fact, did not make. Using these empirical examples, I will illustrate the considerable influences of implicit, unconscious processes on human actions, emotions, and decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1413-1418
Number of pages6
JournalBrain and Nerve
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Dec 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision making
  • Emotion
  • Implicit
  • Others
  • Preference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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