The underlying premise of our research is that emotional processes are the foundation of behavior and thought. We examine the role of affective reactions and emotions in how people think about the future and what they think will happen to them in the future. We are also investigating when and why particular emotions might improve functioning and decision making.


The underlying premise of our research program is that emotional processes are the foundation of cognition and behavior. The work in the lab has focused on two major lines of inquiry: 1) how and why do emotional processes impact people’s judgments about what is likely to happen to them in the future and their behaviors to approach or avoid future events?, and 2) what is the impact of specific emotions on people’s cognition and behavior, and when do specific emotions result in greater success? These are core questions that bridge disciplines within psychology, including social psychology, cognitive psychology, and judgment and decision making, as well as interdisciplinary pursuits including positive psychology and affective science.


For centuries, theorists and psychologists have posited that emotions have a pervasive impact on people’s reasoning and behavior and that those changes are adaptive in that they help the individual adapt to challenges in the environment. Several studies demonstrated that different emotions have differentiable impacts on cognition and judgments, including one conducted in our laboratory (Lench & Levine, 2005). Recently, we examined the consequences of emotions for judgments and related states in a meta-analytic review of emotion research (Lench, Flores, & Bench, 2011; Lench et al., 2012), and found that emotions have a pervasive effect on judgment, cognition, physiology, experience, and behavior. These changes were consistent with predictions derived from a functional discrete emotion account, and could not be accounted for by other emotional models. This investigation offered preliminary evidence that discrete emotions have unique impacts on people. We are currently conducting a series of investigations to examine when the changes associated with discrete emotions actually result in adaptive responses. Although this is the foundational premise of many theories of emotion – that emotions are functional – the degree to which emotions result in greater success in situations that have been theorized as relevant to those emotions has never been directly tested (Bench, Lench, Darbor, & Moore, 2014).


Improving judgments about the likelihood of future events can save people’s lives. Whenever people are faced with information about terrorism risks, health risks, or impending natural disasters they must evaluate the likelihood that they are at risk and should take action. Classic theories of decision-making propose that judgments about the likelihood of events are based on consideration of objective facts. Ample evidence suggests, however, that judgments about the future are often biased in favor of desired outcomes. The methodologies of previous studies have made it impossible to verify that bias in judgments truly exists or identify the reason for bias. To encourage people to make accurate decisions, it is critical that mechanisms influencing prediction be understood.

These projects focus on whether optimism is the result of quick emotionally-based responses (Lench & Ditto, 2008; Lench, 2009), how people reduce optimism in some situations, and how people make judgments about what is likely to happen to themselves and to other people. These projects are all based on recent dual-process models.