We introduce a dynamic model of emotional behavior regulation that can generalize to a wide range of decision dilemmas. Dilemmas are characterized by availability of mutually exclusive goals that a decision maker is dually motivated to pursue. In our model, previous goal pursuant decisions produce negative emotions that regulate an individual’s propensity to further pursue those goals at future times. This emotional regulation of behavior helps explain the non-stationarity and switching observed between so-called “preferences” revealed in repeated decision dilemmas (e.g., by choosing A over B at time 1, then choosing B over A at time 2). We also explain how behavior regulation under dilemma conditions is affected by the set of available options and how the strength and decay rate of emotions affect the tendency to choose behaviors pursuant of extremely (rather than moderately) different options over time. We discuss how emotional behavior regulation insights provided by our model can extend to a variety of topics including approach and avoidance, temptation and self-control, moral balancing, impulse buying and shopping momentum, dieting and exercise, work and leisure, sleep regulation, cooperation, and competition.
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