Understanding discrepancies between behavior and perceived self-interest has been one of the major, but largely untackled, theoretical challenges confronting decision theory from its infancy to the present. People often act against their self-interest in full knowledge that they are doing so; they experience a feeling of being “out of control.” This paper attributes this phenomenon to the operation of “visceral factors,” which include drive states such as hunger, thirst and sexual desire, moods and emotions, physical pain, and craving for a drug one is addicted to. The defining characteristics of visceral factors are, first, a direct hedonic impact (which is usually negative), and second, an effect on the relative desirability of different goods and actions. The largely aversive experience of hunger, for example, affects the desirability of eating, but also of other activities such as sex. Likewise, fear and pain are both aversive, and both increase the desirability of withdrawal behaviors. The visceral factor perspective has two central premises: First, immediately experienced visceral factors have a disproportionate effect on behavior and tend to “crowd out” virtually all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factor. Second, people underweigh, or even ignore, visceral factors that they will experience in the future, have experienced in the past, or that are experienced by other people. The paper details these two assumptions, then shows how they can help to explain a wide range of phenomena: impulsivity and self-control, drug addiction, various anomalies concerning sexual behavior, the effect of vividness on decision making, and certain phenomena relating to motivation and action.
Loewenstein, G. (1996). Out of control: Visceral influences on behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 65(3), 272-292.