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Mental Simulation of Visceral States Affects Preferences and Behavior

Steinmetz, J. ORCID: 0000-0003-3299-4858, Tausen, B. M. & Risen, J. L. (2018). Mental Simulation of Visceral States Affects Preferences and Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(3), pp. 406-417. doi: 10.1177/0146167217741315


Preferences and behavior are heavily influenced by one’s current visceral experience, yet people often fail to anticipate such effects. Although research suggests that this gap is difficult to overcome—to act as if in another visceral state—research on mental simulation has demonstrated that simulations can substitute for experiences, albeit to a weaker extent. We examine whether mentally simulating visceral states can impact preferences and behavior. We show that simulating a specific visceral state (e.g., being cold or hungry) shifts people’s preferences for relevant activities (Studies 1a-2) and choices of food portion sizes (Study 3). Like actual visceral experiences, mental simulation only affects people’s current preferences but not their general preferences (Study 4). Finally, people project simulated states onto similar others, as is the case for actual visceral experiences (Study 5). Thus, mental simulation may help people anticipate their own and others’ future preferences, thereby improving their decision making.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Publisher Keywords: mental simulation, mental imagery, empathy gap, visceral states
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
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