Surprise. A belief or an emotion?

Barbara Mellers, Katrina Fincher, Caitlin Drummond, Michelle Bigony

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

18 Scopus citations


Surprise is a fundamental link between cognition and emotion. It is shaped by cognitive assessments of likelihood, intuition, and superstition, and it in turn shapes hedonic experiences. We examine this connection between cognition and emotion and offer an explanation called decision affect theory. Our theory predicts the affective consequences of mistaken beliefs, such as overconfidence and hindsight. It provides insight about why the pleasure of a gain can loom larger than the pain of a comparable loss. Finally, it explains cross-cultural differences in emotional reactions to surprising events. By changing the nature of the unexpected (from chance to good luck), one can alter the emotional reaction to surprising events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855


  • Beliefs
  • Cross-cultural
  • Decisions
  • Emotions
  • Feelings
  • Hindsight bias
  • Overconfidence
  • Surprise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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