The Affect Heuristic and Financial Expectations: Risk, Return, and ESG

Published in Working Paper, 2022

Recommended citation: Christoph Merkle. (2022). "The Affect Heuristic and Financial Expectations: Risk, Return, and ESG." Working Paper.

In four well-powered experiments (N=1,195), I study an application of the affect heuristic to the evaluation of financial assets. The affect heuristic predicts that people derive expectations of return and risk from a global affective impression of an asset, which leads to negative risk-return correlations. Experimental results confirm the presence of an affect heuristic when evaluating individual stocks. Negative risk-return correlations emerge for aggregated results, as well as within individuals. However, a positive correlation found for asset classes suggests that the ease to recognize a risk-return trade-off can curb the reliance on the affect heuristic. Asking for required returns instead of expected returns also makes the risk-return trade-off more salient. Allowing people to select their most liked or disliked stocks, in contrast, exacerbates the use of the affect heuristic as participants presumably select stocks they feel most strongly about. In an extension, I show how the affect heuristic is used in evaluating ESG performance.


JEL codes: G11, G23, G41, O33.

Keywords: Affect heuristic, dual process theory, return expectations, risk perception, correlation, risk-return trade-off, ESG, sustainability.