Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Morton, J. Bruce


Making effective decisions requires a balance between rational thinking and emotional processing. Optimal decision-making approaches involve carefully analyzing available information to make informed and advantageous choices. This study investigates how people’s ability to identify, process, and express emotions (alexithymia) relates to their decision-making in different emotional contexts. We used the Hot and Cold versions of the Columbia Card Task (CCT) to evaluate how participants make decisions. By analyzing their decisions as a function of their alexithymia levels and three manipulated game parameters (loss probability, loss amount, and gain amount), we discovered that people with higher levels of alexithymia had reduced sensitivity to losses, especially in the Hot version of the CCT. These results indicate that people with alexithymia may underestimate losses when making decisions involving emotional processing, leading to biased outcomes. Our findings have important implications for understanding and addressing risk-taking behaviour in individuals with heightened alexithymia.

Summary for Lay Audience

Making good decisions involves finding a balance between our emotions and logical thinking. It is essential to analyze the available information to make smart choices carefully. At the same time, our emotions can serve as helpful guides toward favourable decisions and away from unfavourable ones. In this study, we wanted to understand how a person's ability to understand and express emotions (known as alexithymia) relates to their decision-making in situations requiring varied emotional processing. To investigate this, we asked participants to complete the Columbia Card Task (CCT), which had two versions: a "Hot" version that involved emotional processing and a "Cold" version that focused on deliberative thinking. We looked at how participants made decisions based on their alexithymia levels and three factors we manipulated in the game: the chances of losing, the amount of loss, and the amount of gain. We found that people with higher levels of alexithymia were less sensitive to losses in the "Hot" version of the task. This means they tended to underestimate potential losses when making decisions in emotionally charged situations, leading to greater risk-taking. These findings are important because they help us understand how difficulties in understanding and expressing emotions can influence decision-making, particularly when emotions are involved. By recognizing this relationship, we can better understand and address risky behaviour in individuals with heightened alexithymia and those with emotional processing difficulties.