According to this USA Today piece: "The evidence has been piling up throughout history, and now neuroscientists have proved it’s true: The brain’s wiring emphatically relies on emotion over intellect in decision-making."
It goes on to discuss "framing: " a hot topic among psychologists, economists and political hucksters." And, presumably, PR and marketing folk.
The piece continues: "Framing studies have shown that how a question is posed — think negative ads, for instance — skews decision-making. But no one showed exactly how this effect worked in the human brain until the brain-imaging study led by Benedetto De Martino of University College London." Read the full piece for the detail on the experiment. But according to De Martino: "The brain stores emotional memories of past decisions, and those are what drive people’s choices in life."
In other words, we all have an emotional database that we search and query every time we make a decision. Perhaps that explains why most PRs rely on "gut feel" when deciding who to send a press release to.
More seriously, the field of neuroeconomics (as it is apparently dubbed) is a burgeoning one. And easy to see how it could be applied in the realm of PR. I’m sure some enterprising academic will be able to fund a study into the emotional decision making of journalists – such as which PRs they prefer to deal with.