Emotionally Attached: the Role of Feelings in Decision Making

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Biology 202

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Emotionally Attached: the Role of Feelings in Decision Making

Amber Hopkins

Our society today is very structured on the concepts of reason and logic, with little to no credibility given to things based on feelings or emotions. According to David Borenstein, "Feelings are not supposed to be logical. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions." However, everyone, at some point, makes a decision that they know is emotionally based, whether they are willing to admit it to the world or not. Recently, the validity of the old saying that "emotion is the antithesis of reason" has come in to question. As our understanding of the brain increases and its various functions are being mapped out, more importance is being given to the role of emotions in mental activities.

Perhaps one of the best explanations as to why reason is given such a higher emphasis is because of the control we seem to believe it gives us over our situations. Conceptions of emotion include images of extreme volatility and lack of control, leaving us apprehensive and overwhelmed. The reality of the fact, however, is that most often, decisions are made by combining reason and emotion.

Science has termed the section of the brain most involved with emotions as the Limbic System. This system includes the amygdala, (where fear and aggression are found), the hippocampus, (for memory), the hypothalamus, (for homeostasis, which we will come back to), the pre-frontal cortex (for thinking about the future, and organizing behavior towards specific goals, contributes to pleasure and addiction), as well as a few small surrounding structures (1). This system works to create an emotional association of physical sensations with memories of an emotional state(2). Through the functioning of the pre-frontal cortex, the potential possible actions have for pleasure or pain is evaluated, and the Limbic system guides our reason towards actions that will result in our happiness and self-preservation(3). It is interesting to note, that when cases where a "pre-frontal lobotomy" have taken place, the patients seem to lose their abilities to express any traces of joy, fear, hope, sadness, or any other emotions(4).

Following this understanding of the Limbic system, and the nature of the hypothalamus, it seems to follow that emotions are a part of homeostasis. In order for living creatures to maximize experiences that promote their survival, certain basic actions, such as eating and reproduction, are linked with agreeable emotions, while actions that would threaten the stability of their existence are linked with negative emotions. Hence we have the natural distinction between the two basic classifications of emotion, pleasure and pain(3).

Because of the nature of the Limbic system, and the way it correlates memory with emotions, it provides us with a necessary source of information about our relationship with the world around us. Every emotion that we possess is the result of a non-consensual experience, where involuntary input entered the nervous system, and had to be sorted through by the Limbic system. Evolution has expanded on the ability of humans to associate different experiences with different emotions, so that we can experience varying degrees of agreeable and disagreeable emotions. By combining the emotions that our Limbic systems have established towards the subject with our reasoning of it when making a decision about something, we increase our chances at maintaining our homeostasis. This is not to say that everyone's emotions will be the same, or that the decision they make in the same circumstance would be the same. No, quite contrary to that, each person's conclusion would be distinct and individualized, because individual reactions vary as a result of different experiences

Recently this ability to acquire and apply knowledge from emotions and the emotions of others in order to be more successful and lead a more fulfilling life has been defined as Emotional Intelligence(5). This concept stresses the ideas that humans are born with certain emotional potentials, and that by recognizing these potentials, they can be used to enhance thinking, while thinking can be used to understand emotions(6). Thus, steps are being made to change the conception that emotional decision making is unacceptable in society. It is when emotionally based decisions are not combined with our ability to reason that our judgments tend to become volatile and unpredictable.

1)General Psychology: the Emotional Nervous System,
2)Limbic System-Wikipedia,
3)Anthony Reading. Hope and Despair. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
4)Limbic System: Center of Emotions,
5)Definition of Emotional Intelligence,
6)What is Emotional Intelligence?,

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