Emotion and Choice

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What role does emotion play in our concept of choice? Wouldn't it be easier if we could get emotion out of the way and use rational analysis to make our decisions? I recently listened to a podcast from Radiolab on choice that explored the answer to this question:
Radiolab: Overcome with Emotion
Also, for the full podcast on choice:
Radiolab: Choice

You would think that choices would be made easier if emotion did not conflict with our ability to reason, but Radiolab concludes that this is not the case. They wonder if a "Spock" or "vulcan" like person who is completely logical would actually be beneficial. They bring the question to a neurologist and psychologist named Antoine Bechara. Antoine then tells the story of Eliot who is a completely normal man, but had a tumor in his orbitalfrontal cortex that was removed. This part of the brain plays a key part in decision-making and emotion.250px-OFC.JPG After it was removed Eliot was still relatively normal but took a long time in making the most simple decisions. He couldn't even decide what color pen to use at work. It would take him half an hour to decide. Eliot eventually visited a neurologist who realized he spoke normally but had no emotion to it. So the neurologist presented him with disturbing images and saw that he had no emotional responses in the brain.

As a result of all of these effects, we can see that Eliot is pathologically indecisive. The answer to the original question of whether it would be beneficial to be completely logical is no. The only way to cut down to a choice is to go with a feeling. The feeling of emotional yeses and nos is what allows us to make a decision. Without emotion we would be stuck. This could be supportive evidence for the evolutionary basis of emotions. If we always got stuck on making simple decisions, it would be an evolutionary disadvantage.

The podcast also discusses how emotion plays other key roles in choices with how emotions are attached to past experiences and then affect future decisions.This is essentially the same concept as classical conditioning, although Radiolab does not make this comparison. It also discusses how emotion affects our decision of whether or not to keep gambling in a casino and how this is exploited through loyalty cards.

Overall, I highly recommend that you listen to this podcast. I attempted to relate it to what we are learning in psychology, but it is very interesting to explore what we are learning through a different perspective: how emotion plays a role choice.

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This page contains a single entry by homa0077 published on November 6, 2011 10:06 PM.

Does Violent Video Games Really Make Your Child More Aggressive? was the previous entry in this blog.

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