Emotional vs. logical/rational decision making - A research project about the role of feelings in the process of decision making
Research Paper (postgraduate) 2006 8 Pages
Project Abstract: The purpose of this research project is to find out what role feelings play in the process of decision making. The tool will be a survey including questions, which will reveal whether people make decisions on a more logical/rational or emotional basis. The result was following: against my hypothesis, female students made their decisions on a more logical/rational basis (73%) than male students (60%)
Project Rationale: All people are emotional. Some display their feelings openly, while others hide them. Yet we all experience them in our own way. Feelings are important (we would not live for very long if we did not have the feeling of fear before a cliff or on approaching car) and enjoyable (nobody would like to miss the feeling of joy or love). However, those feelings do not just exist for the sake of it but also play a crucial role in making decision. We often choose according to what we feel or what seems to us to be right. Even if logical decisions are wrong, we will feel it. Knowing that emotions play a crucial role in making decisions, I want to know whether people decide more on an emotional, or logical/rational base and if it is true that female students are more emotional decision-makers than male students. The reason why I am researching this question is because I want to know more about people’s behavior and motivation in decision making. I hope that more insights in this area will help me in the future to council students, etc.
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio developed the somatic marker hypothesis. This Hypothesis explains how emotions are biologically indispensable to decisions. Research on patients with frontal lobe damage indicates that feelings normally accompany response options and operate as a biasing device to dictate choice. The patients seemed normal in all other respects; they just lost the ability to feel emotions. The interesting thing he found was that their ability to make decisions was seriously impaired. They could logically describe what they should be doing, but in practice they found it very difficult to make decisions about where to live, what to eat, etc. In particular, many decisions have pros and cons on both sides. Shall I have the fish or the beef? With no rational way to decide, they were unable to make the decision. That shows how important emotions are in the process of decision making. Damasio’s Gambling Test revealed the same result. We see that emotions are crucial for our decisions. There is no person which decides without being impacted by his emotions to at least some extent.
Sidney Callahan said that phrases such as “don’t be so emotional” imply the message that to be emotional makes us inadequate, irrelevant, or wrongheaded in our decisions. In line with that statement, Moralists, from Plato to modern times, often have seen emotions as dangerous or dismissed them as irrelevant and irrational. This suggests that we can be “too emotional”. This is especially true when negative feelings are unleashed. Callahan argues that they will lead to crimes of passion. On the other hand, when positive feelings are followed, they too can lead to mistaken sacrifices. Callahan continues and says, “Emotions impede moral thinking –nothing fogs the mind as thoroughly as emotion”.
Sigmud Freud’s Model of our Mind (Id, Ego, and Superego) gives us a helpful illustration how decision making takes place. He says following about our Id, “The id obeys only one rule –to obtain immediate gratification in whatever from it may take- called the pleasures principle. It is the center of our physical and emotional needs and desires. If you are hungry, the id compels you to eat; if you are angry, the id prompts you to strike out or to seek revenge or to destroy something, if you are sexually aroused, the id presses for immediate sexual gratification.” Consequently, if someone is making his decisions based on his emotions, he makes his decisions based on the id. Nobody would argue that it is inadequate, irrelevant, or wrongheaded to decide only according to the pleasure principle (I feel like having it… I will have it. E.g. one just meets this girl/boy, thinks he is in love with her/him and proposes one week later.) Freud suggests in his mind-model that our superego is the repository of our ideals and moral values, divided into conscience and our goals (e.g. he/she realized that her/his goal was to know the other person for at least 2 years before the proposal). In other words: our superego contributes the logical/rational aspects to decisions making. Our ego acts as a mediator, negotiating a compromise among the pressures (pleasure principle) of the id, the counter pressures of the superego (goals, ideals, etc.), and the demands of reality (he/she decides to wait with the proposal but wants to continue to get to know the other person).
 David Straker, published on 16-Oct-05 , Emotion and decision, available from
<http://changingminds.org/explanations/emotions/emotion_decision.htm> (accessed 26. March 2007).
 Antoine Bechara, Hanna Damasio and Antonio R. Damasio, “Emotion, Decision Making and the Orbit frontal Cortex”, Cerebral Cortex, Vol. 10, No. 3, 295-307, Oxford University Press (2000), available from <http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/10/3/295?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Damasio+&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT> (accessed 26. March 2007).
 David Straker, Emotion and decision, available from <http://changingminds.org/explanations/emotions/emotion_decision.htm>.
 Sidney Callahan, In Good Conscience, Reason and Emotion in Moral Decision Making, (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 95.
 Ibid., 97.
 Neil R. Carlson, William Buskist, Psychology The Science of Behaviour, (Toronto: Pearson Education Canada, 2005) 486.