The emotional side of decision making

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotion and reason. On one hand it seems that an emotional response to a situation prevents a rational response. Often emotion is very powerful and enacts an immediate response, which would seem on the surface to happen too quickly to allow for rational consideration. In some cases this may be true, but not in all. When does reason enter the decision making process? After time has been taken to consider the variables involved along with potential outcomes. I think emotional response precedes rational response, although not every emotional response is irrational.

Some psychologists and philosophers rank emotionality with the unconscious mind and rationality with the conscious mind. The hidden unconscious thoughts and processes are said to be driven by natural impulses, not higher ordered thinking. The unconscious is primitive. But this isn’t likely the case. When was the last time you drove for a good stretch without really paying attention? The unconscious part of your mind drove for you. That doesn’t sound primitive and irrational. Yet recently I’ve fallen in with this line of thinking in response to the gun control response to public shootings. That is, I’ve blamed the major push towards gun bans and control on being a reactionary effort motivated by emotional response. Void of reason and rational thinking. This isn’t a fair judgment (for the record I do believe the efforts towards gun control proposed by President Obama and Senator Feinstein, among others, are irrational).

I think that there are factions using emotional response to drive their agendas. I really do, but that’s not what I was judging unfairly. It was unfair of me to consider it irrational because of the emotion involved. In which case I was making a decision based primarily on emotion. I was being reactive to what I perceived as reactive. And what is the outcome? Disagreement. Emotional responses will occur; they are quick and in some cases they are as effective or more effective than a person’s attempt at rational thinking. It is dangerous if  action is driven only by emotion and rational thinking isn’t ever included.

When the time to decide has come there is a lot of information that needs to be processed. Rather than take every decision that needs to be made and sit down with a long list of data, the unconscious mind steps in and does a quick summation before providing the emotional response. This gets the decision making ball rolling and then meaning is applied and factors are interpreted.

Are emotion and reason opposite forces? I don’t think so. I think they co-exist, not on a spectrum, however, for if that were the case there could be no such thing as rational emotion, which I think does exist. I think it is possible that someone can focus too much on being rational or on embracing their emotion, indicating that a good place to be would feature a healthy balance between the two. Danger does exist in that people are probably more inclined to one or the other way of thinking, in which case outside influences could use either approach as a form of manipulation. Emotional reactions are natural and should be considered when forming a rational response.

About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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