In this week’s spotlight I wish to draw attention to the nature of some of our psychological mechanisms. I often write about the automatic nature of actions based on unconscious programs and indeed, in my book, “Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will,” this is fleshed out in such detail that one reader reported this after reading the book, “It seems that almost everything we do is programmed in one way or another and comes from unconscious conditioning more than rational thought, and where as a professional psychologist I am aware of this, I never before beheld the total picture as you illustrate it in your delightful but sometimes scary book.” That said, one of the factors I failed to discuss in Gotcha has to do with emotion, so please allow me to add that now.
Research has shown us that emotion is a critical factor when it comes to thinking. Consider this, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio worked with a patient he named Elliot. Elliot suffered damage to the central portion of his frontal lobes, an area associated with judgment. Elliot passed several cognitive tests with flying colors. His memory and reasoning abilities were totally intact. However, his life was in ruins. He could not hold a job. It turned out that Elliot had become a perfect stoic. There was absolutely no emotional anything involved where Elliott was concerned. He held his highest achievements and lowest actions with the same regard—no differentiation whatsoever. Given this, Elliot was unable to prioritize. Think about that for a moment. 1
It is emotion that adds to our reasoning ability the nature of priorities. Do we continue to wash our dishes while the house burns down around us or do we seek refuge from the fire—it is emotion that instructs us. Emotion informs us we must go to work or lose our job. Emotion is the prime mover, to steal a phrase from Aristotle, and without it we are unable to use our reason in anything but some abstract manner. So sure, we can consider the ramifications of our actions, but so what? What difference does any of it mean without some emotional component? 2
Too Much Emotion
We find however that too much emotion and/or, if you will, distorted emotion gets in our rational way. For example, research clearly shows that if we are stressed our decision process is severely hampered as is our ability to solve simple problems. It’s like the maze bright rat who, when food is withheld to the point of acute hunger, can no longer run the maze despite the fact that the rat has run this same maze easily hundreds of times. So what is the balance between rationality and balanced emotion?
Think of it this way. We are in an election year and when you mention a candidate, what do you feel? You may love one and hate the other. The minute someone says, for example, they are going to vote for Trump, how do you respond? Or in the alternative, when someone says they’re voting for Clinton? We can often find that our emotion is so strong in favor or against a candidate that we are no longer capable of true ratiocination. Our emotion distorts our thinking because it is not balanced.
The next time you find yourself considering options, try to do so without allowing your emotions to dominate your decision. Make an internal adjustment and allow yourself the opportunity to consider all possibilities as though you were unaware of anything but the decision process. Then consider the impact of your decision on your life path, desires, principles, etc as free of prejudgment as possible. Only this way can your emotion guide your rational processes by properly establishing priorities.
Sound bytes are not priorities unless you accept them. Reason is something you come to privately, not as a matter of groupthink. My thoughts anyway, for what it might be worth.
As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions
1 Damasio’s Theory
2 Feeling our way to decision