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Are emotions essential for making rational decisions?

Emotions are embedded in humans. If we can't control them, does this mean we wont be able to make rational, wise decisions? Can we even control them?

Topics: psychology
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    Gail . 50+

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    Jan 22 2013: What do you mean that you can't control emotions? Of course you can control them. It's your responsibility to do so.

    Emotions block the ability to make long-term rational decisions. They are fear-based. They are impulse-driven.

    Most people do not know the difference between a "thought" and an "emotions". By confusing the two, they make decisions based on emotions even if those decisions require one to violate facts. This makes peoples' lives chaotic and unpredictable.

    Thoughts PRECEDE emotions, not the other way around. Thoughts are based on your belief system. One who rages at the world is really raging against his/her own belief structure. A belief system can be changed, but it requires a willingness to do so.

    Most peoples' belief systems contain contradictions, untested assumptions, and outright fabrications. When your belief system is less chaotic, so too will life be. That is when emotion/ego no longer rule you, so that you can rule your own life and chart your own course to your own self-chosen destiny.

    It's called being "awake" or "self-aware". It is also called being enlightened or awakened - depending on who is speaking. You are not a victim of your emotions unless you ALLOW yourself to be so. If you allow this, then it is your responsibility to fully accept the responsibility for the consequences that you create.

    Thought first, emotion second, actions third, consequences 4th. The emotion part is unnecessary, though there are such things as feelings - that are NOT emotions and don't work the same way as emotions. Skip the emotions and behaviors will shift dramatically - causing different consequences.

    Emotions are fear-based - they focus on what happened or what might happen. Feelings are NOW based. They do not contain fear. Live in the present and life will transform itself before your perceptions.
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      Jan 26 2013: Eventhough i'm somehow confused between what you said and what Mathew said, i still find it true. I'm picking up pieces of information from evryone here so im not basically an expert in this field, im rather asking because of interest.
      You seem to be thinking that emotions have negative impacts on our lives since we can be "victims" of our emotions, or maybe i just misunderstood the metaphor.
      and its interesting to know that feelings and emotions are actually different.. i know them as only synonyms.
      Thanks alot, great reply
  • Jan 22 2013: Emotions are essential for making rational decisions; it takes wisdom to know how emotions should be well-guided by reason.
  • Steve C

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    Jan 27 2013: I read once (or saw a vid once) that talked about people who had some brain damage to their emotional parts, leaving them with pretty much merely logical thinking. It said their lives basically crumbled because of it. That sounded fairly interesting.
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      Jan 27 2013: Yea, emotions bring sense to our lives whether we control it or not
      • Jan 27 2013: I would describe it as bringing color or richness into our otherwise black and whites lives.
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          Jan 27 2013: thats a better description i must say, thanks Brian
  • Jan 25 2013: Of course you can control emotions. It's ridiculously difficult, but very possible. You can change and become whoever you want to be. It'll take effort, discipline, education, and in my book some help from God. But you can do it.
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      Jan 26 2013: I agree. eventhough emotions are naturally put in us, we can always control them, by our choice, to be effective rather than destructive,
      Thanks Scot, very helpful
      • Jan 27 2013: Sometimes, but not always, Jumana. Example - disruptive sleep patterns of clinically depressed people or PTSD.
        • Jan 28 2013: I think that goes beyond just simple emotion and starts going into disorder. I'm not really talking about chemical imbalances or things that require drugs. Most of us don't have that kind of issue.
  • Jan 28 2013: Good point, Scot. I was using a more extreme case to prove a point. We have neural pathways that connect directly into the limbic system which bypasses the prefrontal cortex. Brain scans show that we can feel something prior to actual awareness of the feeling. At that point we can distract ourselves, blunt our emotions, or maybe reframe the event. I am assuming that is what we mean by control..
  • Jan 27 2013: Thanks for challenging me Jumana.We are driven by emotions, emotions and reason, and just reason depending on the circumstances. I was really referring to a subset of decision making that doesn't activate the limbic system and just involves reason. Example - Can I help two people or one person with this one hundred dollars? Do I want two scoops of ice cream or one (quantity, reason) versus do I want vanilla or chocolate (limbic, emotion)? The out of control trolley car question posed by Micharl Sandel from Harvard College at the beginning of his "Justice" course is another example of this. No limbic system involved in the first question while limbic system involved in the second question (based on scientific research). The students answer his first question easily but feel uncomfortable with the second question because it no longer feels right even though the same underlying principal holds true! (There was or is a benefit from an evolutionary perspective for our inconsistency in adhering to that one principal.) Good luck!

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      Jan 27 2013: I see what you mean now.Thank you! and i made a mistake it's Daniel Goelman not David, sorry. Have a good day
  • Jan 24 2013: You might want to read "How we Decide" by Jonah Lehrer which will give you a more accurate answer to this question using scientific research. People that lose the emotional function in their limbic system become paralyzed by indecision. They know they want chicken, fish, or steak for dinner but can't decide which one. Our limbic system calibrates our preferences through the intensity of our emotions enabling us to make a choice.

    Rational and wise are not necessarily the same thing. I interpret rational decisions as being more "emotionless" while wise decisions as the combination of both reason and emotion. If we are very good at a job or sport or other endeavor through prolonged practice then our emotional or intuitive parts of our brain tend to be more trustworthy so our "fast logic" feels right. Otherwise, include reason in your decision.
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      Jan 26 2013: Actually what drove me to asking this question is the book by David Goleman "Emotional intellgence", but sure id love to read this one.
      Indeed, including reason in decision is important, but you said that "our limbic system calibrates our preferences....enabling us to make a choice" which i believe means that emotions drive our choices (if im wrong please tell me). but my question to you Brian is how come rational decisions are "emotionless" if they are basically motivated by emotions? Im a bit confused here..
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    Jan 24 2013: G’day Jumana

    Interesting question……Everything that we do is emotionally driven either it be rational or irrational so I would have to say no to the question. Let’s say starting a war over oil is an emotional response which I would say is irrational but defending oneself against the theft of oil is also an emotional response which is quite rational in my view.

    Rationality comes from little emotions & the less emotions one has the more rational one will be. Hitler was very irrational not because he was heartless & cold therefore emotionless but because he was full of emotion just like any so called cold blooded killer. To want to kill is a very strong emotion which is usually an irrational response to our emotions. How introvert & emotionalist can a scientist be especially while conducting an experiment? How emotional are they but they are very rational.

    The less emotional one is the more rational one will be I think!!

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      Jan 26 2013: completely agree on everything that we do is emotionally driven, in fact ive read this, that our "emotional" brain actually existed before the other parts of the brain...ofc taking into consideration that we have "two minds" if you know what i mean.
      Interesting question and an interesting reply, thanks Mathew
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    Jan 22 2013: Yes, I think they are in a way. Otherwise, frustration might appear. If there is always a mismatch between our instinctive desires and our final decisions, we will eventually get frustrated. So, we'd better take them into account.
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      Jan 26 2013: Exactly, balance is the solution
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    Jan 22 2013: Primal reactions (which tend to have emotional content) kick in first, which is why people sometimes advise not being impulsive. On the other hand, research I have read recently but for which I, unfortunately, do not remember the location/citation, says that people's first instinct is typically more generous than choices made upon reflection.

    Biases will be part of actions, even for those highly aware that they have biases. Daniel Kahneman's Nobel address, available online, addresses this often overlooked, but in his case carefully and competently researched, point. Biases will have partly an emotional basis and partly are the result of the sequence and way the person has gathered evidence.No one can have what economists call "perfect information" for making all his/her decisions.
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    Jan 22 2013: Not an expert in the area, can't say about essentiality of emotion......just from common sense and observation and a bit of rational thinking...it seems with the information load in our brain we always seems to have some emotional bias...

    The other point is , well say someone is deciding completely rationally ...what will happen then? That decision going to impact others.....but they are not completely rational like the decision taker....what will be response then ?

    Human being emotional , I feel a bit mix of emotion even in rational decision can bring more positive impact.
    That being said , it all also depends on perspective of time , place and perspective what kind of decision one need go for or should go for ........

    What do you think/feel?
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      Jan 26 2013: Well Salim, I'm not an expert either :) so i might be wrong but ill try to tell you what i think is right..

      Regarding your point about deciding completely rationally, i think we have to look on the impact of the decision on the decision maker himself first rather than on others around him since the consequences will be his responsibility.
      And ofcourse there are many factors that affect decision making, perspective, place, beliefs, and even emotions to an extent.
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    Jan 22 2013: I don't know whether acting by the emotions is right thing to do.Usually i think we do make decisions by heart rather by mind when we are emotionally driven by a person and when we make decisions we can't judge exactly whether it is right or wrong.It all depends upon the result of the decision made.