Emotional Decision-Making: is there such a thing?

Emotional Decision MakingI’m completely sure that everyone reading this article had a following frustrating experience at least once in their life: during an argument you present the other side with all the possible rational pros and cons of your respective positions, and your own position appears much more advantageous. However the other side doesn’t seem to care about you being objectively right, keeping on saying that “It still doesn’t feel right!”

What is it, an Emotional Bias or a legitimate arguing method? Can you base your decisions on “how it feels” or the only way to do it right is the objective consideration of all possible parameters? Is there even a place for emotions in our decision-making?

Let’s try to answer these questions.

First of all, let’s confess – in many cases WE DO MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON EMOTIONS. The question is: should we be doing that? As counterintuitive as it may seem, there are rational reasons to make decisions emotionally.

First of all, an emotional decision contains the motivation to act as soon as it has been made. The reason for this is that there is a difference between WHAT WE (rationally) NEED and WHAT WE (emotionally) WANT. Someone may know for sure that there is an urgent need to start spending less and saving more, and still do nothing about it. On the other hand, when someone really wants to buy a car, while lacking the required funds, it may immediately lead to a positive change in spending behavior, because emotion means motivation. 

Secondly, emotionally-based decisions are sometimes easier to communicate to others, because, again, people do not actually care about what you need, but they can freely identify with what you want by natural comparison to their own desires. Their own desires look pretty important to them, so they are ready to accept that you fired someone because “he was a jerk” – they immediately feel what you felt when you arrived to this decision. In this case, emotion means involvement.

There is also the fact that in many cases we just don’t have the time to consider all available options. Those of our primeval ancestors who pondered too much about the best direction to run from a sabertooth tiger have frequently found themselves impaled on his saber teeth :-). Today, drivers constantly make momentary decisions without systematically weighing their benefits. They do it intuitively.

What’s an intuition, then? It’s a process of emotional preference of a certain scenario based on all experienced scenarios. It’s how animals survive and it’s how we as a type of animal survive. The problem with survival logic is that it reminds us about the difference in distribution of critical traits, such as intuition, between different people. There is no equality in nature and this means that if you are blessed with good intuition – you’re blessed, and if not – you’re pretty much … not blessed 🙂

This brings us to the main disadvantage of emotional decision-making – it’s very hard to train for. Every time you give in to your emotions, there is a risk of Emotional Bias, and according to the assumption of normal distribution, most people would fall into the risk group. Everybody can learn to drive a car because during our training we perform thousands of repetitions of proper way of action, while our constantly growing driving experience provides our intuition with more and more scenarios. One could hardly imagine Managers going through the same level of effort while training their decisionmaking. Of course, they can have a lot of useful experience, but without proper training its influence is seriously reduced.

What’s important to understand here is that our brain is hardwired for capacity for both rational and emotional decisions, with its right hemisphere being specifically responsible for processing emotions. This means that we cannot simply disregard emotional decision making only because we cannot consistently enhance it by training. The best way seems appreciating the usefulness of its benefits in producing motivation, increasing involvement and reducing reaction time without neglecting the rational decision-making process.

8 thoughts on “Emotional Decision-Making: is there such a thing?

  1. There should be a synergistic (as opposed to allergic) collaboration between logic and emotion, where logic feeds data (and scenarios) to emotion, and emotion weighs the evidence and gives a verdict.
    Of course, Process clarifies the purpose and guides the activities.

    It’s more complex than that, but there it is in a nutshell.

    Fungus

  2. Absolutely.
    … but there are two conditions before you do.
    1. Feed your emotions with the right data (long term, wide scope)
    2. Learn to listen to your emotions.

    To my surprise, I found out that Aristotle defined that process before I did (he called it Ethics), so I cannot claim the copyright.

    Fungus

  3. Fungus, not to disagree with you, but if we are referring to Classics here – the demise of Julius Ceasar provides us with an excellent example of a situation when the most ethical decision was not necessarily the most practical 🙂

  4. Dear Anja. interesting post.
    Your reasoning “our constantly growing driving experience provides our intuition with more and more scenario” perfectly matches to my idea of a platform where the companies decision makers can try, experiment and choose their course of actions.
    I think that the relationship between logic and emotion instead of being straight forward is a circular one: logic feeds emotion with data which in turn feeds logic with its own findings. This why a playing platform where decision makers can test their own scenarios before deploying them on the groundfield is a way to go.

    Please feel free to take a look at http://straight2globalchances.com/

    Marco

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