Emotion is defined classically as the feeling that we derive from our circumstances, , moods and social interactions with other people. We feel a cocktail of emotions all through our lives. However, have you thought that your emotions can influence the way we make decisions about events that pan out within our lives?

Each one of us has ups and downs, bouts of anger and anxiety, as well as periods of incomparable happiness.  If we come to think of it, it is probably true that we took a decision based on how we felt about a situation on a particular day. There has been much debate as to whether emotions play the key role in making decisions, over reason, Both of these factors do come into play when we make a decision, but David Hume has argued that reason will always be a slave to passion and the emotions we feel.

Something as simple as grocery shopping can involve a lot of decision making.
Image: Åshild Kanstad Johnsen on Flickr

Emotions can guide reason too sometimes. Just think about a scenario where you’re investing in stocks. Riskier buys will make you feel a little bit insecure, but something safe, secure and backed by secondary opinion is often reassuring. The fear of ending up losing money drives us away from investing in something less secure. Results from a study conducted on victims of injury to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of the brain showed that emotions can affect decision making in both positive and negative ways. Victims of VmPFC injuries show less receptivity for emotionally based reasoning, and would thus choose a riskier option even after being told it isn’t viable.

Once emotions get attached to phenomena, it is increasingly difficult to remove the emotional associations we make. Emotions help us suggest alternative courses of action for problems we may encounter, or even simple daily routines. On a harrowing day at work, one might choose to hit the sheets for the night early rather than stay up and binge watch a television show. The very tiredness that comes from the stress at work leads us to feel that we need to be in higher spirits the next morning, possibly leading one to want a good night’s sleep.

Biases are also introduced into our lived experience by emotions. When we fear something irrationally, it often leads us to make slightly skewed decisions. Imagine that you’re scared of moths, but not snakes. If you merely used your emotions to weigh out decisions, then you’d approach a snake rather than a moth, and probably get bitten! In (extremely hypothetical and also real) cases, reason can thus become the partner-in-crime that emotion has to filter out its passionate nature into something driven by an fiery determination, backed by pragmatism.

When reason tries to butt into the picture, never shun it away.
Image: Trending News on Flickr

Continuing in the spirit of our last posts that talked about realism and positivity, emotions and reason are two sides of the same coin. We need to understand when to flip the coin in our lives and weigh out when to bring in reason, and when it is safe to be emotional and fiery. let’s take a professional example from work. Suppose you’re the editor of a magazine, and one of your interns has submitted a plagiarized piece to you. The first obvious reaction to this would be annoyance, but is a stern, miffed-sounding attitude the best way to express your feelings? It certainly isn’t because it might not only hurt the individual concerned, but also makes you seem unprofessional. Rather than being emotional, a more pragmatic, assertive approach would be more favorable in this case. Saying ‘I’m really disappointed that you plagiarized this piece’ rather than ‘I don’t think you understand how to write internet copy’ would definitely be a better approach to take up.

It is thus clear that there are different phenomena within our lives that are marked by different outcomes. These are based on the emotions we tend to show when we are faced with these situations, and the way reason interacts with our emotional palette to make us act in certain ways.