The Science of Emotions

As Gerald Seymour once said “ONE MAN’S TERRORIST IS ANOTHER MAN’S FREEDOM FIGHTER”, but where is the threshold that defines who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter?It actually depends on where you stand and what you believe in; which is explained by Jonathan Mercer as “Emotional Belief”. Emotions are evidence people use to express instinctive or intuitive feelings which are framed from reasoning and knowledge, derived from what one believes in. It is a belief that another person’s commitment depends on interpretation and assessment of risk, both of which is derived from relying on emotions. In this case, if one observes how another fights terrorism or grievances, it changes one’s view on credibility of their purposes, but it actually depends on where you stand.

Belief is a collection of schemes that one thinks is probably true and is build when emotion meets with cognition. Emotions are just mere reactions to a belief, it is not an afterthought, but just an individual experience of psychological change where one expresses it through conscious awareness called feelings. Feelings influence what one wants, what one believes and what one does. This feeling is not rational every time. Sometimes it is irrational and expressed through unsupported or uncertain beliefs and will distort our judgements. For example, fear and anxiety can pave the way and shape uncertain beliefs. Imagine when you see a flying cockroach, a snake or a spider. It’s the fight or flight reaction we have. But how do we actually rationalize the belief that the cockroach should be killed or we should run away? It might be from the repeated childhood memories we have experienced of our parents being afraid of it and trying to kill. So it was shaped through another person’s belief but we start believing that we should do the same thing. If we think about it from a rational perspective, we will understand that a cockroach cannot actually kill us or eat us.

Neuroscientists explain that emotion without cognition or rationalization is more like instinct or intuition, the phenomenon of “gut-feeling”. This is because emotion is not necessarily post-cognitive and people can experience emotion without conscious awareness and without cognitive mediation. For example, it may occur to us that an option we consider does not feel right, even though there is no clear logic to prove that. It is a gut feeling of having the probability that the action might be right or wrong but the belief is uncertain. But as in any cognitive theory, rational decision making requires a desire (emotion) and belief which results in an action. Another example is when a person wins an award, it is recognized as happy feeling without conscious awareness or meditation. But then, the brain makes mere cognitive calculation that winning an award means success and outcome is happiness.

The simplest way to make sense of why and how intuition works is to think of it as an advanced pattern recognition device. The subconscious mind somehow finds links between the new situation and various patterns of the past experiences. But intuition is only rational if we pay attention to our emotional state. If we are stressed or in a bad mood, our true inner voice will become distorted in the background of strong negative feelings. A similar effect may happen with strong positive feelings. When we have an intuition we either feel them through by taking the action (no matter the consequences) or we let them go (follow logic, facts and data). This is why before we make a decision based on a lot of uncertainties, we take time to refresh our mind by taking a walk and uncluttering our mind.

Furthermore, emotion also constitutes beliefs. For example; nationalism and justice makes one feel pride to their  country and is considered as an emotional belief. The belief that people who share a common language, history, and culture should constitute an independent nation, free of foreign domination. Emotion adds value to this belief with facts and captures it in a distinctive way of seeing situations. Justice is more than an abstract set of principles about how one should organize society, it’s an emotional belief that we deserve the right of being treated fairly and equally. If emotion was just a fact, the whole world would not be fighting with each other for justice, equality and sovereignty.
Whilst, how people think about a choice influences their attitude towards a risk, when they believe they are gaining they become risk seeking, and when they believe they are losing they become risk acceptant or averse. It is a cognitive theory where people value perceived losses more than the gains. Preferences of people are dependent on how they feel and how much they want to maximise their utility. Feelings carry utility, people hate losing more than they love winning and this predictability influences their choices. Also, people base  their judgments of an activity not only on  what  they think and feel  about  it at the present time,  but  also  how they  felt about  it before, in a similar situation.

As there have been no “models” significantly providing the role of emotions and intuitions in decision-making, can Emotional Intelligence model be used to explain emotional belief theories? Even though emotional intelligence gives insight to how we should react to emotions and embrace it, it does not explain the sources of emotions which is the neuroscience part of how the brain works and how emotions are processed through the brain and its connection to beliefs and cognitions. Another point is, emotional intelligence talks about one’s own ability to embrace the emotions rather than telling us how to get to that part and how to embrace it. It is where “mindfulness” comes in. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

So does it make more sense if we combine “Emotional Intelligence” model with “Mindfulness” and “Neuroscience” to explain the theories of emotions? By reviewing emotional intelligence and mindfulness separately the models gives us limited connection to cognitive reasoning. Hence, combining the three factors will give us a better understanding of the role of emotions and intuition in decision-making.


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