A recently published article seems to lend new information as to the way in which emotions influence our decision-making process. While emotions and reasoning are considered inherently separate by some, new experiments are challenging that perception. A series of studies done by experimental psychologists now show us that emotion plays a very natural role in decision-making situations. The experiments, ranging in type from neuroimaging to simple classical conditioning, suggest that emotions can affect everything from simple judgments of other people to severe behavioral disabilities seen for example in sociopathic individuals. Emotion is now acknowledged as possibly the most basic of human operations and the basis for personal judgments. Fear especially has been studied extensively and is proving to be a very unconscious and automatic cognitive reaction. One fear-related study was conducted using simple classical conditioning: subjects were shown a picture of a person exhibiting stereotypical properties along with a frown used to convey a feeling of social threat (Mineka, 2002). Once the subjects were adequately conditioned, simply seeing that type of person would cause an increase in heart rate, suggesting fear, as well as provoke responses attributed to anger. The experimenters used these findings to infer that social fears are easily instilled in people simply because they for some reason have a negative image of them implanted in their head. Extensive studies of the relation between emotion and decision-making are also performed concerning the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the region that affects learning, reasoning, and the intentional control of behavior. The purpose of these experiments is to show that when damage is done to this region, the ability to judge a certain situation noticeably declines. The experimenters focused on the prefrontal cortex's ability to judge future situations based upon feelings during similar past experiences....
References: Dolan, R.J. (2002) Emotion, Cognition, and Behavior, Science, 298, 1191.
Mineka, Susan et al. (2002) Learning and Unlearning Fears: Preparedness, Neural Pathways, and Patients; Biological Psychiatry, 52, 927.
Goode, Erica (2000) Brain Abnormality Linked to Pathology, Forensic Psychiatry and Medicine.
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