North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › Irrationality and emotions linked physiologically

Irrationality and emotions linked physiologically

Chad
prorescue
Norman, OK
Post #: 30
This is a link to a blog describing findings by University College London that irrationality and emotions may be linked physiologically in the brain.

http://biosingularity.wordpress.com/2006/08/05/irrational-decisions-driven-by-emotions/#more-267­

Chad
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 189
That's an interesting study. I've been reading some other studies lately that suggest the amygdala's 'flight or fight' response is what drives our decision making process, we consider two options and go with the one that makes us feel safest, or the one that has the best outcome given the known circumstances. I don't agree with the title for their findings though, making it look like only irrational decisions comes from emotion. The study seems to be saying that both rational and irrational decisions come from the same source.

Part of the amygdala's responsibilities are supposed to be memory processing too. It'd be interesting to know if they could decide how much of that activity they saw represented an emotional response and how much was the subject trying to assimilate the outcome of the previous choices made compare to the options now given. I'm having trouble finding the original study description to see.

- Travis
A former member
Post #: 91
[Travis said regarding a neurological study, "Irrationality and emotions linked physiologically"]
I don't agree with the title for their findings though, making it look like only irrational decisions comes from emotion. The study seems to be saying that both rational and irrational decisions come from the same source.

I disagree. The study was showing that it was possible to act on reason or emotions, or even reason overriding emotions, by being able to show what part of the brain became "lit up" during the study. And this is a neurological verification of the Objectivist understanding that acting on reason is pro-reality, while acting on emotions is anti-reality.

One's emotions come about due to an automatized evaluative system; and because it is automatized, it may not be correct for new or unusual circumstances. It is possible, for example, for your emotions to be screaming DANGER when there really isn't any danger. A simple example is the fear of heights when confronted with the necessity of walking across a very high catwalk that one hasn't encountered before. In this case, your emotions are telling you to do one thing (step back to safety), but you need to do something else (go forward across the seemingly empty space).

If the study was done for this situation, the emotional center would be "lit up" for all participants who were new to that circumstance, but the one's who were able to walk across the catwalk would have been shown to have had their frontal cortex "lit up" as well. The one's who stepped back were acting only on their emotions (the fear of heights), but the other ones overcame that fear by using reason (there really is no danger, because the catwalk will support me).

Basically, one's emotions are not necessarily connected to reality in the sense that they are automatic (though they can be re-programmed), whereas one's thinking mind is cognitively evaluating the circumstance according to the facts as they are understood. While this can be very difficult to do under new or unusual circumstances, and it may take some time for reason to be able to re-program the appropriate response while being aware of the facts (joy of success versus fear and trepidation); if there is a clash, acting on reason means going by the facts assessed rationally, rather than acting on emotions.

Going by thought rather than emotions doesn't mean that you will always be right, but it is a way of insuring that the facts are taken into account in full context (it's a long ways down versus there is sufficient support for my weight so I won't fall). Acting on reason means you will walk across the catwalk; acting on emotions means you will step back and never go forward.

And this does not mean that one should walk across the catwalk just because one is being harassed for not doing so. Re-programming one's emotions is a delicate internal task requiring focus and concentration. Having a bully come up behind you and say, "Watch out you're going to fall!" just as one makes that first tenuous step is evil, because he is re-enforcing your emotions instead of your reason.

And I would say the same thing for television programs such as "Fear Factor" where one is set up, intentionally, to be frightened half to death. If one doesn't know what kind of response one will have to a new or unusual circumstance, it is best to undertake the task of re-programming one's emotions privately and under very controlled circumstances; otherwise one could become emotionally damaged, and develop a very difficult to correct aggravated fear of heights. One can't watch oneself and watch others watching you at the same time for a delicate psycho-epistemological correction operation.

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Philosophic essays based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand

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Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 191
I disagree. The study was showing that it was possible to act on reason or emotions, or even reason overriding emotions, by being able to show what part of the brain became "lit up" during the study. And this is a neurological verification of the Objectivist understanding that acting on reason is pro-reality, while acting on emotions is anti-reality.


Sorry Tom, I think you mis-read the study. The amygdala is right now considered one of the primary emotional response drivers of the brain, and in the study it mentions

Interestingly, the amygdala was active across all participants, regardless of whether they behaved rationally or irrationally, suggesting that everyone experiences an emotional reaction when faced with such choices. However, we found that more rational individuals had greater activation in their orbitofrontal cortex suggesting that rational individuals are able to better manage or perhaps override their emotional responses.

This to me reads clear that the emotional response is common across everyone, that it is the root of the decision, and the higher level processing sections of the brain then deal with this response to make a rational decision. This makes perfect sense considering the evidence of the evolutionary growth of the brain across time.

Objectivist understanding that acting on reason is pro-reality, while acting on emotions is anti-reality

If I remember correctly, emotions in Objectivism are claimed to be ruled by the underlying reason of the person involved, they are simply responses for which their is not enough time to fully integrate everything. A rational person has no need to fear his emotions, since the source of them will be grounded in reality, while an irrational person will have emotional responses that are all over the place. I thought I remember even seeing a line about a rational person never need fear his emotions. The problem with acting on emotions alone is you are not bothering to incorporate everything before acting, you continuously by-pass reason, not that the actions may necessarily be irrational. Am I wrong in my understanding of this?

- Travis
A former member
Post #: 92
[Travis said]
The amygdala is right now considered one of the primary emotional response drivers of the brain.

However, [the study] found that more rational individuals had greater activation in their orbitofrontal cortex suggesting that rational individuals are able to better manage or perhaps override their emotional responses.

I think what you are trying to claim is that one acts or doesn't act on the processed information coming from the amygdala (emotions), but the study was showing that some individual's orbitofrontal cortex was "lit up" at the same time that the emotions where firing as well; but not in those who were only acting on emotions. This implies that acting on reason requires the usage of the frontal cortex (the center of reasoning explicitly), regardless of whether or not one has an emotional reaction saying to do the same thing or the opposite. Unfortunately, showing that the amygdala is "lit up" doesn't indicate which emotions is being felt, only that emotions were involved.

Emotions tend to be ever present (except for very extreme circumstances where one doesn't know what to do with the information in an automatized manner), so just because the amygdala is firing, that simply means a normal functioning of that part of the brain. In other words, the automatics kick in during most circumstances, but the question is: Should one act on the automatic response or think it through?

Objectivism says to think it through.

And it is not an issue of being afraid of one's emotions. One should acknowledge one's emotional reaction, but this doesn't mean that one ought to act on it. An emotion is the automatic response, but following reason means to think about it before acting, which is what the study showed some people were doing.


The problem with acting on emotions alone is you are not bothering to incorporate everything before acting, you continuously by-pass reason, not that the actions may necessarily be irrational.

Continuously by-passing reason is to be irrational.

Just because a rational man may be able to trace his emotional reaction to the facts and explicit evaluations of those facts, it doesn't mean that a rational man ought to act on his emotions. A rational man acts according to reason, not emotions.



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Philosophic essays based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand

www.appliedphilosophyonline.com­

Applied Philosophy Online .com

Where Ideas Are Brought Down to Earth!

tmiovas@appliedphilosophyonline.com

All rights reserved 2006 by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 194
Here's the article. I see now where they get the title from. They are defining a rational decision as one that is counter behavioral, simply as one that changes an emotional response. Using their terms for rational and irrational, an irrational choice might be pro-reality while a rational one might be anti-reality.

Frames, Biases, and Rational Decision-Making in the Human Brain

I think what you are trying to claim is that one acts or doesn't act on the processed information coming from the amygdala (emotions), but the study was showing that some individual's orbitofrontal cortex was "lit up" at the same time that the emotions where firing as well; but not in those who were only acting on emotions. This implies that acting on reason requires the usage of the frontal cortex (the center of reasoning explicitly), regardless of whether or not one has an emotional reaction saying to do the same thing or the opposite.
I said
that it (the emotional response) is the root of the decision, and the higher level processing sections of the brain then deal with this response to make a rational decision.
or in their words
rational individuals are able to better manage or perhaps override their emotional responses.
If you are only "perhaps overriding" then you're deciding to let the original response go through. I still read that as the root decisions are driven by the emotions or at least the emotional portion of the brain, that the higher level parts of the brain can't act on their own. They need that base input to act. I still disagree with that title though and think it would be better stated Rational Decisions Are Altered Emotional Responses.

- Travis
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 198
Interesting tidbit. My psych teacher has a phd in behavioral development so I asked her out of curiosity what her understanding was for the scientific definition of rational thought was. Her answer was an expected decision or response. When I asked how you determine expected she said the standard is the average response of a larger group.

- Travis
A former member
Post #: 93
[Travis said]
Here's the article. I see now where they get the title from. They are defining a rational decision as one that is counter behavioral, simply as one that changes an emotional response.


Doing some URL backspacing, it looks like that article is from a psychology course on decision making. As interesting as it might be to read them, unfortunately I don't have the Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on my computer and they are all in PDF format. I won't have time to download it until this weekend, so my decision is not to comment on that particular article; except to say that if they are considering "rational decision making" to mean "counter behavioral," then I don't know what they mean by that.

The syllabus of the course didn't have anything to say about making decisions based on the facts assessed rationally (rationality) versus decisions made based on emotions (emotionalism) versus decisions made based on strictly internal calculations without taking the facts into account (rationalism). But it did have a lot of modern psycho-verbiage on it, so I'd be suspicious of the contents of the class (including recommended readings).


I still read that as the root decisions are driven by the emotions or at least the emotional portion of the brain, that the higher level parts of the brain can't act on their own. They need that base input to act. I still disagree with that title though and think it would be better stated Rational Decisions Are Altered Emotional Responses.


Are you saying that when you do a math problem or a computer program that you are guided by your emotions? How does that work? Type "Goto line 33" if happy, but type "Goto line 55" if sad? Because that's what it sounds like you are saying when you say that the higher level functions can't operate without emotional input.

By your statement of your summation, it sounds like you are saying that any time one changes one's emotional response, then one is rational. I disagree with that, because rationality means going by the facts in a logical manner. One cannot say that one is rational merely because one changes one's emotional state. For one thing, what if your logical conclusion that you decide to act on is in compliance with your emotional reaction? Then you didn't have to alter it at all. Does that mean you were being irrational?

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Philosophic essays based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand

www.appliedphilosophyonline.com­

Applied Philosophy Online .com

Where Ideas Are Brought Down to Earth!

tmiovas@appliedphilosophyonline.com

All rights reserved 2006 by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 199
The article is published in Science Magazine, that course syllabus was the only place I could find the article in it's entirety online.

Are you saying that when you do a math problem or a computer program that you are guided by your emotions? How does that work? Type "Goto line 33" if happy, but type "Goto line 55" if sad? Because that's what it sounds like you are saying when you say that the higher level functions can't operate without emotional input.
I am not saying that. The study is saying that. The study defines what decision had to be made and in what context the question was asked. For what the study involved, the higher functions operated on the lower emotional responses only when it needed to, it never acted on it's own. They did not do scans on people programming, so I can't go into that.
By your statement of your summation, it sounds like you are saying that any time one changes one's emotional response, then one is rational. I disagree with that, because rationality means going by the facts in a logical manner. One cannot say that one is rational merely because one changes one's emotional state.
Once again, I am not saying that, the study is saying that. They are using a different term for rational then what Objectivism uses. It's a scientific study not a philosophical paper.
For one thing, what if your logical conclusion that you decide to act on is in compliance with your emotional reaction? Then you didn't have to alter it at all. Does that mean you were being irrational?
Yes you are then, according to their definition, irrational. This is where they get the title of their article from.

- Travis
A former member
Post #: 94
I've read the original article, "Frames, Biases, and Rational Decision-Making in the Human Brain" by Benedetto De Martino, Dharshan Kumaran, Ben Seymour, and Raymond J. Dolan. Let me present what they were getting at, since it is difficult to follow their paper.

1) You are sitting at a table that has $50 on it, and you are told that you can keep $20 of it. You are then given the option of gambling with the remainder, say double or nothing with a 50/50 chance of winning the bet or losing the bet.

2) You are sitting at a table that has $50 on it, and you are told that $30 of it will be taken away. You are then given the option of gambling with the remainder, say double or nothing with a 50/50 chance of winning the bet or losing the bet.

Both scenerios are saying the same thing, that you have $20 "in your bank." It's just the way the first part is phrased that makes a difference.

In frame (1) you are preset into a gained mode, so you will tend not to gamble, because gambling means you might lose what you have gained. In frame (2) you are preset into a loss mode, so you will tend to gamble in an effort to gain more (to re-gain what you have lost).

What the study was describing as rational was the action of making the choice to gamble or not to gamble equally between either frame. In other words, the people who were best able to disregard the emotional phrased bias (gain or loss) were the ones who were considered more rational, because they were able to analyze in real time that they had gained $20, regardless of how it was phrased (keep $20 versus lose $30).

By being able to watch both the emotional center of the brain and the analytical center of the brain, they were able to show that it was the emotional center of the brain that gave rise to the tendancy to go by emotional clues (gain or loss) of the phrasing. In other words, if you went by the phrasing rather than the facts, then you were going by your emotional center; and if you were going by the facts, then you were going by your analytical center (i.e. behaved more rationally).

By behaving more rationally, the study meant operating in such a way as to disregard the gain or loss phrasing: "A central tenet of rational decision-making is logical consistency across decisions, regardless of the manner in which available choices are presented." In other words, they were saying that a rational individual will tend to disregard someone else's emotional bias, and go by the facts, something that I agree with.

However, I don't think gambling or not gambling is the right way of assessing this result.

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Philosophic essays based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand

www.appliedphilosophyonline.com­

Applied Philosophy Online .com

Where Ideas Are Brought Down to Earth!

tmiovas@appliedphilosophyonline.com

All rights reserved 2006 by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

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