Between the avalanche of neuroimages, the financial crisis and its aftermath and Jonah Lehrer’s book entitled How We Decide, interest in figuring out the answer has probably never been so attenuated.
Allow me to submit a new model that I will believe will come to be the way we understand our own decision making come 10 years or so from now.
Picture a triangle with its three points labeled rational, social and emotional. Or try an infinity symbol in which these same three “dimensions” are inexorably intertwined. In other words, at least as far back as Descartes in the 1600’s and of course further back to Socrates we have tended to elevate the rational to a place above the social and emotional but ironically, if anything, it is the other way around!
To quote some the best game theorists and neuroeconomists in the world “It is not enough to know what should be done, one must also feel it.” (Camerer, Lowenstein and Prelec, Journal of Economic Literature, March 2005). Simply invert that phrase “one must feel it, to know what should be done” and you have the missing link to understanding all decision making.
Feelings however are not so simple a topic are they? At the level of our day to day experience, many if not most of our feelings have a very relevant social context to them. In other words, doing well at work, wondering about how our spouse feels about something we have done, going to the dinner party because ‘we should’ …. all have a substantial social expectation or social judgment element that should be understood. We could go on but I challenge you to find a feeling that does NOT have a social expectation (yours or others) to it.
Recent research goes so far as to suggest that maybe it is the development of a social brain that made us human – and in fact differentiates us the most from our ape cousins.
Stay tuned…. As usual… with ReThinking Thinking …. to be continued.