Why Are Emotions Important For Decision Making?

Humans are inherently emotional. Emotions drive almost everything that we do, in more ways than we can realistically comprehend. We may have evolved beyond our reptilian brain, but our innate fight or flight responses still impact the decisions we make, more practically than we believe. It may not be so foolish to “trust your gut” afterall!

“We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think”

― António R. Damásio

This quote from António Damásio eloquently sums up the importance of emotions in human nature. Damasio’s pioneering research into the impact of emotions on decision making was inspired by the fascinating story of Phineas Gage. A man who’s life and character changed dramatically after a freak accident damaged his brain irreparably.

Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage was a kind natured and well liked man, spoken highly of by his colleagues and loved by his family. In 1848, at the tender age of 25, Gage was working on a railroad, blasting stone out of the way to make way for new tracks. In a moment of distraction, an explosion went off prematurely and an iron rod was fired upwards directly through Gage’s left cheek. It pierced his skull, penetrated the front of his brain, and exited through the top of his head. The rod had torn through Gage’s skull and brain, but he was miraculously able to travel to hospital without losing consciousness, recovering and returning home after just two months.

The exceptional nature of Gage’s recovery is interesting enough, however it is the unrecognisable change of character that followed that has caused the story of Phineas Gage become legend. The damage in the front of Gage’s brain meant that he was no longer able to process emotions. Before the accident he was a well liked, kind man, with good job prospects. Afterward he became angered easily, causing arguments, and become unable to hold down a job. He unfortunately divorced from his wife, who no longer recognised the man she had married, and Gage never held a long relationship again.

Without the ability to process his emotions Gage became unable to make sensible real-life decisions. Without emotional reasoning his decision making capabilities were impaired.

This became the research that has led neuroscientists to understand that emotions are processed in the front of the brain, and that damage in this area not only impairs emotional processing, but also the ability to make decisions. The unfortunate deterioration of Phineas Gage is one of the first cases of evidence that there is a strong link between emotional processing and decision making capabilities.

So What..?

Emotional processing is necessary for decision making, and subsequent behaviour. Emotions largely drive decisions and impact purchase decisions. As marketers we need to understand how to sell to the reptilian brain. We need to make a connection with our customers at an emotional level, and we need to make it easy for customers to connect with our brand.

Behavioural economists understand that humans use emotions to make decisions. We take mental shortcuts to make the best decisions, instead of calculating the exact weighted outcome of every possible choice. We use our feelings to indicate what we should do, what we should choose, and what we should buy.

Don’t ignore the importance of your customers’ emotions. Learn about your customer and understand their emotional responses to your branding, your website, or your marketing stimuli. This could help to anticipate or predict how your customer behave, enable you to make improvements to connect with your customer at an emotional level.

If you would like to explore your customers’ emotional responses in more detail, please get in touch and we can discuss how we can help.

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