06/07/05 - emotional and rational

In today's excerpt - Daniel Goleman's explanation of the neurological basis for emotion in rational decision-making, and the corresponding inabilty to make rational decisions without the integration of emotion. (Note that the prefrontal is the section of the cortex where rational thought is processed and the amygdala is the interconnected structure above the brainstem that is the center of emotional matters):

"Dr. Antonio Damasio a neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, has made careful studies of just what is impaired in patients with damage to the prefrontal-amygdala circuit. Their decision-making is terribly flawed—and yet they show no deterioration at all in IQ or any cognitive ability. Despite their intact intelligence, they make disastrous choices in business and their personal lives, and can even obsess endlessly over a decision so simple as when to make an appointment.

"Dr. Damasio argues that their decisions are so bad because they have lost access to their emotional learning. As the meeting point between thought and emotion, the prefrontal-amygdala circuit is a crucial doorway to the repository for the likes and dislikes we acquire over the course of a lifetime. Cut off from the emotional memory in the amygdala, whatever the neocortex mulls over no longer triggers the emotional reactions that have been associated with it in the past ... A stimulus, be it a favorite pet or a detested acquaintance, no longer triggers either attraction or aversion; these patients have 'forgotten' all such emotional lessons. ...

"Evidence like this leads Dr. Damasio to the counter-intuitive position that feelings are typically indispensible for rational decisions; they point us in the proper direction, where dry logic can then be of best use. While the world often confronts us with an unwieldy array of choices (How should you invest your retirement savings? Whom should you marry?), the emotional learning that life has given us (such as the memory of a disastrous investment or a painful breakup) sends signals that streamline the decision by eliminating some options and highlighting others at the outset...The emotions, then, matter for rationality."


Daniel Goleman


Emotional Intelligence


Bantam Books


Copyright 1995 by Daniel Goleman


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