Emotion, Motivation and Decision Making – A common area of discussion amongst psychologists and philosophers is the way reason can be derailed by emotion. Numerous studies have pointed to ways that emotional processes can produce illogical responses. For example, people are more likely to be upset if they miss a winning lottery ticket by one number rather than missing all of the numbers, because they feel as though they only just missed winning by a margin. When in reality, missing one number has the exact same consequences as missing all the numbers: you don’t win, you lose.
Many of the decisions people make in everyday life stem from their emotional reactions and their expected emotional reactions. This is often apparent in the way people assess risks. Judging risk is highly subjective, which leads to some intriguing questions about precisely what constitutes ‘rational’ behaviour. For example, in gambling situations, losses tend to influence people’s behaviour more than gains, even when paying equal attention to the two would yield the highest average pay off. Consider the following scenario. A person is offered the opportunity to bet on a coin flip. If the coin comes up heads, he wins $100; if tails, he loses $80. From the standpoint of expected utility theory, the person should take the bet, because on average, this coin flip would yield a gain of $20. However, common sense suggests otherwise. In fact, for most people, the prospect of losing $80 is more negative than winning $100 is positive. Any given loss of x dollars has greater emotional impact than the equivalent gain.
This is called prospect theory, which suggests that the value of future gains and losses to most people is asymmetrical, that is losses have a greater emotional impact than gains. Given the ambiguity of risk, it is not surprising that motivational and emotional factors play an important role in how people assess it. Although prospect theory and other approaches to risk assessment describe the average person, people actually differ substantially in their willingness to take risks, and their enjoyment out of it; some people are motivated by fear, while others are motivated by excitement or pleasure. These differences appear to reflect differences in whether a person’s nervous system is more responsive to norepinephrine (regulates fear responses), or dopamine (regulates pleasure).
Connectionism – Connectious says…psychology is in the midst of a ‘second cognitive revolution’. This revolution has challenged the notion that the mind is a conscious, step at a time information processor that functions like a computer. One of the major contributors to this revolution is an approach to perception, learning, memory, thought and language called connectionism, or parallel distributed processing (PDP), which asserts that most cognitive processes occur simultaneously throughout the action of multiple activated networks. PDP models emphasise parallel rather than serial processing. Human processing is simply too fast and the requirements of the environment too demanding for serial or one by one processing to be our primary mode of information processing.
Secondly, according the PDP models, the meaning of a representation is not contained in some specific warehouse in the brain. Rather, it is spread out, or distributed, throughout an entire network of processing units (nodes in the network) that have become activated together through experience. Each node attends to some small aspect of the representation to create a whole concept. For instance, when a person comes across a barking dog, her visual system will simultaneously activate networks of neurons that have previously been activated by animals with two ears, four legs and a tail. At the same time, auditory circuits previously turned on by barking will become active. The simultaneous activation of all these neural circuits identifies the animal with high probability as a dog. The tendency to settle on a cognitive solution that satisfies as many constaints as possible to best fit the data is called constraint satisfaction. With the above example, a four legged creature with a tail could be a dog or a cat, but if it starts barking, barking will further activate the dog concept and inhibit the cat concept, because the neurons representing barking spread activation to networks associated with dogs and spread inhibition to networks associated with cats.
That’s all for this post on thinking and reasoning, I hope it got you thinking!
Other guides in the Psychology 101 series:
- Psychology 101 – Memory
- Psychology 101 – Learning
- Psychology 101 – Language
- Psychology 101 – Motivation
- Psychology 101 – Development I: Physical and Cognitive Development
- Psychology 101 – Development II: Social Development
- Burton, L., Westen, D & Kowalski, R, 2009, ‘Psychology’, 2nd edition, John Wiley and Australia, Queensland.