March 8, 2018

Emotion Over Reason, Reason Over Emotion?



Suddenly seeing a snake in your path, followed by a fixed wide-eyed stare, muscle tenseness, increased heart rate, perhaps a jump backwards, are emotionally reflexive responses, not deliberative or reasoned choices and actions. There is little if any deliberative, choice-making reasoning occurring in this instance.

During the snake encounter emotion played a dominant role. Reasoning, as a reflection on the events that just happened, came second: “Yes, that was a snake, a poisonous one. Good thing I saw it when I did. To have stepped on it may have made it bite me. I might have died if it had.” Reasoning can also be a slower more deliberative post hoc rationalization of the emotions we experience and the emotion-driven actions we take: “So-and-so repulses me physically, visually. I have a bad feeling being in his/her presence. I will avoid this person because of this.”

These examples do not justify a now widely accepted conclusion that reasoning, in general and for the most often, is an after-the-fact comment, reflection, justification or rationalization of emotional states. This emotion-above-all view is one that psychologist Jonathan Haidt and others have recently convinced many pundits and much of the public to believe. I think Haidt’s view is yet another modern version of sociobiology or Skinnerian stimulus-response behaviorism. It minimizes the role and importance of reasoning in human affairs and points to genetic, sensory-emotive and hormonal processes as the predominant and overriding causes of behavior.