“The fixity of a habit is generally in direct proportion to its absurdity.” – Marcel Proust
Emotions are at the heart of decision making, and there is more recent evidence that often we are not conscious of the reasons for our choices, but those choices are based on our unconscious beliefs about the positive or negative emotions that are associated with specific choices. In a recent article in the Journal of Consumer Research, which I picked up in a neuroscience blog (details below), researchers demonstrated that respondents focused on positive and negative emotions in making decisions about fictitious brands, and ignored more conscious (rational) information on product features (and could not recall the reasons for their decisions). This meant that a product with inferior features, was chosen ahead of a product with superior features (ie strong rational reasons for choice), when associated with emotions which were more positive than those associated with the superior product. Respondents were not conscious of the reasons for such decisions, and were not able to identify the reasons for their choices.
We are all slaves to our emotions, and the brain area which is responsible for decision making is also that associated with our emotions. This doesn’t mean that we are “irrational” but does imply that our brains (usually correctly) focus on behaviours which are likely to lead to positive emotional outcomes. The primary encoding of our life experiences is based on the associated emotions, and the emotions are the key to our future behaviours.
After all, we all want to be happy!