Reason as a part of emotion or emotion as a part of reason

Rene Descartes, a French philosopher observed, ‘I think, therefore I am’.

This statement became the foundation western philosophy. It gives supremacy to our cognitive capacity or thinking. It implies that I am able to think, therefore I exist. Thinking precedes existence. It is thought or consciousness we exist that we exist.

This statement is purely rationalistic. It suggests that I am rational (thinking) therefore I am. Accordingly in marketing and consumer behavior we have a very firmly established school of thought which assumes the consumer as a ‘cognitive man’. The consumer is seen as someone who uses his or her thinking (application of mind) to solve buying problems. Therefore rational thinking precedes buying which can vary in degree of cognitive involvement.

But Damasio’s work in the area of area of neuromarketing has put the conventional belief upside down. In his book Descarte’s Error a complete reversal of earlier thinking is proposed which proposes, ‘I have emotions, therefore I am rational’. This statement has far reaching implications for disciplines like psychology, sociology and consumer behavior. Martin Lindstorm’s investigations that used complex electroencephalography or EEG also reached similar conclusion as his book is sub titled as ‘how everything we believe about why we buy is wrong’.

What do emotions do for us? Emotions happen very fast and they prepare us for action and buying is an act. Buying involves decision making and its understanding is essential for effective brand building. Our thinking about consumer often is based on dichotomization reason and emotion. Therefore some decisions are classified as thinking and some as feeling. But Damasio proposes that thinking is not to be positioned against or opposite of emotions rather emotions are part of rationality and both are inextricably linked. Emotions do not exclude reason. And this is how brain is built (when we are emotional it does not mean exclusion of the reason).

It is often believed that emotions interfere with reason. On the contrary absence of emotions can break down rationality and thereby rendering the wise decision making impossible. The new paradigm proposes that emotions cause rationality. According to Damasio, somatic markers (how the body feels when we see something as a result of memories activation, consider seeing a snake) increase the accuracy and efficiency of the decision process (fear leading to running away).  The feelings become input to thinking process and thereby help us in acting wisely to a given situation. Feelings play an important part in interpretation of things (e.g. brands or retail outlets) and form basis of decision making.

The view that feelings are part of the interpretation (of anything including brands) which is the key to decision process it is important to understand how they play out. How we interpret something is based on our experiences (memories) which spill out like things falling off from a stuffed cupboard (recruitment).  

The new research suggests that emotions should not be viewed as diagrammatically opposite of reason or emotions are harmful to rationality (sometimes we believe we should approach totally with reason because emotions would compromise the decision effectiveness). Emotions are not independent rather they are intertwined with reason. They provide background against which a thing is interpreted.

Think of a purchase which you think you made totally rationally and now think again. Was it actually only reason playing out there then?


8 thoughts on “Reason as a part of emotion or emotion as a part of reason

  1. I strongly believe that decision have two distinctive parts – Logic + Emotion.

    for ex – If given a choice to take any one option from following 2 options:

    1. win Rs 5,000 with 100% guarantee
    2. Win Rs 10,000 with 60% chance

    most of the people would choose option 1 (you may try this on a sample0

    Since option 1 is linked to our natural “risk aversion” behavior even though, logically, the winning booty is more in option 2. Emotionally, the chance of loosing in option 2 out-weighs logic of higher win in option 2.

    Emotions are connected to typical survival instinct and are deep rooted in our sub-conscious and most of the time these are fixed reflexes or natural response to any given situation; for ex – avoiding danger,loss or minimizing risk is a natural reflex.

    Logic is the mathematical part of decision which evaluates cost of each alternate choices available or some times cost of not making a choice.

    I have been trying to utilize above knowledge in marketing of our products (B2B Industrial environment) and have experienced that many times, “Selling Risk” (cost of doing nothing or wrong choice) is a better approach that “Selling benefits”. For ex – “what would happen to your family if you were not there” is typically sold by insurance companies.

    In last, emotions let us connect with the customers and logic helps them decide which option to choose from.

    Prashant Jain
    N-35, 2008-11

  2. Understanding emotion is key to product differentiation when functional features can be imitated by the competitors. So marketers have to understand the role of emotion in buying decision process. enlightening article

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