AAP, Symbols, Subconscious Meaning and Somatic Markers

What best explains overwhelming response to AAP. How people respond is caused by many factors. Although providing the explanation to one’s behavior is generally the job of the conscious and the reason but it is not all. A lot of thing remain outside the realm of reason but have influence behavior profoundly. Long back Descartes made a proclamation, ‘I think, therefore I am’. Science for long pursued the path of reason to explain behaviors by concentrating on cognitive side brain and ignoring the emotions.

But neurologist Atonio Damasio challenged the old ideas about the connection between reason and emotion. He claimed that emotions are integral to rational thinking and normal to social behavior. They are the source of a person’s true being. The dichotomization between body and mind, and reason and emotion proposed by Descartes was an error. Emotions and body guide the human rationality and thinking. In many cases our reactions are almost automatic- these can be called gut level reactions. These gut level reactions are called ‘somatic markers’ by Damasio and these cause us to behave almost automatically in an instant. So quite contrary to our notion that thinking drives our preference, it is emotions and feelings that assume the charge. The somatic markers add bias and fasten our decision making in complex situations.

Cognitive/ rational/ economic school proposes that humans make decisions rationally uninfluenced by emotions by performing cost/benefit analysis. This model assumes that a person is capable in terms of time, knowledge, mathematics to arrive at optimal decision. But his is hardly possible. It is here, emotions assume driver’s role and help us in negotiating complex and uncertain situation. Imagine making choices between parties/candidates in political arena-these are complex and conflicting choices.    It may not be possible to make decisions based on only reason or cognition. It is here somatic markers come to our rescue and help in decision making.  The somatic markers are associations between reinforcing stimuli that induce an affective/emotional state and cause bias.

In response to a stimuli the body/ physiological (muscle tone, heart rate, facial expression, endocrine release) changes are conveyed to brain where they are converted into emotions. For instance, sight of a lion would create pounding of heart and that would create feeling of fear. With time, the emotions and corresponding bodily changes become linked with particular situation. Thus when a person is thrown into a situation of decision making in future, these connections between physiological signals or somatic markers and corresponding emotions gets activated which causes people to approach or avoid certain behaviors. So when in a certain situation somatic markers are associated with positive emotions, a positive bias is added. Consider what somatic markers are associated with when one happens to see a politician (prototypical politician is dressed in white kurta-payjama, surrounded by musclemen either hired or in khaki, car with red beacon, arrogant demeanor, rings on the fingers etc)- given the track record of political class in India the physiological response and corresponding emotions are anger, frustration, dislike and hate.

Now consider how the members of AAP by dissociating with the politician by profession (not statesmen) have managed to avoid negative emotions. The people from AAP are very ordinary, minus all the symbols that the political class in India has come to be associated with.   The outcome of this is that they activate emotions that subconsciously trigger people to approach not avoid AAP and its leaders.


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