f. Emotions and Decision Making

Emotions and Decision Making

For the following discussion, I will define a “positive situation” as one in which a need is addressed by a latent, precarious, or entrenched satisfier, and contra-satisfiers are absent. A “negative situation”, on the other hand, is one in which a need is not addressed by a satisfier or there is a latent, precarious, or entrenched contra-satisfier.

If a need is important to us, then negative situations cause negative feelings, for example, dis-satisfaction, frustration, anxiety, and fear. Conversely, positive situations cause positive emotions, for example, satisfaction, pleasure, and exhilaration. However, the latter are only felt when positive situations are first attained, and they last for a limited time. To motivate our behaviour, we must have satisfiers to seek and contra-satisfiers to avoid. Without these we would be inactive. The short duration of positive emotions ensures, therefore, that we attend to other needs once more pressing ones have been satisfied and secured. We can, therefore, only feel fully satisfied for a relatively short time.

Positive emotions do however reinforce our desire to behave or act in a way that generates that emotion. Conversely, negative emotions make us less likely to do so.

Knowledge has a part to play in our emotional state. What we perceive to be positive or negative situations are based on unconscious attitudes and beliefs. Many of these attitudes and beliefs are gained from our society, peers, advertising, etc., and we may not be consciously aware of them.

The feedback loop which causes us to be conscious has a part to play in our decisions and behaviour. For example, our unconscious mind may conclude that saying something potentially hurtful to another person will satisfy our needs. If so, then before acting we may consciously attempt to predict that person’s reaction via empathy or our knowledge of them. This may have an emotional effect on us which might cause us to reject or modify our unconscious mind’s conclusion.

What we perceive as satisfiers or contra-satisfiers, and thus, what we perceive as positive or negative situations, has a bearing on our level of stress. Stress has an emotional component, which can be positive or negative, and a biological component. The emotional component is negative when we experience feelings of frustration, anxiety, or fear, in a negative situation. It is positive when, for example, we experience exhilaration on first acquiring a satisfier. The biological component of stress is arousal, or a heightening of the physical ability to seize opportunities and avoid threats. It will occur when a situation is significant.

What we perceive as satisfiers and contra-satisfiers, and the value that we place on them, are important in valuing social institutions. Satisfiers and contra-satisfiers have a value to the individual, and the value that society places on its institutions is the aggregate of the value that each individual places on them. For example, the UK’s National Health Service has a very high social value because it is a satisfier of the existence and procreation needs of so many. This will be explored further when I discuss politics.

The value that we place on satisfiers and contra-satisfiers also has a bearing on what we hold to be good or bad, our morals, and ethics. For example, the aggregate impact of our behaviour on others, in terms of the satisfiers and contra-satisfiers that it invokes, forms the basis of utilitarianism. This will be explored further when I discuss ethics.

In the next article, I will describe how place a value on satisfiers and contra-satisfiers and in the following article how we use this to make our decisions.

f. Why Consistency of Knowledge is Important

Why Consistency of Knowledge is Important

Consistency within Personal Schemata

Schemata, paradigms, and memes are essential references when we are motivated to act and, together with unsatisfied needs, govern our behaviour. When all the information we have access to is consistent, we can make quick and easy decisions. Inconsistencies on the other hand result in ambiguities, confusion, and uncertainty.

It is perfectly possible to hold information deemed to be “false” or “uncertain” if its probability is flagged accordingly. However, the less certain the information, the more cognitive processing needed to arrive at a decision, and the more delayed that decision will be. In the natural world, delaying a decision to act can reduce our chances of survival. Therefore, we tend to regard information as being either true or false.

The simple propositions “Peter likes Jane” and “Peter does not like Jane” contradict one another and are therefore inconsistent. To give another example, “Dogs have wings” is inconsistent with the image of dogs that most of us hold. Usually, however, inconsistencies are far more complex than these examples suggest, and complex reasoning is often needed to reveal them. They can also be detected by the unconscious mind, which gives us a sense that “there is something wrong”. However, the process involved in this is unknown.

Unresolved contradictions make us more vulnerable. They can lead to uncertainty, anxiety, stress, and, in the extreme, mental ill-health. Thus, internal consistency of the information we hold can be regarded as a basic need. In turn, this need drives us to understand the world in which we exist. It is, quite simply, a survival mechanism.

Consistency between Personal Schemata and Social Memes

Every society has a core social ethic. In large complex societies, this is often based on its main religion, albeit, in some cases, its historical religion. In the West we have the Christian Ethic, in China the Confucian Ethic, and in the Middle East obedience to the will of God. This core social ethic is not necessarily stated explicitly and can be intangible. However, it is the basis of our social norms and values, and we learn of it through them. This process establishes our External Ethical Schema, i.e., our understanding of why society holds some things to be good and others to be bad. Errors of interpretation do, of course, occur and for this reason our External Ethical Schema can differ from the actual social ethic.

We also develop an Internal Ethical Schema, i.e., our personal understanding of what is good, what is bad, and why. This is equivalent to our super-ego or conscience. However, it is not necessarily the same as our External Ethical Schema for the following reasons:

  1. Differences of opinion between oneself and society as to what is good or bad. We can find ourselves in situations where it is necessary to hold a particular belief to satisfy our basic needs even though this may be inconsistent with objective reality, for example, if we live in a dogmatic and authoritarian society.
  2. Differences in the way that individuals balance personal and social interests.
  3. Behavioural predispositions (see next article).
  4. Effort after Meaning when relearning the social ethic in later life, for example after migration or when changing jobs.

There can, therefore, be contradictions between the beliefs that we hold, and the beliefs acceptable to a group or society to which we belong. This too can cause stress, anxiety, and in extreme cases, mental illness, as we struggle to reconcile the need for internal consistency with those for social acceptance, positive regard, and even our existence needs.

Consistency between Social Memes

Simpler societies with relatively small populations tended to be local monocultures. One had three options: accept the prevailing values, norms and beliefs and be accepted by others; not accept them and be rejected; or hide one’s personal beliefs and struggle with the inconsistency.

In a more complex society, we can belong to several groups each of which establishes a different External Ethical Schema. In belonging to these groups, we adopt different roles, and the different schemata guide our behaviour. Inconsistencies between them can, of course, arise and it is notable that many occur in connection with employment. We have a range of strategies to deal with those inconsistencies but key among them is the development of a clear Internal Ethical Schema and following it. Further guidance can be found here:

In a more complex society, there is also wide variety of groups to which an individual may belong. People are attracted to groups they feel may satisfy their needs and this also applies to the need for inner consistency. Thus, people with a particular view will join others with the same or similar views and be able to hold that view whilst at the same time being socially accepted. In this way inconsistency is avoided. However, belonging to such a group does have the effect of reinforcing the beliefs that individuals share, and ideologies can, therefore, develop.