Categories
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.

Categories
c. How Needs and Contra-Needs Motivate Us

How Needs & Contra-Needs Motivate Us.

Variational Principles

Variational principles exist widely in the physical world. They state that a physical object, system, or event will behave in a way which minimises or, in some cases, maximises some physical quantity. The most famous of these is Fermat’s Least Time Principle which states that the path taken between two points by a ray of light is the path which takes least time.

Similar principles apply to human decision-making and behaviour. We will first attempt to satisfy the need which has greatest value to us, i.e., the need which is most pressing. Furthermore, we will attempt to satisfy it in a way which demands least use of personal resources or the resources of those close to us.

First Variational Principle – Pressing Needs

Behaviour is physical action or communication to satisfy our needs. It involves the application of resources available to us. Behaviour can be simple, i.e., directed towards a single need, or complex and directed towards several needs. In Maslow’s view, most behaviour is multi-motivated, i.e., determined by several needs rather than just one. For example, eating may satisfy one’s hunger, need for comfort, and need to socialise.

We tend to address our most pressing needs first, but priorities differ according to the individual and circumstances. The behaviours that we adopt contribute significantly to the perception of our personality, therefore.

Second Variational Principle – The Efficient Use of Resources

People aim to satisfy each personal need as efficiently as possible, i.e., in a way which yields the maximum benefit for the least expenditure of personal resources. For example, if a person walks across a park to a gate in the opposite corner he or she will do so in a straight line unless other needs are satisfied by not doing so. In this way our resources can be used to provide greatest satisfaction across all our needs.

The Role of Emotion in Decision-making

Many higher animals experience emotion and, in the human being, evolution has built on that foundation. Most psychologists now recognise that emotions are an integral part of the human reasoning and decision-making process. They are not, as so often portrayed, the enemy of reason. We may be able to make a logically or mathematically based decision in very simple circumstances, such as whether to buy 4 apples for a pound at one stall or five identical apples for a pound at another. However, the circumstances surrounding most decisions are far too complex for this. In such circumstances, it is emotions that motivate our behaviour. They are used to “tot up” the effects of satisfiers and contra-satisfiers, i.e., those things which cause our needs to be satisfied or which cause harms we wish to avoid.

We experience several basic emotions, and they fall into two classes. Those associated with satisfiers are regarded as positive and those associated with contra-satisfiers are regarded as negative. Our decisions aim to improve our overall emotional state by increasing the former and reducing the latter. Note that it is satisfiers and contra-satisfiers, i.e., external causes, that are evaluated rather than our internal needs and contra-needs. So, for example, the presence of a contra-satisfier such as a disease, and the absence of a satisfier such as food will both contribute to a negative emotional state.

Our overall emotional state depends on whether the status of each satisfier or contra-satisfier is: absent; latent; precarious; or entrenched. Here, “latent” means capable of manifesting, for example when a satisfier is promised, or a contra-satisfier threatened. “Precarious” means present but insecure. “Entrenched” means present, solidly established, and unchangeable.

Emotions are experienced on a scale from mild or non-existent to strong or overwhelming, depending on the priority of the need or contra-need and the status of the satisfier or contra-satisfier. Most of the time our emotions are low key, for example a mild feeling of discontent, and we are capable of consciously verifying our decisions and making rational choices. These lower key emotions are used to “tot up” the predicted effects of our decisions before they are implemented. For example, if we decide to behave in an anti-social manner, then we are likely to predict social censure, which is of course a contra-satisfier. This will contribute to feelings of anxiety which may cause us to alter our decision.

However, when emotions are very strong or overwhelming, we experience stress. Hormones are released which prepare our bodies for swift action in the face of an immediate risk or opportunity and we respond almost entirely unconsciously. This is, of course, an inherited survival mechanism which, on average, enables us to survive and prosper when there is no time for the conscious verification of our decisions. It does, however, carry with it a strong risk of error.

When making more considered decisions about our behaviour we carry out a form of risk/benefit/cost assessment. In this context, “risk” means the likelihood that our behaviour will result in the anticipated benefits and/or dis-benefits. “Cost” is the value that we place on the resources used.

The “benefits” of any behaviour are reductions in negative emotions, such as fear and grief, and increases in positive emotions, such as happiness. These benefits are due to increases in the status of satisfiers and decreases in the status of contra-satisfiers. For example, a benefit results when access to food increases or when a risk of disease decreases.

Dis-benefits, on the other hand, are increases in negative emotions and decreases in positive emotions. They are due to decreases in the status of a satisfier or increases in the status of a contra-satisfier.

Benefits and dis-benefits can of course, cancel one another out and, depending on their relative magnitude, may yield a nett benefit, no overall benefit/dis-benefit, or a nett dis-benefit. The magnitude of benefits and dis-benefits are, in turn, determined by several factors related to needs and contra-needs which will be described in a future article.