Life is part decisions and part actions (almost anything is, you make decisions first and then enact them). But it’s only the beginning. Few of the decisions we make in life are the results of rational thinking, and how could they be?
We wish there could be a simple way to get to the right decisions immediately, maybe a machine or a formula that could incorporate all the possible factors and give us the final genius solution!
In our dreams. . . .
Today, I’m going to talk about how we perceive reality through our emotion frames, how we process the information through them, and how we make decisions based on the outputs from the emotion frames. We will also explore whether the emotion frames can have negative impacts on our lives.
It’s gonna be a bit scientific so fasten the seat-belts and be ready for some real article.
Emotions Act as Mental Frames:
You know that feeling when you’re in love with someone and you cannot find fault with anything she does? Her awkward acts are more graceful than any kind of heroism in your mind, and you just know that she is the right person for you despite all the evidence others list to prove you wrong? (Yeah . . . I miss her too)
You simply cannot see their reasons because the emotion frame (of love) gives you only a part of reality. And you make decisions based on that.
Emotions are like spectacles through which you see the world and make decisions. And they’re not just influencing the way you make decisions, they filter what information you receive from the outside world (real time — science proves this).
The general idea is that various emotions act as various frames that select some salient aspects of the input (environment) to be perceived. Different emotions induce different perceptions of a problem and its solution.
For example, sadness makes people perceive loss more emphatically and make decisions with higher risks and higher rewards to compensate for the loss. Anxiety on the other hand, makes people perceive uncertainty more emphatically and thus they make decisions with lower risks and lower rewards to acquire the highest level of certainty.
How does it work?
“Laws of Emotion”, an article by Nico Frijda, is almost a classic in this matter. It argues that there is a correlation between the situational meaning of an experience and the emotions it provokes. For example sadness is provoked in a person only when the situational meaning of an incident is the loss of a desired thing, or anxiety is felt when the situational meaning of an incident is uncertainty.
If you insert the loss of a desired thing in a person, you will receive sadness. Insert uncertainty and you’ll receive anxiety — simple as that.
Further research shows that these situational meanings not only determine the type of emotion a person would experience, they determine the information the person would infer from the experience, and thus motivate a certain set of goals the person is willing to track.
For example, we know that the situational meaning of sadness is loss of a desired thing. This situational meaning makes the loss of the thing a salient feature in the person’s perception, and he decides to substitute the lost thing.
As a result, a person who is experiencing sadness is more determined to detect loss in the environment and tries to gain rewards even when facing great risks — this is the reason why people tend to buy gifts for themselves when feeling depressed.
Or a person who is anxious is more determined to detect uncertainty in the external input and thus tries to alleviate his uncertainty and avoid risks more than others.
Emotion Frames can Ruin your Life
It’s easy to get lost in a particular emotion frame. Sadness is the most prevalent one. When people are sad, their sensory inputs are more slanted towards loss and they see losses and gaps almost anywhere. This kind of appraisal causes them to make decisions that are supposed to fill in the perceived gaps without ever taking into account the risk factor.
And the results might be wrong job choices (high wages, low security), wrong partner choices (high communicative skills, low compatibility), wrong business choices (higher short-term ROI, low future growth), etc.
Fear-related emotions such as anxiety cause people to perceive uncertainty and lack of control almost anywhere; they thus make decisions with lower risks and lower rewards. This might lead to wrong choices when there needs to be more risk in decisions.
In a chapter of Handbook of Emotions, Professor Isen discusses that positive emotions cue positive thoughts in the memory (making access to positive materials), promote flexibility in thinking (enabling you to view a problem from different points of view), and promote innovation and creativity, among other things.
It seems that the positive emotion frames give us a better view of the task in hand and enable us to make decisions more efficiently and flexibly. You can imagine the implications for the work place where productivity could be boosted through positive emotion frames.
The bottom line:
You cannot be happy all the time, can you? It’s not healthy to constantly hide your emotions (have you seen Inside Out?) and you cannot neglect the importance of all the emotion frames for our survival.
But knowing the situational meanings of emotions (why they are provoked), and their effects on the way we select and process information gives us a relative control on our decision making.
Every negative emotion frame makes you want to make decisions that deal with the situational meaning of the emotion.
Next time you felt sad, don’t rush into making decisions that maximize rewards irrespective of risks — although it’s difficult because your mind sifts through the information it receives and perceives loss and lack everywhere.
Or when you felt anxious, don’t just focus on the decisions that give you the most assurance irrespective of the things you’ll gain.
Instead take time to think of the situational meanings of the emotions and deal with them in a relatively more rational way.
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