‘Emotion’ the enemy of ‘reason’?


When you are making decisions in your life you will always encounter reason and emotion. This blog post will define what is reason and emotion and how this process actually works. I will provide some guidelines from theory to handle your reason and emotion during decision-making. To put this theory into practice I will answer the question if reason or emotion dominates my decision-making process and if this suits my personality? The decision-making problem that I am facing relates to the choice if I am going to pursue a professional career in Accounting/Strategic Management or to become an entrepreneur and start my own company like I explained in my last blog?

When you are talking about reason and emotion you will always get the feeling that they influence each other. You could say, reason is from the mind and emotion is from the heart. When people are thinking of the process of decision-making they usually think that there is not much room for emotion because thinking rational would optimize utility and including emotion would distort this process. But is this the case?

In the YouTube video below you can see an interesting video by Walt Disney (1943) about Reason and Emotion and how it interacts with each other:

Interesting theory

In the last decades a lot of research has been done on the subject of reason and emotion. One interesting article by P. Zimmerman and J. S Lerner from Harvard University called: The emotional Decision Maker’ makes an interesting statement: ‘’before you can even form a thought, emotions are influencing your judgments’’. And they distinguish two types of emotions namely: Integral Emotions and Incidental emotions. Integral emotions are valid decision inputs from a rational perspective because they arise from your personal judgment and Incidental emotions are a not valid decision input because they come from past events and can influence your present decisions. For example new emotions like fear in new decisions are valid but fear from past decisions can influence new decisions which are not rational valid emotions. The authors came up with three solutions to reduce incidental emotions:

1. Diagnose your emotions

2. Absorb other perspectives.

3. Treat each situation as different

 Their major point is that you cannot simple write off your emotions and that you have first to investigate them thorough before you decide what their role is in your decision-making process.


Coming back to my own experience with reason and emotion and the decision-making problem that I am currently facing which can benefit from the before explained theory. When I am fully thinking rational the logic decision would be to pursue a ‘safe’ career in Accounting because the job has numerous benefits and in the current economic climate it is a safe bet. But my emotion says that I don’t want to do the same thing for the rest of my life stuck behind a desk. My emotion says to just to take the risk and to start my own company. But if you prepare a cost benefit-analysis you will still find that pursuing a professional career is a logic choice. But following the theory of Zimmerman and Lerner, my emotion would be placed in the category of ‘integral emotion’ which is defined as a rational emotion that is a valid input in the ‘cost benefit analysis’.

Does it help me?

Coming back to the statement: ‘Emotion’ the enemy of ‘reason’?, I can conclude this is not always the case. In some decision-making problems, emotion is a valid input and it is therefore not an ‘enemy’ of reason. It can be a valuable aspect to your personal decision making process. So investigate your emotions before you wright them off. Following Zimmerman and Lerner, emotions are ‘time-tested evolutionary adaptions to universal life challenges’. And when I am thinking of my problem, I will for sure investigate my emotions more thorough so I can include them in my rational decision-making process before coming to a final verdict. Does this suit my personality? I am a rational thinker but maybe I have to give my emotion the benefit of the doubt! Like Steve Jobs would say: ‘Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become’.



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