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Humans are governed by emotionsliterally

PITTSBURGH--The emotional responses that guide much of human behavior have a tremendous impact on public policy and international affairs, prompting government officials to make decisions in response to a crisis--such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--with little regard to the long-term consequences, according to a study by scholars at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. The paper, which appears in the Chicago-Kent Law Review, was written by Jules Lobel, a Pitt professor of law, and George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon.

Intense emotions can undermine a person's capacity for rational decision-making, even when the individual is aware of the need to make careful decisions. With regard to public policy, when people are angry, afraid or in other elevated emotional states, they tend to favor symbolic, viscerally satisfying solutions to problems over more substantive, complex, but ultimately more effective policies. Over the past 40 years, this has led the United States into two costly and controversial wars, in Vietnam and Iraq, when members of Congress gave the president broad powers in response to a perceived crisis that did not leave sufficient time for deliberation.

"War is the quintessential issue where immediate emotions and passions hold sway, often at the expense of an evaluation of long-term consequences," Lobel said.

The authors draw on recent research that demonstrates that human decision-making is governed by two neural systems--the deliberative and the affective, or emotional. The latter, which the authors dub emote control, is much older, and served an adaptive role in early humans by helping them meet basic needs and identify and respond quickly to danger. As humans evolved, however, they developed the ability to consider the long-term consequences of their behavior and to weigh the costs and benefits of their choices. The deliberative system appears to
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Contact: Jonathan Potts
jpotts@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-6094
Carnegie Mellon University
20-Oct-2005


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