You can never be “too Allen.”

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With the launch of HBOmax the other day, my world was rocked to discover that Friends had jumped ship to HBO after disappearing from Netflix. Life was whole again! I, like much of America, still hold on to my love for that bunch of 20 somethings who modulated flawlessly into 30 somethings while still looking fabulous and maintaining a lifetime of friendships. I started with episode 1 and just kept going…for the 100th time. I go to the episode when Monica finally was dating a guy named Allen that the whole group liked…a little too much for Monica’s comfort. They couldn’t get enough of him and even hung out with him when Monica was not around. This should have made Monica ecstatic right? She had been saying for years( as far as we know, because this was only 3 episodes in…lol), that she really wanted to find someone that her friends liked. Instead, she broke up with him right away, devastating her friends and then went on to her next series of unhealthy, unhappy relationships. It seemed like she was so intent to take complete ownership of her relationship decision that she was willing to sacrifice potential happiness rather than give her friends credit for perhaps seeing something that she wasn’t able to.

This brings up several questions. Do we really want the approval of our friends as much as we say that we do? Does that outweigh our own need to make our own decisions? Are we always able to make healthy decisions for ourselves without input? Do we sometimes make a bad decision intentionally just to say that we did it on our own? Do our friends know us better than we know ourselves? Do our emotions rule our decisions?

Ok, that is a lot of questions. Let’s break this down. All human beings have an innate inclination toward having some kind of control over our lives. We like to be in charge of our own decisions, no matter how trivial they may seem. We say we want our friends’ input, but really our natural impulse is to ultimately make the decision of our choice, not theirs, regardless of the consequences, just to say that we did it. That’s who we are. Even the most collegial of humans have a need to have the final say in the topic of choice.

Psychologists all over the world have studied human decision making. There are multiple theories about the decision making process. One theory says that the decision making process involves 7 steps: 1) Identify the decision to be made, 2) Gather relevant information, 3) Identify the alternatives, 4) Weigh the evidence, 5) Choose among alternatives, 6) Take action, and 7) Review your decision. Other theories do not break down decisions into steps. They say that there are only two types of decisions: Habit decisions and Goal-directed decisions. Habit decisions are made on a more impulse-based process. Goal-directed decisions are made based on information and logical thinking, but research shows that you can’t give a person more than four pieces of information to evaluate without actually slowing down the decision making process or stopping it all together.

We like to think that we are logical in our decisions and that we carefully weigh the alternatives, we gather info and look at our options. However, it is just not possible that we are logical in all of our decisions. Our brain actually makes hundreds of decisions per day without any kind of logical think through. Here I go bringing up research again, but, it shows that the bulk of our decisions are actually unconscious and actually involve emotion over logic. Researchers have studied brain activity during decision making. They were actually able to determine what choice the subjects were going to make on average of 7 to 10 seconds before they even realized that they made a decision or verbalized it. Let’s take a look at the emotional component of decision-making. The somatic marker hypothesis also suggests that decision making is a process that depends on emotion. We know that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) of our brain is key in processing emotional signals that are essential for guiding our decisions to our advantage. The vmPFC helps regulate fear. and stops you from continuing to be afraid in certain situations. It modulates conditioned fear and helps you let go of it and be able to make a decision. Our amygdala is also a key component in processing emotional signals but it’s role differs slightly from our prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is where conditioned fear responses are created and continued. Damage to either of these areas affects decision- making. There you go: more evidence that decision making depends on emotion. I will take this a step further and add that emotion plays a role in helping others with their decisions. For example, you can’t effectively help someone change their mind about something unless you begin to truly understand how they feel about it in the first place. Otherwise, you cannot really make any arguments of influence. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

I am glad that we have established that we are not robots and that we do not make cold, calculating emotionless decisions every day. I personally view this as a positive but I am in the minority. It is interesting to me that the concept of emotionally -influenced decision making is still vastly greeted with skepticism and negativity. This is exemplified in phrases like “clouded by emotion.” Gender discrimination in the work place abounds based in large part by the misconception that women are more inclined to utilize emotionally based decision making more often than men. Therefore, women are often looked over for high powered management positions if a male candidate is available. This has a negative connotation implying that the weighing of emotional factors implies a sense of weakness or irrationality somehow. Based upon what I’ve told you this bias does not make any sense. All humans make decisions based on emotional input, regardless of chromosomes and regardless of whether they are aware of it or not. It is a scientific fact. Does emotional have to equal irrational? Absolutely not. Emotions are just part of what makes us human. Emotions and decisions are intertwined and not likely to become untangled anytime soon and that’s what makes life interesting and unpredictable. Have a fantastic day everyone!

Dr. Katz

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