By Rachel Elgy: email@example.com
There has been a lot of research undertaken recently, to look into the different effects our emotions have on the way we make decisions, and it is becoming increasingly evident that our emotions are actually the biggest factor, often outweighing logic and rationality.
Consider the film ‘Inside Out’ as a basic example. In this film we see the brain of each character being fully navigated by five key emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust. The decisions made by each character are based on whichever emotion is in control at the time. As an example, many studies have shown that people feeling angry are more likely to make a choice that is higher risk than other options- in the film we see anger deciding that the character of Riley should run away from home, despite all the risks and dangers involved. A very ‘basic’ representation perhaps, but the film has been praised by psychologists for its accuracy and described as a useful tool to discuss such topics.
A review of emotion and decision making by Lerner et al. breaks down several layers of how decisions are controlled by both integral emotions (our direct reactions to the circumstances we’re considering) as well as incidental emotions (those that are not directly relevant to the decision being made, but that affect our mood; for example, feeling happier because of good weather).
People may find that they have a ‘gut reaction’ or just ‘feel’ that something is the right choice, even before considering the logical pros, cons and consequences of such a decision. Likewise, even after being presented with rationale that might ordinarily deter someone from choosing a certain option, if an emotional decision has already been made, it can be difficult to change someone’s mind.
So why am I talking about how we make decisions? Because the UK has a really important decision coming up on the 23rd June: the EU Referendum.
There has been an overwhelming amount of dramatic headlines, bold claims and alarming figures on both sides and both campaigns have been criticised for using misleading statistics. Let’s consider as an example two of the key arguments at play:
“We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead.” – Vote Leave
“Every UK household will be £4,300 worse off if we leave the EU.”- Vote Remain
Both of the statistics used in these arguments have been reviewed and stated to be exaggerated and misleading. But it is clear that these are powerful arguments, targeting our emotions. They might as well say, “Don’t you care about our NHS?” and “You’ll lose your money- how will you live?”
Luckily for us, there are ways we can override our knee-jerk emotional responses to make more informed decisions, and there are also lots of resources available that look at the true facts and figures behind the political propaganda.
The review by Lerner et al. states:
“Numerous strategies have been examined for minimizing the effects of emotions on decision-making… These strategies broadly take one of two forms: (a) minimizing the magnitude of the emotional response… or (b) insulating the judgment or decision process from the emotion…”
In other words, we can minimise our emotional response by taking more time to make decisions, re-evaluating the options and our responses, and being aware of our emotions and working consciously to counteract them. We can also move towards a more rational decision making process by noticing where we may have attached emotions to inaccurate information, and by focusing on the logical arguments presented to us.
There is information available which analyses many different aspects of how leaving the EU could affect the UK, and it is up to the individual to think about what is important to them, and consider the arguments for each side. There are certain arguments that you might relate to more than others, whether it be to do with the effects on small businesses, international relations, or the economy as a whole.
At EqualiTeach, our ‘Think’ and ‘Second Thoughts’ workshops with young people teach pupils about bias, propaganda and the idea that not everything we see or hear online or on the news is true. We work with pupils to come up with ideas of how to check information before we believe it, how to consider the dangers of sharing false information, and the importance of thinking critically when we’re given information. In ‘Second Thoughts’ we set students a homework task, to research the facts behind a post they think might not be true. A year 9 student recently submitted a piece of work picking apart an EU referendum post. She noted the creators of the post, stating the post was clearly biased, as it was trying to persuade people to vote a certain way. She then proceeded to take each statement and statistic on the post, research it, and prove the information to be fabricated, exaggerated or misleading.
So if this year 9 student can cut through the propaganda despite not even being old enough to vote, so can we! Luckily for us, there are now more and more platforms available that are doing some of the legwork for us. I will provide links below to some independent ‘fact checkers,’ who are providing the research behind arguments on both sides, to give us a more accurate insight into the risks and benefits of remaining in or leaving the EU.
It’s interesting to note as well that when we’re looking through the mainstream media, voters are faced with another barrier. That unless you look anything like the people in the photos above you might have a hard time relating to the points being made.
When we’re talking about the emotional response in decision making, surely having representation and a figurehead we can connect with would be important. Something the campaigns don’t seem to have considered fully: how can they target younger voters, women, and voters from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds? While arguably more could have been done by the key figures in each campaign to engage with different voting groups, there is information available that does break facts down with some direct focus on this, but not many!
Time is running out now, with the deadline to register to vote on the 7th June, and just two weeks until the referendum on the 23rd June.
It’s a “once-in-a-generation” decision, and whichever way the vote goes, the impact will be felt significantly. It is different to the elections and voting process we’re used to; there are not many parties and individual policies to consider; there are just two options. Each and every vote will count, and could sway the win from one side to the other.
So we have a responsibility, to make the best possible use of our right to vote: to get registered, to take time to sort through the facts, to build our own opinion, and to get down to the polling stations on the 23rd to have our say.
Some useful links:
Full fact-Independent fact checker, looking into pretty much any question you might have about the EU referendum.
BBC Reality Check– BBC Reality check is a useful tool and picks apart arguments from both sides as they come up, and gives handy little summaries of them all – but for anything you’re particularly interested in I recommend reading the full reality check.
Channel 4 Fact Check– This doesn’t have the shorter summaries, but again it’s a good platform for finding out some of the facts behind the claims made by both sides.
The Conversation, Fact check– This site offers research put forward by different academics into different claims, which are then reviewed, so it offers quite an intellectual and fair look into some of the statements made in the campaigns so far.
Women and the EU: This report details a lot of the rights for women workers that have been achieved through the EU and talks through the risks to some of these with a vote Leave.
And here are a couple of interesting articles about the emotional side of decision-making: