The lie of rationality in consumer decisions

We’ve been sold a lie and it’s a big one. The lie has far reaching implications and is insidious because we desperately want to believe it. We’re special primarily because of our capacity for rational thought, unlike wild animals. We are certainly not lumbering bees slashing out from reflex or ruled by strong emotions and passions. None of us want to believe we’re fickle, weak or easy to manipulate. The big lie is very flattering and feels good. We’re different not in degree but rather in kind from other animals. We’re special. Emotions are considered an annoying artifact of our primitive cells. We feel we’d make much better choices were it not for the distorting effects of strong passions. In fact, we have it backwards.

Without emotions we’re paralyzed. Our conscious brain can analyze information and present us with options but it’s powerless to decide. Emotions are the guideposts for survival. The stronger the feeling the more immediately we must react to it. We move towards the experience of positive emotions expecting something good to happen, we move away from the experience of negative ones hoping to avoid pain. Our emotions are a snapshot of all the information available to the primal brain. Our gut feeling is generally reliable and helps us to choose among available options. Emotions are based on chemical helpers which evolve to deal with the survival challenges in the distant past across a wide array of species. But emotions are not foolproof. 

Shortcuts and automatic instincts helped our ancestors to survive. Unfortunately, our distant past is unlike the civilized world in which we find ourselves. Many of the responses that got our ancestors here are often suboptimal and counterproductive in modern societies. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about it. Evolution has effectively stopped and we’re no longer in the natural world. But we’re still forced to use the brains which developed to deal with it. With modern brain imaging techniques, we can see decisions made in the primal brain. 

Only after a significant delay do portions of the conscious mind wake up to justify or verbally describe them. Every decision is made long before our awareness can fabricate a retrospective reason for it. The primal parts of the brain are still there working tirelessly with massive capacity and lightening speed. 

They’re well-suited to make most decisions and initiate appropriate actions. The modern energy intensive parts of the brain are kept largely deactivated. They’re only woken when their special abilities would be complimentary and useful to the primal brain for the task at hand.

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