This week’s guest post is by Dean Neubek.
As a high school senior, one of my top priorities right now is getting into my top choice college. I’ve already gotten into four out of the eight that I’ve applied to, but the top choice won’t tell me that they’ve decided until April of this year (2015). I’ve been thinking about which college I want to go to for a long time, but I haven’t been able to decide. I want to decide. I want to have the decision behind me, to be excited for what is to come. I want to make the most rational decision possible, balancing my learning at the college of my choice with the amount of fun I can have at the off times. If I go to a college with really good academics and prestige, but it’s in the middle of nowhere, I won’t be happy. If I go to a college with the best party life imaginable, but no academic credit whatsoever, I’ll feel my time’s been wasted. I need to find that ideal happy medium to be satisfied, and which happy medium to choose is a difficult decision.
Decisions like this are often made irrationally, only using the emotional aspect of the brain. This is usually known as emotional decision making.
The best way to describe emotional decision making is to think of a situation where you are stressed for time. You have 2 seconds to decide whether to hit the deer or risk hitting a tree by swerving around it. This triggers an immediate response, and your rational mind doesn’t have the time to think through “Oh, if I go around it at the vector of 22 degrees divided by my current speed, everything will be okay”. The brain goes into immediate decision mode, with most people choosing the swerve option. Emotional decision making is usually in contrast to rational decision making because of each of their natures. Each of these ways of thinking has been allocated into a “mind.” The emotional mind is the mind with the most control, and the most influence over one’s actions. It is the mind that looks to short term benefits, such as sleeping in. The rational mind is the mind that looks to longer term benefits, such as getting up to go to work or school on time. That’s something I certainly should prioritize.
There is research to say that emotion affects decision making because the part of the brain that makes decisions is also the part of the brain that processes most emotions. These emotional decisions helped out tremendously with survival, but not quite so much with social situations. Using the sleep example again, if you want to sleep in, that’s good for your body. That’s what your emotional mind tells you to do, and that’s what usually happens. If you sleep in on a Tuesday when you have a meeting, your body is rested but the social implications are generally negative. You may feel rested, but you also may be out of a job. That would be a really strict boss, but you never know.
The most comprehensible example for the relationship between the rational and emotional mind that I’ve seen is the relationship between an elephant and its rider. The rider of the elephant is the one that is generally in control, guiding the elephant where it should go. But, if the elephant is hungry, it may trod on something or someone to get to food, whether the rider likes it or not. The six ton elephant is going to win over the rider in a split second decision, without safeguards in place to revert or prevent the action that occurs because of that situation. if the elephant is fed beforehand, it won’t want food when it isn’t supposed to have it. If there is a functional alarm clock in the room where you sleep, you’ll generally wake up and go to work.
I must add that while it is impossible to eliminate emotion from decision making (having a gut feeling about something would be an example), it is possible to eliminate disadvantageous emotion from decision making. This would be like calming yourself down, or removing yourself from a stressful situation before deciding to take that job in Italy.
Researching this topic has drastically changed my view on how I make decisions, and how I will make decisions in the future. Even though I still don’t know which college I’m going to, I feel more confident in my ability to decide my future.
Dean Neubek is a high school Senior at School of the Woods in Houston, TX. Dean enjoys sporting clays and playing video games. He is going to school to be a veterinarian and will possibly take some psychology classes for fun.