Personal Development

Somatic markers: even Spock needs feelings

We give you a bitesized guide to somatic markers.

Why is it that the most logical decisions are often the hardest - even when you’re channelling your inner Leonard Nimoy?

Because all decisions, even ones that seem clear cut, are emotional. Enter: somatic markers.

What are somatic markers in psychology?

Somatic markers denote the emotional link to decision-making.

This week’s science is from a 90s study by neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio ( click here for his own take on this whole emotions make better decisions thing ) - it may be retro, but still super interesting.

He studied people without amygdalas (the emotion-generation part of the brain), and found that they were unable to make decisions . They could see logically what they should do, but found it hard to make even a simple decision, such as what to have for lunch.

What about the amygdala?

Well, these findings show that, even with a seemingly logical decision - without tapping into our emotions, we can’t bring ourselves to take the plunge and choose.

Guy comparing two green apples trying to make a choice

This study lead Damasio to come up with the Somatic Marker Hypothesis - one of the most influential theories of emotion from the last few decades.

How are somatic markers created?

Somatic markers are instinctive emotional reactions based on previous experiences with similar situations. These reactions narrow down your options, which are then processed more thoroughly before a final decision is made. So, somatic markers increase the efficiency and accuracy of decision making. Following Damasio’s Somatic Marker Hypothesis, without this emotional input, decision making would be pretty much impossible - it would simply take too long to sift through all the options.

So we can’t make decisions without feelings. What next?

Naturally, there are some disadvantages of somatic markers – going with our ‘heart’ rather than our ‘head’, for example. But there are numerous benefits.

Think about if you’re trying to convince someone of something, or present your solution as the obvious choice. Using the Somatic Marker Hypothesis, you know that you won’t get the result you want through presenting logic alone. So, take them on a journey - tap into their emotions, and make yours a solution that feels good, as well as makes sense.

What way are somatic markers relevant to self-knowledge?

Somatic markets act on brain regions associated with motor pathways and somatosensory responses, producing an ‘absent’ bodily response. This is known as the ‘as-if’ loop and is connected to the brain’s representation of the body, helping us to understand ourselves a little better.

Why are somatic markets important to brand marketers?

What do somatic markers do beside help us self-reflect? They can also guide brand marketing, helping us to determine what elicits an emotional response – for example, memories of holidays. This can guide us to make decisions, which is helpful both for buyers and marketers!

Feeling distracted? Check out these three easy steps to making decision.

About the author:
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Dan Murray-Serter

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