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Emotions versus Logic

[12/7/11]

Five of your distant relatives are in a room when, suddenly, the fuse of a bomb is accidentally lit. You are on the second floor of the building, directly above your relatives’ first-story room, and you have full control in maneuvering the bomb. You may either transfer the bomb into the neighboring room of the first floor or let the bomb explode and kill those five individuals. What would you do?

Naturally, you would transfer the bomb into the neighboring room. After all, no lives are lost. Your prefrontal cortex activates as you make the simple instinctive decision to move the bomb. Specifically on the rostral side of your brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is triggered as your moral judgment respond to this situation.

But what if your lover were sitting in that neighboring room? Would you let five relatives die in order to save just one special individual?

Now your brain is a mess. The prefrontal cortex does not know what plan to execute because of the different brain masses that have activated in response. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex may influence you to transfer the bomb to your lover’s room. Viewing the situation logically and morally, it makes sense to kill one in order to save five. But the amygdalae—the two small portions at the middle base of the brain—ignite as they stream emotions through your brain. The fear and love muddle the prefrontal cortex’s organization and systematic thinking. The angular cingulated cortex—an elongated region on the frontal inside of the brain—magnifies the distressed emotions and activates from the moral confusion, as well. To make thinking even more difficult, your autonomic functions rise out of control from the increased stress. The medulla oblongata—located at the brainstem—quickens your breathing rate and heartbeat. You feel nauseous as digestion is momentarily halted. The reticular formation—the tissue mass at the center of the brain stem—augments your alertness as you attempt to sort through your thoughts.

With so many brain structures activated at once, it is a wonder that you are able to make the final decision at all. Yet as similar studies have shown, most people in your situation would leave the bomb as is.

In such cases, it seems that emotion trumps logic. When a student is distraught by a devastating situation and he has a test the next day, he most likely does not study. If he attempts to, he is distracted by the emotional turmoil. If a mother’s child is in the hospital, she cannot go to work. Although it may be logical (because she would otherwise just be standing around in the hospital), her love and fear for her child overpower the practicality.

With all noted, why would emotion trump logic? Is it possible that some brain tissue and regions have a stronger impact over us than other regions? Or perhaps there is more brain tissue correlating to emotion than tissue that correlates to behavior.

Why do our minds choose emotion over logic by seeming instinct? As a second thought, our minds sometimes switch to the logical option, but the emotional option inherently is the first thought in the mind. From the evolutionary standpoint, emotions are the basic characters in animals, while logic is unique to humans. Emotion is more rooted in our minds than logic is because our species has been acquiring logic over time, according to the evolutionary clock. On the other hand, emotion was established long before. This concept is physically visible too; brain tissue related to emotion is closer to the base or center of the brain while logic-pertaining tissue is generally in the outer layers, specifically in the caudal area. During humans’ biological and physiological development, this prefrontal cortex area was the last region to develop. (Ergo, since evolution is constant, this tissue related to logic may still be developing and growing.)

In any case, the forces that compel us to favor emotion over logic are very strong. They are the causes of our rash behavior and mistakes.

The seemingly careless conduct of teenagers can be explained by the differences in emotion and logic in the brain. Upon reaching the adolescence stage, an individual’s brain is almost fully developed. The main exception is the development of the prefrontal cortex, which pertains to proper judgment and decisional actions. This frontal region of the brain continues developing into the mid-20’s of an individual’s life. The cortex’s ongoing development explains why teenagers often seem rash or reckless despite their other aspects of maturity. Although their capacity of intelligence and moral values may have reached a peak, their process of decision-making is still not perfected.

The prefrontal cortex’s ongoing development in a teenager may explain why teenagers are so prone to car accidents or misuse of alcohol. Although they may feel as capable as adults, their manner of thinking often times does not reach the adult standard. Such inabilities thus bring up the age issues regarding driving and drinking. Are 16-year-olds mature enough to be driving alone if their process of thinking has not reached its peak? Alcohol brings forth an especially important concern because, by age 21, the average human brain is not fully developed. As studies have shown, alcohol could affect the post-teenage brain, as well, because of its development in progress. As a result, should the drinking age be extended to the mid-20’s? While this may be better for the brain’s development, many people may argue that, with the current drinking age, society has still produced intelligent beings. This evidence demonstrates that alcohol’s fatal mental effects during the brain’s final growth stages are not so visible.

The brain is constantly developing, whether it be through evolutionary or developmental means. The battle between emotion and logic is an enduring one; although emotion may always triumph, its unique relationship with logic has yet to be entirely unearthed.