First of all, in trying to explain the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (Damasio, 1994) it is vital to define the key term that is presented in the very title. The construct of ‘somatic’ refers to ‘a collection of body-related responses that hallmark an emotion’, as defined by Bechara and Damasio, who thus indicate that somatic states represent indications that certain emotions have been aroused. Damasio first describes his hypothesis as referring to the ‘systems-level neuroanatomical and cognitive framework for decision-making and its influence by emotion’, essentially establishing a connection between environmental conditions and the human decision process through emotions. In his 2005 paper with Bechara, the fact that decision-making utilises rational maximisation of expected utility is rebutted, and instead the scientists propose that emotions play a vital role in rational decision-making. Thus, it is argued that emotions may not play a beneficial role to making a decision, especially because it is through emotions that one receives extraneous information that may interfere with rationality. The somatic side of emotions can be triggered by two different types of inducers, of primary or secondary nature. Primary inducers are learnt and innate stimuli that can give rise to somatic states, while secondary inducers are generated by the recall of certain experiences. These propositions are backed up by studies on amygdala-problematic patients and patients with damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It has been noticed, through the Gambling Task Paradigm, that the amygdala is a critical region for the trigger of primary inducers, while the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is for the secondary inducers. Additionally, experimenters measured Skin Conductance Responses, a measure designed to indicate the activation of somatic states. In this way, they were able to conclude that the amygdala has rapid influence on decisions, while the ventromedial prefrontal cortex aid in more deliberate and slow responses, also helping in predicting future emotions. It has also been noticed that in those political decisions that appear to be more complex, requiring a more logical approach to tackling, somatic signals may bias people into opting for the most advantageous response. Finally, probably the most important aspect of the paper is the conclusion that integral emotions are beneficial to decision-making because they offer information about how a person would feel should a certain situation arise.
Because information like this, about the impact of emotion on decision-making is readily available, and because those who rule our political sphere – or rather, those who want to become in charge of it – aim to steer the voters in the preferred direction, what they may use most is tricks in turning a voter by appealing to their emotions. The easiest way to do that is through political campaigns that strategically use images and music to generate citizen involvement and choice making through evocation of emotions (Brader, 2005). Making use of Marcus et al.’s Theory of Affective Intelligence proposed in 2000, which states that ‘two emotional systems lay a foundation for rational behaviour by steering citizens between reliance on habits and more effortful thought processes, in accordance with the demands of the political environment’. This was proven using two experiments, appropriately titled ‘The Enthusiasm Experiment’ and ‘The Fear Experiment’. The former showed that cueing enthusiasm motivates participation and activates existing loyalties, while the latter demonstrated how cueing fear stimulates vigilance, increases reliance on contemporary evaluations and facilitates persuasion. Using such suggestions has enabled the conclusion that political campaign ads can use images and music to manipulate emotion and thus affecting the behaviour of voters, that conventional wisdom cannot explain the distinct effects of enthusiasm and fear appeals, and that emotionally evocative ads do not simply sway voters directly but change the manner in which voters make choices (Brader, 2005).
Moving on, since this essay has only argued the presence of emotions in political decision-making, it is only logically fair to mention the involvement of reason as well – or lack thereof. In his book, ‘The Righteous Mind’, Haidt mentions that one of the three principles that govern decision-making is based on intuition dictating first, with reason coming in second. More exactly, he uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider to explain how intuition and reason are interdependent variables in making a decision. He explains that the elephant is intuition, while the rider is reason. In this scheme, the rider does not guide the elephant, rather he is there only to explain and justify its movements. To put it more bluntly, Haidt argues that political decision-making may relies mostly on intuition, and less on reason.