Invite Emotional Input for Optimal Decision Making

Kate: “Hey Gemma, congrats on your promotion to Dallas! You’re so lucky - it’s a great opportunity. When are you moving?

Gemma: Sigh. “I don’t know. . .  I want the promotion, and God knows I need the money. But something about going into that office every day makes me feel really unsettled. Whenever I’m there, I get a stomach ache.”

Kate: “Oh come on! You’re just a little nervous! You can’t pass this up because the office gives you a stomach ache. Use your head, girl! This is the next big step in your career. Go for it!”

Who is the better decision maker:  Use-Your-Head Kate or Following-My-Feelings Gemma?

Surprising new research on decision making may change your mind. . .

Head or Heart?

Until recently, common wisdom backed by scientific research advised us to rely on cold, hard logic to make decisions (pros and cons lists, baby!), and to keep emotions out of it. Kate is the Decision Queen. 

But, new neuroscience research found that ignoring your emotions can lead to dreadful decisions

Or Both?

The research was published in LEARNing Landscapes.¹ Here’s what the authors discovered: 


Researchers studied patients with a specific brain injury. The logic area of their brains was intact, but the location of their injuries prevented emotional responses. They could “talk business” and make solid pros and cons lists but were unable to make timely decisions. Because they could not access emotional knowledge gained from past experiences to help guide their decision-making, their decisions were disastrous.

Cold logic needs the historical wisdom of emotion for effective decision making.

Emotion gives us the drive to do what we know to be best and true.
— Lisa Bourdon


Five years ago you opened a branch office in another state. Several factors caused the branch to slowly and painfully fail. Yesterday, an investor asked you to open a new branch in that state. You felt your heart leap in your chest. How do your feelings about the failed branch influence your decision? If you knew how to process the failure at the time, you will be able to be curious about your leaping heart, and respond to the proposal based on facts and feelings. .

Our emotions are powerful - they grab our attention and provide the motivation for us to make the most effective decisions, like keeping us out of dark alleyways or taking the leap into a refreshing body of water on a hot summer’s day. 


Emotions support, promote, and stabilize our reasoning processes as we make decisions. Of course, we don’t want to be tossed around by our emotions like a leaf on the wind. Making decisions based on our emotions alone can lead to equally bad decisions as ignoring emotion completely. We want emotion and cognition to act interdependently.  

If we learn to respond to our emotions effectively, we will be more successful in both our professional and personal lives. 

Intelligent Emotions

The ability to use emotions effectively is called Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Fortunately, emotional Intelligence is a learnable and measurable set of skills that includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and people skills.  Dig deeper into your EQ in Emotions Belong in Business

So, should Gemma take the promotion and move to Dallas? Who knows! But if she allows her embodied emotions to inform her decision-making process, she’s sure to make the right move.  

¹ “We Feel, Therefore We Learn: The Relevance of Affective and Social Neuroscience to Education.” Mary Helen Immordino-Yang & Antonio Damasio. LEARNing Landscapes. Vol. 5, No. 1, Autumn 2011
See also: “Emotion and Decision Making.” Jennifer S. Lerner, Ye Li, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Karim S. Kassam.   Annual Review of Psychology Vol. 66:799-823

Allie Rice