We are Primarily Emotional People

I want to move back to a discussion of thinking through a theology of transformational change by integrating theology and emerging science. In my research, I observed through the writings of Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, particularly in his book “The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life that our emotions receive sensory information first and can literally hijack us, what Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman termed the “emotional hijack”. Research into the mind and communication gave me a better understanding of the importance of all of this.

We are emotional people who reason, not reasonable people with emotions. Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century philosopher, and neurologist Antonio Damasio both conclude that reason is founded on feelings. Damasio found through research that “we are not primarily thinking beings who also feel, but essentially feeling beings who also think. (1)

The way our mind receives input from an external context has been redefined in recent years. Prior to the last decade, it was thought that emotions came after the processing of conscious thought.(2) However, research now demonstrates that information obtained from the senses travels in a parallel mode. Sensory information travels first to the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala, before a second signal is sent to the neocortex, which handles the cognitive processing functions. What this second route indicates is the likelihood that much of cognition is merely rationalization to make unconscious emotional response acceptable to the conscious mind. (3) Meaning therefore occurs independently of conscious awareness.

As we think about how we choose to appeal to people, both from the pulpit and in person, we have to begin at a place of emotion. Better, a place of experience. Reason is not particularly effective in addressing learning or behavior, that is emotion’s role. Scientist Antonio Damasio notes that because “the engines of reason still require emotion, the controlling power of reason is often modest.(4)

As much as we would like to think that we are beings of reason, reason is informed and empowered by emotions.

I will describe the important aspects of experiential design that are most effective for transformational communication in my next post.

(1) Ken Smith, Handbook of Visual Communication Research: Theory, Methods, and Media, Lea’s Communication Series (Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum, 2005), 49.

(2) Ann Marie Barry, Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 17.

(3) Ibid, 19.

(4) Antonio R. Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, 1st ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999), 58.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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1 comment
  • […] both our reality and our theology are constructed by our experiences. I have also noted that we are primarily emotional people, not rational people. I want to expand on that thought and talk about experiential […]

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