The issue of whether emotions are rational (or intelligent) is at the center of philosophical and psychological discussions.

What is the mainstream take on the logic and nature of emotions? Or where might I be able to read more about the nature and logic of emotions?

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to StackExchange - questions soliciting discussion ("what is your take?") are not on-topic. See the help for more. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Emotions can be either rational or irrational depending on the trigger and other considerations. I also agree with Bryan that questions like these don't fit with the way StackExchange works. Are you wanting to ask about specific emotions? What triggers would you want to include? What have you read regarding that emotion and trigger? All these need to be addressed before an answer can be provided here. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ The somatic marker hypothesis of Antonio Damasio states that emotions are at the core of the decision making process. That does not mean that emotions follow rules of logic invariably. The theory states that emotions follow Thorndike's law of effect. $\endgroup$
    – Borut Flis
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ @BorutFlis interesting. Can you elaborate? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 1:12
  • $\begingroup$ @BorutFlis - I too find your comment interesting. Thorndike’s law of effect may ring true with situations you have control of, although I am not completely convinced all the time, but what about situations you don’t have control of? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 9:39

2 Answers 2


First I need to suggest definitions for rational and emotion.

Rational = relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason (Merriam-Webster), which is a logical thought about how things are related; the thoughts appear in the brain.

An emotion = heart feeling, which is a reaction of the heart to what one thinks, recalls, sees, hears or experiences in other ways (my own definition).

So, emotions, which are heart reactions, are not rational, but can be partially controlled by reasoning. For example, one feels a fear of doing something, but then thinks about it and realizes it can be good to do it anyway and starts to feel hope and peace instead of fear.

On the other hand, emotions can influence rational decisions. One who sees something and finds it emotionally pleasant can start to think how to get it.

Example 1:

Past trauma can make you believe (in your head) that something what is generally not harmful is harmful for you, so next time, when confronted with a similar situation, you may feel fear, which can make you run away from "no reason." One could say this is an "irrational" response but it is "understandable." You can then learn how to overcome bad memories from the trauma and make your decisions in future similar situations more "intelligent." Based on this example, I claim they are thoughts and actions that can be rational (intelligent) or not, but emotions are just feelings, so they can not be rational or irrational.

Example 2:

You see a person, which triggers a pleasant emotion in your heart. The emotion makes you believe (in your head) that if you approach the person and start talking with him, something good will happen, so you do, and then something good actually happens, for example, you are able to reveal some bothering thoughts to him, which relieves you. Based on this example, I claim that emotions, even if they cannot be rational by themselves, can convince you to make rational decisions.

In conclusion: Thoughts (rational or irrational) are in your head and emotions in your heart. The reason for the action can start in your head or in your heart, but it is only your head that can be rational, not your heart. And emotions can help you make rational decisions.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE :-) How would emotions fit within your definitions when the emotion is resulting from something they see or hear which triggers the fight/flight response due to past trauma? Would the emotion be rational or irrational? If either, why? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Your emotions can't be rational or irrational, but your thoughts and responses can be. I expanded my answer with 2 examples. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 13:12

Our evaluation of the rationality of emotions depends on some social norm about the behavior and context of the behavior. On the other hand the somatic marker hypothesis states that there is logic in the inner workings of emotions. To illustrate somebody having an outburst while on his job may appear irrational to the public, even though there is rationality how this emotion was born.

The somatic marker hypothesis states that our decision making process is influenced by emotions (Damasio, 2000). Behavior that are associated with good outcomes are more likely to be repeated. Emotions and their bodily representations (somatic markers) serve as biasing signals for decision making. The case of Phineas Gage, a man that had an iron rod driven through his skull is used as example of not being able to use emotions in decision making, due to damage to the vmPFC.

According to the somatic marker hypothesis emotions and bodily changes(somatic markers) become associated with previous outcomes. This associations guide subsequent decision making processes. The markers can be activated through two distinct pathways. The first one is the body loop, where changes in the body are relayed to the brain. Being triggered by some sensory experience would fall into this pathway. The second pathway is as-if-body loop, where cognitive representations activate emotions. I think that the somatic marker hypothesis says emotions are embedded in our rationality rather than saying our emotions are rational.

To summarize I believe it is necessary to uncouple the evaluation of the rationality of some behavior and the processes guiding emotions.


Damasio, A. R. (2000). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Quill.

  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting answer. Similar to what I asked @Jan, how would the somantic marker hypothesis cover the emotions triggered by something they hear/see/smell which reminds them of a traumatic event and therefore brings on the fight/flight response? Would the hypothesis consider those emotions to be rational or irrational? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2019 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ I think the hypothesis does not evaluate specific responses as either rational or irrational. I added a paragraph to elaborate. $\endgroup$
    – Borut Flis
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 8:53

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