Sometimes we build our reasoning and decisions on more or less rational reasoning which consists of logical steps of thought. Let's say, it basically follows this path: problem >> reasoning >> decision.

At other times, though, our decisions do not come as a consequence of specific steps of thought, but rather as an unconscious attempt to fit our pre-existing beliefs or emotions.

Example 1: A person is seriously ill and considering various treatment options. A reasoning approach would be to get information about the pro-s and con-s of each, consult with several experienced professionals, outline and weigh potential risks/ chances of success/ cost/ etc. The belief-fitting approach would be to go for a quack. In this latter case, the inherent belief would be that "it could not be true that I am irreversibly ill". Whatever facts and explanations that person is given, his mind would seek all possible ways to justify that belief (rationalize it).

Example 2: Another example would be repressed anger - the mind would seek any situation, no matter if actually connected with the original cause for that anger, to vent out in an outburst. Note that the term "rationalization" is not appropriate here, as we are not speaking about a decision process, but rather about an emotional reaction.

Example 3: Someone's deep belief is that he does not deserve to be a happy person in life. Hence, he unconsciously ends up in situations which are putting him down (low paid job, abusive spouse, unreliable friends, etc), perpetuating a vicious cycle. (I think Carl Jung pays attention to such patterns.)


My question is, what is the term for this mental process where deeply rooted beliefs and emotions, unconsciously predetermine our decisions/ emotional states/ social relations?

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you are asking about 2 distinct processes here - you may want to clarify which one you are most interested in. There is an unconscious decision-making process, variously called "intuitive", "automatic", "heuristic", "implicit", etc (see System 1). And then there is a rationalization process that follows (I believe "rationalization" is the correct term, though one can also use "ad-hoc reasoning", "reverse engineering", "retrospective reconstruction", etc). $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Aug 8 '20 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is the latter. I am actually more interested not in the rationalizations themselves, but rather in the way the unconscious firmly rooted beliefs become an end unto themselves, disturbing the logical order of reasoning. Rationalizations come only as after effects to that process. $\endgroup$
    – drabsv
    Aug 8 '20 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ That sounds like yet a 3rd topic. You can search the forum for "confirmation bias" to find many similar questions, of which this is likely a duplicate, such as: Do people have a tendency to stick to one opinion after they formed it?, How to refer to the phenomenon of people only absorbing evidence which confirms their beliefs?, What is the name of a cognitive bias by which existing facts are tailored to fit a personal hypothesis?, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Aug 8 '20 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ Confirmation bias is about opinions which are more or less product of conscious and logical thought. I am speaking about deep rooted beliefs and emotions, which unconsciously guide one's decision-making so as to justify them. That is, I am speaking about a process which is largely unconscious. In the example with repressed anger that I have given, confirmation bias is irrelevant. $\endgroup$
    – drabsv
    Aug 9 '20 at 9:56

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