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    In Contrast to the Romantics (1929 words)

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    In American Romanticism, there is a principle that emotions should be held in higher regard than reason. The value that emotion provides, in this perspective, outweighs anything that reason has to contribute. Such an attitude is misguided at best and can lead to more problems than it solves. Of course, neither concept is perfect. Even though both reason and emotions are flawed, the former tends to lead better outcomes, while the latter can prove to be harmful.The mechanism of creating a new cognitive process is known as inference. This manifests in everything from contextual thinking to body coordination, and in most cases, people are not aware of it happening. An inference is based off previous information, including past inferences.

    Reasoning is a type of inference in which the person is not only conscious of the new process but also the previous information that provided it (Sperber 57). This higher method of thought is what most people think of when they think of reasoning. It’s commonly thought that such a process is superior to other ways of solving issues, justifiably so, but the downfalls of reason must be acknowledged before moving to its positives. Many times, when solving problems, the brain defaults to inferential thinking (Mercier 11). A famous example is the baseball problem. It follows as such: “A bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” At first, people guess that the ball costs $.10 because their mind automatically subtracts 1.00 from 1.10. Only after more cognition, people realize that the ball costs $.05 (Mercier 5). In most cases in which we perform inference, the result doesn’t produce this kind of mistake. In order to solve harder problems, one must switch to a much more deliberate form of thinking, but even this may not be enough. When people attempt to reason by themselves, they fail to present counter-arguments to their own beliefs. This can blind one to think that, of course, their perspective is the correct one because there appear to be no flaws in their argument. In fact, thinking this way might strengthen their viewpoints (Mercier 22). Only when someone can anticipate counterarguments to their claims can they reason more properly. Otherwise, what they’re engaging in is not critical thinking, but rather just reaffirming already held beliefs. One of the most widespread flaws of reasoning ties into already held beliefs. This error is known as confirmation bias. It’s defined as the perception of evidence exclusively in favor of one’s own perspectives. Furthermore, those that hold this bias detach themselves from the evidence that opposes their viewpoints (Sperber 63). Most instances of this are unintentional; rather than a deliberate cherry-picking of facts and statistics, it commonly appears as just an inability to look for counter-evidence through lack of effort.

    Although confirmation bias manifests itself negatively in stand-alone research, it can prove effective in an argumentative setting. The argumentative theory of reason is pushed heavily by one Dan Sperber, a professor of philosophy and cognitive science. Sperber states, “Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views.” (57). This theory dictates that the best outcomes from reasoning come not from self-reflection but from interacting with others’ viewpoints and responding appropriately (Sperber 60). Many of the tasks that would prove difficult for an isolated individual can be overcome more easily with the ability to respond to another person. When tested in this manner, people turned out to have excellent arguing skills, including but not limited to identifying fallacies, properly placing burden of proof, and supporting their own views and countering opposing ones (Mercier 20). In this situation, confirmation bias is a useful tool to win an argument rather than a logical failure. Not only does an argumentative setting prove useful for an individual’s reasoning, but it can also enhance the cognitive performance of groups of people. In a study, a particular problem was given to individual subjects. These participants performed abysmally, only 10% of them had gotten to the correct answer. When people were allowed to work in groups, however, the results had almost completely flipped. The groups had worked together to produce an 80% success rate (Sperber 63).

    A phenomenon known as “truth wins” is responsible for this result; when one person in a group understands how to solve a problem, they gain the capability to lead others in that direction (Sperber 62). This effect can compound according to how many people in the group it applies to, and as such, the group heads to the right direction much better than even the best individuals by themselves. Reason, as it’s shown, is a tricky thing to grasp. It can easily be misunderstood and misused. As long as one thinks deliberately and argues their points efficiently, their reasoning skills should prove to be accurate, informative, and useful in most cases. They must expose themselves to alternate views and opposing arguments in order to expand their worldview and not become blind from a narrow perspective. When dealing with issues in this manner, it seems no wonder that reason is better than emotion. The concept of emotion is a heavy one, and it should be prefaced by some introductory information.    Various studies involving customers in a mall gave researchers quite a bit of information about stimuli processing. The researchers tested on the subjects’ favorability of a store by adjusting the ambient smell and music along with the area space. They concluded that people gave preference to moderate levels of stimuli and responded negatively to situations where they were given too much or too little stimuli (Erp 1). An excessive amount of stimuli will overwhelm a person and a lack of stimuli will drown them in boredom.

    A balance must be maintained to keep the mind healthy, and too much time taken in either extreme can cause damage to the mind. Jan van Erp, a behavioral scientist for The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research TNO, briefs his findings,Sensory input from our environment plays an important role in how we feel and behave. Although we live in highly diffuse and ‘vivid’ multisensory environments, and despite the growing interest from different application domains, most studies on human emotional responses to environmental characteristics still focus on a number of well-defined and restricted sensory aspects of the environment (typically under highly controlled conditions (1).This form of stimuli processing also manifests itself when interacting with others.    People have a propensity to copy the expressions, voice, and movements of others that they interact with. This, in sociology, is known as emotional contagion. Most commonly, it’s studied between two subjects, but it can also spread into crowds. On a large scale, the study of emotional contagion can explain group behaviors, either in close-knit communities or in randomized crowds (Dezecache 1). There are specialized neurons in the brain dedicated to imitating actions, especially the actions of other humans.

    These “mirror neurons” are the cause of emotional contagion. When someone is observed making a certain facial expression or performing an action, the brain of the observer will send signals similar to the ones required to do those activities. If someone sees a baseball player swing a bat, neurons that would be used to make a swinging motion fire accordingly. Both of these topics can overlap in interesting, and admittedly morbid, ways.    The overstimulation (or under stimulation) of the brain can be harmful, and the emotional state of a person can be transferred to another person. When someone is overstimulated in a certain sense, it can cause mental illness if let occur for too long. Groups of people can experience this together as a result of emotional contagion. A feeling of helplessness can spread through a population was the environment to cause overt stress to the affected individuals. This crowd of people, over an extended period of time, experience a psychological crisis known as “learned helplessness.”

    Martin E. P. Seligman, a professor of psychology, has an extensive record regarding learned helplessness. In an experiment by Seligman, two groups of dogs were given electric shocks, both in a shuttle box, but one group was given prior shocks in a Pavlovian Hammock. When the first dogs were shocked, they panicked until they stumbled out of the box, where the shocking ceased. Subsequent tests made them learn to avoid the shocks by leaving the shuttle box. The second group, however, wasn’t as resilient. The initial response was the same, but the dogs then changed their behavior. Instead of leaving the box frantically, they stopped moving and received the shocks passively (Seligman 407).   Seligman further tested on dogs by raising another group rather than gathering subjects from outside sources, as the histories of the previous groups may have played a factor in their behavior. These canines were held in isolated cages, and when experimented, took only two shock sessions to induce learned helplessness instead of the previous groups’ four (Seligman 409).

    Conclusions drawn from this explain that when participants are exposed to high levels of stress in which the subject has no control, they become despondent in their behavior. The last group of dogs shows that a long period of time with little to no agency greatly affects one’s predisposition towards learned helplessness.    Learned helplessness has been shown to affect other behaviors. Rats under this effect are less aggressive to its own kind when in pain, have trouble obtaining food later in life, and suffer from anorexia and noradrenaline deficiency. Those who deal with learned helplessness have trouble realizing that they can control the trauma they face. Without perceived agency over their stress, subjects develop worse anxiety than were they able to exert control (Seligman 408). Learned helplessness can also affect the physical brain as well.    The amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, is responsible for producing stress hormones. If this is overworked, it can cause cognitive and psychological damage. Over a long period of time, this overstimulation can cause anxiety, fatigue, and will prevent the mind from being able to respond appropriately to new, stressful situations, ultimately leading to depression (Aydin 32:13). Furthermore, the amygdala, working constantly, will increase in size

    . Alternatively, the section of the brain responsible for memory, the hippocampus, will reduce in volume. Such changes can lead to constantly feeling overstressed, in addition to difficulty in memory, focus, and general cognition (Aydin 33:12). Analysis of the brain activity of mice under learned helplessness reveals a neurological difference between them and normal mice. Results show decreased processing for reward, motivation, coping with stress, and memory (Kim 2).    Seligman summarizes this concisely, “Not only do we face events that we can control by our own actions, but we also face many events about which we can do nothing at all. Such uncontrollable events can significantly debilitate organisms: they produce passivity in the face of trauma, inability to learn that responding is effective, and emotional stress in animals, and possibly depression in man.” (407).    Reason and emotions both have the potential to create error in opposition to man’s goals, but reason’s abilities, when performed correctly, yield greater results than with emotion. Without any outside input, reasoning could easily fall flat and reinforce wrong ideas. Proper thinking and balanced research, both with alternate and opposing parties, lead to productive intellectualism. Emotion, on the other hand, can be manipulated to affect the user drastically and permanently in very negative ways. In contrast to the Romantics, reason is the superior option.

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