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Grawemeyer winner explains importance of emotions

by Erica Walsh, communications and marketing last modified Apr 21, 2014 11:45 AM

Emotions are key to the decision-making process and critical to a well-balanced life, according to Antonio Damasio, the 2014 winner of the Grawemeyer Award in psychology.

Grawemeyer winner explains importance of emotions

Antonio Damasio speaks at the 2014 Grawemeyer Awards reception.

About 200 people attended Damasio’s lecture Wednesday at Comstock Hall in the School of Music to hear him discuss his award-winning theory – the somatic marker hypothesis – and the role of emotion in life regulation.

Damasios’ research determined that decision-making is not solely dependent on rational thought, but that emotion also plays a role in choices. He came to the conclusion after studying patients with certain brain injuries who had difficulties making social decisions although their intellect was undamaged. His hypothesis suggests that emotion is a part of the neurological process used in decision-making.

Still, emotions are critical in much more than decision-making, he believes. Emotion is a necessary component to balancing life.

 “All of these studies fit into something broader, which is life regulation,” he said.

Life regulation is the balancing of one’s body, not just physiologically but also behaviorally. Damasio explained the concept by stating that “we are alive, we have a body and we have to cope with that body” in numerous ways to ensure that it remains in check. A vital part of that balancing, or homeostasis, is the inclusion of social regulation, which is impacted by both emotion and feeling.

Damasio’s research contradicted previous accepted theories in his field that downplayed the role of emotion in complex thinking. He continues to be a leading researcher with major influence in the areas of neurology and psychology. The somatic marker hypothesis research, first released in 1996, has been cited more than 30,000 times.

The University of Louisville presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year in music composition, world order, psychology and education. UofL and Louisville Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year's awards are $100,000 each.

 Here's a video of Damasio discussing his winning work:

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