Nobelist Kahneman: Emotion, Cognition Merge


Daniel KahnemanAt the excellent Freakonomics blog, they have been publishing an extended Q&A series of posts. Their latest guest is Daniel Kahneman, co-recipient the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics [re-corrected, see discussion in comments], whose new book is Thinking, Fast and Slow. One that I found particularly relevant to neuromarketing was a question about the future of cognitive science:

Q. Now that we understand reason as being largely unconscious, motivated by emotion, embodied and constituted by many biases and heuristics, where do you see the future of cognitive science going? Are we at the beginning stages of a paradigm shift? -McNerney

A. The only way I know to predict the future of science is to look at the choices of beginning graduate students. The specialization they acquire now will probably determine their activities for the next 15-20 years. By this measure, the near-term future of cognitive science seems to be as an approach to neuroscience, which combines methods and concepts drawn from psychology and from brain research. Signs of emotional arousal are salient in the reactions to many events – and especially to decisions — so the conceptual separation between emotion and pure cognition seems likely to crumble. [From Daniel Kahneman Answers Your Questions. Emphasis added.]

In my own new book Brainfluence I use the term “neuromarketing” to broadly include not just pure neuroscience but also behavioral research. I see what we learn from psychology and neuroscience as a continuum. Before tools like fMRI, psychology looked at the brain as a black box, and focused on observing and explaining behavior. Adding today’s high-tech equipment and methods didn’t change human behavior one bit, but it did let us peer inside the black box and see what’s going on.

Needless to say, the remarks from a renowned scientist like Kahneman were welcomed here at Neuromarketing! What do you think the future of cognitive science holds?

  1. Olivier Oullier says

    Excellent, he described exactyl what I coined emorationality: the fact that what the brain produces, i.e. a dichotomy between emotion and rationality, is is not underlied by a dichotomy at the brain level.

    I wrote a piece on this :

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Exactly, Olivier, I agree! Great content at that link!


  3. Max Elander says

    Kahneman is not a Nobel laureate. He has received the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, a prize that was created in 1968 to commemorate the tricentennial of the Swedish National Bank (Sveriges Riksbank). It is not a Nobel prize, there are only five of those: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks for the clarification, Max!

      1. Phil Barden says

        Max – you’re right. However, and not wishing to split hairs(!), the Nobel prize organisation cite Kahneman as a laureate. See here;

        1. Roger Dooley says

          Hmm, since it’s on their site, that’s good enough for me. I’ll restore Dr. K to his former glory.

  4. Sam McNerney says

    The link that Oliver provides has a chapter that ends like this: “they (emotion and reason) might be united in a more complex interdependent way than that represented by the two simple boxes we are used to.” This is obvious in the cognitive science world. Kahneman readily admits that his “System 1” and “System 2” are not actually systems or real parts of the brain – they are fictional agents that help us understand how the brain works. I actually think Kahneman overplays the notion that cognitive scientists subscribe to the emotion-reason dichotomy.

    Sam (Author of the question)

  5. Margaret J. King says

    The brain at work is an integrated system. The distinction between left and right, or rational and emotional, are there to point to the underlying systems we access to varying degrees as we think, ruminate, deliberate, and finally make decisions to act. But all these systems work together in the normal brain. That is why our cognition is so complex and difficult to parse. Culture also enters the brain picture as the software that runs our value preferences; it’s far more difficult to see and track, but far more important as System One (a term I use as a cultural analyst) of our social brain.

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