Friday, 5 December 2008

Heath and Damasio

Robert Heath has referred extensively to the work of Antonio Damasio to support his theories. Since few marketers have read Damasio, few are in a position to challenge Heath's interpretations.

I think the most helpful thing I can say is - if you are interested in this topic, pick up a copy of Descarte's Error and the Feeling of What Happens and form your own judgement.

However, I'll summarise a few key aspects here.

A good place to start is the relationship between emotions and feelings. Heath often uses the terms interchangably or together, which is understandable, since most of us do, but in understanding Damasio, it is vital to understand that he makes a fundamental distinction between the two. I think this is one of the main causes of Heath's errors.

Damasio is clear: "the definitions of emotion and feeling presented here are not orthodox ." (Descartes Error). So what does he mean by these terms?

He identifies three different things.
"a state of emotion which can be triggered and executed nonconsciously;
a state of feeling, which can be represented nonconsciously;
and a state of feeling made conscious " The Feeling of What Happens

So what does he mean by emotion?

"I see the essence of emotion as the collection of changes in body state that are induced in myriad organs by nerve cell terminals, under the control of a dedicated brain system...many of these changes in body state - those in skin color, body posture, and facial expression, for instance - are actually perceptible to an external observer." Descartes Error

"Human emotion is not just about sexual pleasures or fear of snakes....fine human emotion is even triggered by cheap music and cheap movies" The Feeling of What Happens

He says "emotions and core consciousness tend to go together" the Feeling of What Happens
and makes clear that "the biological machinery underlying emotion is not dependent on consciousness." The Feeling of what Happens
He talks of "the here and now of core consciousness" The Feeling of What Happens
And describes "the ongoing process of core consciousness" as being "condemned to sisyphal transiency."

By contrast, he "reserve[s] the term feeling for the experience of those changes" Descartes Error

"Feeling should be reserved for the private, mental experience of an emotion" The Feeling of what Happens

And makes clear; "all emotions generate feelings if you are awake and alert" Descartes Error

He summarises it neatly when he says "flies have emotions, although I am not suggesting they feel emotions." Looking for Spinoza

But what of that curious middle state; "a state of feeling, which can be represented nonconsciously"? He talks about how you can be distracted, but on reflection realise that you have been feeling an feeling for a while. So that, for a period, you have been feeling a feeling without being aware of it.

However, he emphasises; "the full and lasting impact of feelings requires consciousness" the Feeling of what Happens
and "consciousness must be present if feelings are to influence the subject having them beyond the immediate here and now" The Feeling of what Happens
and "feelings perform their ultimate and longer-lasting effects in the theatre of the conscious mind." The Feeling of what Happens
and “when consciousness is available, feelings have their maximum impact,” The Feeling of What Happens

By contrast with the transient impact of emotions, Feelings can have a lasting effect.

"feeling introduced a mental alert for the good or bad circumstances and prolonged the impact of emotions by affecting attention and memory lastingly " Looking for Spinoza

And so, "the human impact of all the above causes of emotion...depends on the feelings engendered by those emotions " The Feeling of what Happens

This is linked with extended consciousness since "extended consciousness is the consequence of....the ability to learn and thus retain records of myriad experiences" the Feeling of what Happens

So “the conscious component extends the reach and efficacy of the non conscious system.”

My summary, then, is that emotions are about changes in the body state, are related to core conciousness, and are transient. But if you are conscious, awake and alert, these emotions will generate feelings. and when these feelings are felt in the conscious mind, they can have their maximum impact and a lasting effect.

So, whenever Heath discusses Damasio and lumps together emotion and feelings, you can be pretty sure he's gone off the rails.

when Heath writes "The definition adopted in this paper uses emotion to signify any stimulation of the feelings, at any level," you know he is heading for trouble.

and when Heath writes "Damasio is saying that if people don’t pay attention then emotions run riot and rule their subsequent behaviour" it highlights just how fundamentally he has misunderstood Damasio's books. (I'm reminded of that great bit of dialogue in A Fish Called Wanda:
Otto: Apes don't read philosophy. Wanda: Yes they do, Otto, they just don't understand it! )

Does the distinction between emotions and feelings matter?
Yes. Because there is almost always a gap between being exposed to an ad and buying a brand. So for advertising to stimulate an emotion of which we are not conscious, its effect will be limited to the time we are exposed to the ad. It is only when these emotions generate conscious feelings that they stand a chance of influencing us later when we are purchasing.

1 comment:

Robert Shaw said...

Your reading of Damasio and mine are similar and it would appear that Robert Heath has misunderstood Damasio. The more interesting aspect of Damasio's work is to understand how behaviour (e.g. buying or consuming) is linked to emotions, feelings and thoughts. At first sight Damasio's "somatic marker" idea looks like a good candidate - a gut feeling that is conjured up by stimuli (e.g. brand identity) that interferes with the rational decision process.

What is unclear is how market research can obtain knowledge of these somatic markers. We aren't conscious of them. Any thoughts on this?