Much has been said lately about the abundant tears being shed by John Boehner, Speaker-in-waiting of the House of Representatives. He is, as he willingly admits, an emotional guy, and this is an emotional time for him. His counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also tends to cry frequently and with abandon.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with shedding tears, and for many (of us women, anyway) a willingness to express emotion can be an endearing quality in a man.
However, there is nothing endearing about people who make decisions based on emotion, rather than reason. And that’s the trouble with Boehner, McConnell, and a few other very important decision makers in this country—including, not incidentally, John McCain.
Scientists now know that different parts of the brain are responsible for different types of decisions. The limbic system, deep in the interior of the brain, is where emotions reside. Decisions that originate there are often spontaneous, impulsive, and ill informed. (The limbic part of the brain doesn’t think, exactly—it just reacts.)
The part of the brain responsible for logic, reasoning, and planning is the frontal cortex—essentially, the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This is where the tough, complex, and important decisions should be processed. It’s hard for the limbic system (i.e., the emotions) to tell us what we don’t already believe or don’t want to know; it requires a deliberate attempt to put feelings aside and think hard to allow us to reach conclusions based on reason and reality.
That’s one reason why educated people, by and large, make better decision makers (and better politicians) than just your everyday “ordinary Joe”: acquiring an education generally requires frequent exercise of the reasoning skills—which is to say, the frontal cortex.
Michele Bachmann, in her (self-perceived) infinite wisdom is planning to conduct classes on the Constitution for freshman House members. The incoming Congress would be infinitely better served by a couple of good courses on brain science and decision-making skills.