The somatic marker hypothesis (SMH) proposes a mechanism by which emotional processes can guide (or bias) behavior, particularly decision-making.
According to economic theory, human decision-making is devoid of emotions and involves logical reasoning based on cost-benefit calculations. This theory assumes that individuals have unlimited time, knowledge and information processing power and can therefore make perfect decisions.
In contrast to economic theory, the somatic marker hypothesis proposes that emotions play a critical role in our ability to make fast, rational decisions in complex and uncertain situations.
Emotions in humans and animals can be defined as coordinated cognitive and physiological responses that enable an individual to respond effectively to environmental opportunities and communicate with others.For example, anger is not simply a specific facial expression or neural activation, rather it is a set of coordinated responses that help an individual express dissatisfaction and perhaps restore relations. Emotions and their influence on motivation and certain physiological responses, prepare individuals for actions that are in their best interest.
When making decisions, these physiological signals (or ‘somatic markers’) and their evoked emotion are consciously or unconsciously associated with their past outcomes and bias decision-making towards certain behaviors while avoiding others.For instance, when a somatic marker associated with a positive outcome is perceived, the person may feel happy and motivate the individual to pursue that behavior. When a somatic marker associated with the negative outcome is perceived, the person may feel sad and act as an internal alarm to warn the individual to avoid a course of action.