We remember what we hear and feel, not what people say.

I have always believed that humans have feelings and that these feelings impact our reasoning. Current trends in neuroscience seem to be bearing this belief out.

For me, my thinking about emotional cognition started during a philosophy seminar in which we discussed René Descartes notion that cognition is purely rational. Cogito ergo sum. He also says that animals are not capable of thought. Quite frankly I have always believed that Descartes’ idea that animals are complicated biological robots with no minds demonstrates that his rationalist view of the human mind was profoundly flawed. You’ll see why I bring this up when you watch the last video of the three in this blog post.

Emotions make up a huge part of the way we think, make decisions and reason. Our emotional memory of the past regulates and channels our interpretations of what we see and hear and see other people do (to us) in the present. Antonio Damasio, a prominent neuroscientist, has always said that emotion is profoundly linked to human cognition. Here he discusses why emotions make for better decisions:

This rule applies to how people are affected by brands. In the words of Frank Luntz, famous American communications researcher and strategist, it is not what the content of what you say that people remember, but rather what they heard. Clothaire Rapaille, French cognitive scientist and market researcher adds that it is how something makes us feel that influences our retention of it. We tend to block out negative experiences on focus on the good times. Here is an excerpt of The Persuaders, a PBS documentary by Douglas Rushkoff, featuring Rapaille:

To get back to how animals process emotion, I encourage you to watch this heart-breaking video of a cat who refuses to believe that her friend is dead. If you watch it with the music on, it will make you cry – it will mark you and you will remember it. If you watch it with the music off, then the effect will still be strong, but less pronounced.

Why? The music is the cognitive bridge that translates the emotion of what we are seeing with our own experiences. We are not used to thinking of cats as emotional creatures. The music reminds us that what we are watching is tragic and beautiful.

Together, music and video leave an indelible image. Media is certainly very powerful…

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  1. One of the aspects of this video that struck me was my own desire to know the context surrounding it: what was the relationship between the cats? What role does the videographer play? Is it the owner, a bypasser, the driver of the car that struck the cat? Why did he or she film the cats? And what happened next? Our desire to contextualize a situation is very strong.

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