Multiple selves

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Decision making is a cognitive process. We do not do not necessarily apply our emotions in a way that we would choose with a greater reflection. Human being make errors because of motivational and emotional influences.

We make decisions that are inconsistent with our long-term interests because of temporary emotional and motivational impulse to pursue some tempting alternative. For example: addiction, hunger, sexual arousal or some transitory passion.

Footbridge dilemma

This could be illustrated by Footbridge Dilemma. Generally, there are two philosophical approaches to ethical decision making: utilitarian and deontological view.

Utilitarianism is defined as doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Adding costs and benefits, one should choose the option that yields best balance.

Deontological approach is concerned with moral judgement on an action based on the action’s adherence to rules or duties. Decision is determined by consideration of human rights and duties in the society. It is also linked to negative emotional response. Usually, emotions win the debate asking “what is ethically acceptable”.

Multiple selves

We face internal conflicts between what we want and what we think we should do. For example: compulsive gamblers want to go to casinos but should avoid this. It is difficult for them to stop. Consumers face dilemma if to purchase a product they want or should they choose something healthier, more environmentally friendly or more budget-friendly.

Emotional response is defined as a disagreement with the decision that an individual would make after thoughtful reasoning. Essentially, human beings always face “should” and “want” categories.

One of our “selves” is in favour of a decision that provides us with immediate gratification rather than alternative that would provide greater future rewards. Some example of common consumer errors include dysfunctional behaviour such as alcohol abuse.

Cognitive neuroscience identifies multiple selves in different brain regions. Separate brain regions are activated when we consider either immediate rewards (want-selves) or larger delayed rewards (should-selves).

Different brain regions are named as following: System 1 (automatic) and System 2 (deliberate). People with damage in prefrontal cortex may have trouble weighting immediate and long-term benefits and encoding information related to emotions. Individuals who suffered injuries to emotional regions are more conscious decision makers. They are more likely to select options with higher expected value and are less frightened by potential losses.

Economic consequences

This can be observed in several economic areas. For instance: there are industries supporting both smoking products and treatments to help quit smoking. Furthermore, some firms produce meals that cause obesity and people write diet books.

How to deal with each side?

If emotional appeal is stronger than “should” self, we should evaluate options one at a time. A single option helps us to evaluate if we really “want” this.

If a more reasoned self is stronger – we should confront options at the same time and weight them against each other. Comparison clarifies differences between alternatives and promote more rational decision making.


To sum up, emotional brain areas impel us towards desires that are not in our long-term interest. In contrast, higher brain areas can override these desires and selection options with higher expected utility.

When “want” self option seems more appealing, always remember that short-term rewards usually have long-term costs. Human beings should, instead, rely on reasoned self because it empowers our ability to compare relative value of each action.

Adapted from

Bazerman, M.H. and Moore, D.A., 1994. Judgment in managerial decision making (p. 226). New York: Wiley.

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