Hearts Vs. Heads

Our minds are big, and composed of many parts.  When our parts disagree, other folks tend to see some parts of our minds as more their allies than other parts.  And such folks will tend to support their allies by encouraging us to give more weight in our minds to their allied parts.

One big division in our mind seems to be between our “heart” and our “head.”  But oddly, literature seems to contain far more examples of folks being encouraged to follow their hearts than their heads.  Why this difference?  Katja Grace ponders:

My favorite explanation at the moment is that we always do what our hearts tell us, but explain it in terms of abstract fabrications when our hearts’ interests do not align with those we are explaining to. Rationalization is only necessary for bad news. … We dearly want to do whatever our listener would have, but are often forced by sensible considerations to do something else.

OK, but why do we not as often give the reverse excuse, that we cannot do what our listener and head wants, because our heart compels us otherwise?  I suggested:

We usually know more about what their heart wants than what their head wants. So if they were going to lie they could just lie about what their head wants – no need to invoke the heart.

Here’s another heart-over-head theory:

Maybe the heart is stupider than the head, so we’re more often tempted to fool someone by appealing to their heart. Similarly, we’d prefer to negotiate with the less sharp partner in a business partnership.

Bryan tells me that for the thinking vs. feeling, or “agreeableness”, personality type dimension, more agreeable folks trust their head less and cooperate more via positive heart feelings.  Negative heart feelings, such as anger, are described via other personality dimensions.  So does “think with your heart” really just mean “be more agreeable” and so “succumb to my social pressure”?   If so why don’t those negative feelings come as easily to mind?

Are there other plausible theories?

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • Grant

    So does “think with your heart” really just mean “be more agreeable” and so “succumb to my social pressure”? If so why don’t those negative feelings come as easily to mind?

    I think its just the use of the word “heart”, which is associated with positive feelings. So “think with your heart” means follow your positive emotions, not your negative ones?

    Plus head-thinkers and heart-thinkers tend to get their signals crossed: I am an extreme head-thinker and often come off as disagreeable to heart-thinkers. If I find a flaw in someone else’s logic I think I am doing them a favor by pointing it out, while they usually think I’m being a jerk. So I’m seen as less agreeable by most. Being rational sends some weird signals to your average human sometimes.

    • Jonas

      I think its just the use of the word “heart”, which is associated with positive feelings. So “think with your heart” means follow your positive emotions, not your negative ones?

      Agreed. It might be important to point out, that even though many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think. Just ask any neuroanatomist.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    As an excuse, you definitely blame it on your head. That means you see a practical difficulty in whether it will work out. Your against the plan not them. If your heart is against their request, then you don’t want what they want, which is bad.

    Hardball has a section on always conceding on principle. Yes yes, we all want the same thing here and you are exactly right on the big picture. I will concede all these important “heart” issues as long as you let me work out all the head-centric details, like what we actually do and how. The important signal I want you to remember is that I am on your side.

  • Jay

    I think it is simply the media trying to reach a mass audience. Everyone has feelings, and everyone wants to believe that their own feelings are important (even if noone else thinks so). Even better, feelings are hard to compare between people, so natural egoism lets everyone feel as if their own feelings are the most profound. Intelligence is easier to compare among people, and much of the audience is composed of people who know that they aren’t very smart (i.e. they didn’t do so well in school).

    • http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/ Katja Grace

      This isn’t heard outside the media, or the media brought it to the people?

      • Jay

        Mostly I hear this message from the media. Of course, I don’t voluntarily talk to the sort of people who would give this advice in conversation.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Another oddity is that it is good to have “a hard head and a soft heart” or good-intentioned and sensible, but being hard-headed by itself means to be dense, obstinate, a numskull.

  • Stephen Samild

    Seems to me thatt he heart is just plain cheaper than the head, as are other forms of irrationality (e.g. heuristics). What is felt and what is rote are immediate. Thinking is hard work by comparison. What we call rationalisation has much to do with how we narrativise our decisions post hoc to communicate them to others, and in some cases to ourselves – such as when we attempt to build rational models of our own irrationality.

  • Psychohistorian

    Slightly oversimplifying, “following your heart” is synonymous with “assuming the odds will work in your favor.” In the movie about the kid who really wants to be a musician, but he’s constantly bothered by his parents who want him to be an accountant, he always chooses to be a musician, and he always ends up being a really successful musician, even, if in reality, he usually ends up living in his parent’s basement smoking a lot of pot.

    Thus, “following your heart” is generally doing what has the highest potential payoff irrespective of the probability of that payoff. Because, in fiction, a million-in-one is practically a sure thing, it always works out in fiction. This both results from and reinforces a major social value that one should try to do what they want and ignore the odds. This value probably exists to counter the fact that we get arbitrarily heavily discouraged when we actually do know the odds.

    This explains why there is no reverse value. Following your head over your heart would mean you recognize that the odds are against you, so you take the path you’re more likely to succeed in, even if you can’t be as successful. Since the people who are most rewarded in society are generally the people who did take those big chances (and “survived”), and it’s these people who are most prominent, it’s unsurprising that we think that their choice is the right one.

    Not unlike certain professors suggesting that people do what they feel like, rather than, y’know, doing what will directly maximize their chances of post-graduate success, without any serious attempt to offer corroborating evidence…

    No, no I have not figured out how to neatly hotlink in this format.

    • http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/ Katja Grace

      “This value probably exists to counter the fact that we get arbitrarily heavily discouraged when we actually do know the odds.”

      Then why are we not even more inclined to say that we should not follow our hearts? Do you imagine everyone discouraged themselves, but offering good advice not to be to others?

  • Newerspeak

    A simpler explanation: Follow Your Heart, aka Do What You Feel, is just a cheap way to give downside-free advice. If it works out well for the advisee, you get some of the credit. If it turns out badly, you can hardly be blamed for telling them to do something that was already very appealing.

    The opposite advice to FYH is Do The Right Thing.

    FYH is a good signal for the advisor too. Many of the emotions grouped into “heart” evolved in the panoptic ancestral environment to keep everyone cooperating on the prisoner’s dilemma, and ensure that frequent defectors couldn’t get a fitness advantage that way. FYH proponents advertise that they are good cooperators, expect the same of advisees, and so deserve goodwill.

  • http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/ Katja Grace

    “OK, but why do we not as often give the reverse excuse, that we cannot do what our listener and head wants, because our heart compels us otherwise?”

    The symmetry is broken because the listener would much prefer to have the heart on their side. This is because ‘the heart’ means what you really want, and therefore what you will be loyal to, while ‘the head’ means what seems sensible taking external impediments and other things you want into account. Because you would rather the heart is on your side, you are told that it is. So you support the heart option (this is different from supporting the heart because it is more likely to be on your side).

    I don’t think we do know more about what a persons heart wants than their head usually in context. We know what sorts of things it might want, but in a specific decision there are too many unknown side effects. e.g. there are always people who someone might be closer to or impress by apparently unrelated choices.

    • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

      ‘The symmetry is broken because the listener would much prefer to have the heart on their side.”

      Are we talking about a feeling of ambivalence here?

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    Psychohistorian’s comment about encouraging a student to become a musician is insightful: he’s pinpointed something that, intuitively, is a paradigm case of following one’s heart, though not something that comes immediately to mind when you talk about “following your heart.” But I think he’s mistaken in treating the advice as automatically bad advice: if the evolutionary benefits of being high-status are large, chasing a career where one has a chance to be high status may make sense, even if it doesn’t make sense by many other measures. This may be why “follow your heart” seems like such tempting advice–we’re wired to like the idea of trying to be high status.

    Another interpretation, suitable to other situations, is that “heart” tends to be associated with love and friendship, so “follow your heart,” in some contexts, may be a way of saying “be loyal” that appeals to something more pleasant than a burdensome duty of loyalty. Also, the person saying “follow your heart” may be signaling that they, themselves, are a loyal person.

  • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

    “But oddly, literature seems to contain far more examples of folks being encouraged to follow their hearts than their heads. Why this difference ”

    Why? Because it the hero’s journey and that is what is worth writing about. Heroic archetypes make for a good read.

    “OK, but why do we not as often give the reverse excuse, that we cannot do what our listener and head wants, because our heart compels us otherwise?”

    Why? Because we may feel vulnerable, or we may simply not know why.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    But oddly, literature seems to contain far more examples of folks being encouraged to follow their hearts than their heads. Why this difference?

    My theory: we follow our heads nearly every moment of every day. We are in constant conflict between what we’d really want to do, and what is reasonable or acceptable to do. And nearly always, our heads win out.

    Literature is escapism, so it shows people who do what we wished we could do.

  • Pingback: In Mala Fide | Linkage is Good for You: Hypocrisy Edition