Two Myths about Somatic Markers

Abstract
Research on patients with damage to ventromedial frontal cortices suggests a key role for emotions in practical decision making. This field of investigation is often associated with Antonio Damasio’s Somatic Marker Hypothesis—a putative account of the mechanism through which autonomic tags guide decision making in typical individuals. Here we discuss two questionable assumptions—or ‘myths’—surrounding the direction and interpretation of this research. First, it is often assumed that there is a single somatic marker hypothesis. As others have noted, however, Damasio’s ‘hypothesis’ admits of multiple interpretations (Dunn et al. [2006]; Colombetti [2008]). Our analysis builds upon this point by characterizing decision making as a multi-stage process and identifying the various potential roles for somatic markers. The second myth is that the available evidence suggests a role for somatic markers in the core stages of decision making, that is, during the generation, deliberation, or evaluation of candidate options. On the contrary, we suggest that somatic markers most likely have a peripheral role, in the recognition of decision points, or in the motivation of action. This conclusion is based on an examination of the past twenty-five years of research conducted by Damasio and colleagues, focusing in particular on some early experiments that have been largely neglected by the critical literature. 1 Introduction2 What is the Somatic Marker Model?3 Multiple Somatic Marker Hypotheses3.1 Are somatic markers necessary for practical decision making?3.2 Speed, accuracy, or both?3.3 At which of the five stages of decision making are somatic markers engaged?4 Anecdotal Evidence Suggests a Peripheral Role for Somatic Markers4.1 Chronic indecisiveness4.2 Extreme impulsiveness4.3 Enhanced decision making in the lab4.4 Lack of motivation. 5 Early Experiments Suggest that VMF Damage Leaves Core Processes Intact5.1 The evocative images study5.2 Five problem solving tasks6 Recent Experiments Fail to Discriminate among Alternate Versions of SMH7 Conclusion
Keywords Somatic Marker Hypothesis  Neuropsychology  Decision Making  Emotion  Affect  Damasio
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