NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 154

EXPOSING THE NEUROSCIENCE OF RACISM I had been advised early in life that sound decisions came from a cool head, that emotions and reason did not mix any more than oil and water. I had grown up accustomed to thinking that the mechanisms of reason existed in a separate province of the mind, where emotion should not be allowed to intrude, and when I thought of the brain behind the mind, I envisioned separate neural systems for reason and emotion. (xi) The case that prompted Damasio to re-think the role of emotions and The instruments usually considered necessary and sufficient for rational behavior were intact in him. He had the requisite knowledge, attention, and memory; his language was flawless; he could perform calculations; he could tackle the logic of an abstract problem. There was only one significant accompaniment to his decision-making failure: a marked alteration of the ability to experience feelings. Flawed reason and impaired feelings stood out together as the consequences of a specific brain lesion, and this correlation suggested to me that feeling was an integral component of the machinery of reason. Two decades of clinical and experimental work with a large number of neurological patients have allowed me to replicate this observation many times, and to turn a clue into a testable hypothesis. (xii) (Emphasis added.) In the years since its initial publication, several studies have confirmed Damasio’s “testable hypothesis.” 6 Among other effects, these findings call into question the preferred formula for effective decision-making — one that excludes emotion and feeling — that has been disseminated and established as a requisite guideline in almost every arena of public, professional, and personal decision-making from the law and law enforcement, to business, international relations, politics, economics, diplomacy, medicine, journalism, education, sports, marriage, and family life. Given the pervasive influence of Descartes’ cogito on Western culture and its widespread cultural diffusion as a decision-making protocol, the neuroscience research confirming the essential role of emotion and feeling in moral decision-making raises new questions. Has the cogito already “marked” what Western researchers view as a healthy/integrated brain? Can “impaired feelings” be caused by factors other than disease or physical injury to the brain? Can socialization, for example, impair or deactivate the brain’s emotional circuits? Can the gender socialization that males in particular receive about the incompatibility of emotion and reason produce neural effects and a similar impairment of feelings as those caused by injury or disease? Can race or gender socialization deactivate emotional systems of the brain in general or with regard to specific stimuli? Conversely, are there deficits in neural processing in a healthy — non diseased, uninjured — brain that can be attributed — broadly speaking — to cultural socialization? 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