The role of emotion in decision-making: evidence from neurological patients with orbitofrontal damage

Brain Cogn. 2004 Jun;55(1):30-40. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2003.04.001.


Most theories of choice assume that decisions derive from an assessment of the future outcomes of various options and alternatives through some type of cost-benefit analyses. The influence of emotions on decision-making is largely ignored. The studies of decision-making in neurological patients who can no longer process emotional information normally suggest that people make judgments not only by evaluating the consequences and their probability of occurring, but also and even sometimes primarily at a gut or emotional level. Lesions of the ventromedial (which includes the orbitofrontal) sector of the prefrontal cortex interfere with the normal processing of "somatic" or emotional signals, while sparing most basic cognitive functions. Such damage leads to impairments in the decision-making process, which seriously compromise the quality of decisions in daily life. The aim of this paper is to review evidence in support of "The Somatic Marker Hypothesis," which provides a systems-level neuroanatomical and cognitive framework for decision-making and suggests that the process of decision-making depends in many important ways on neural substrates that regulate homeostasis, emotion, and feeling. The implications of this theoretical framework for the normal and abnormal development of the orbitofrontal cortex are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Risk-Taking