Rationality and emotions

How much does rational thinking influence your opinion on something? How about emotional thinking? Since this is a blog (mostly) about autism, you may think that is leading up to something in the vaccine/autism debate, but in this case I’m talking about a technology intended to help law enforcement catch criminals.

From the Wired.com article A New DNA Test Can ID a Suspect’s Race, but Police Won’t Touch It:

Frudakis’ test is called DNAWitness. It examines DNA from 176 locations along the genome. Particular sequences at these points are found primarily in people of African heritage, others mainly in people of Indo-European, Native American, or South Asian descent. No one sequence can perfectly identify a person’s origin. But by looking at scores of markers, Frudakis says he can predict ancestry with a tiny margin of error.

DNAWitness has been used nationally in nearly 200 criminal investigations. In several, the science played a crucial role in narrowing the suspect field, ultimately leading to an arrest. But its success hasn’t made the technology popular with law enforcement.

“Once we start talking about predicting racial background from genetics, it’s not much of a leap to talking about how people perform based on their DNA — why they committed that rape or stole that car or scored higher on that IQ test,” says Troy Duster, former president of the American Sociological Association.

“This is analyzing data derived from a crime scene,” Frudakis counters. “It’s just a way for police to narrow down their suspect lists.” But his position, rational as it may be, is no match for the emotions that surface with any pairing of race and crime.

Tony Clayton, a black man and a prosecutor who tried one of the Baton Rouge murder cases, concedes the benefits of the test: “Had it not been for Frudakis, we would still be looking for the white guy in the white pickup.” Nevertheless, Clayton says he dislikes anything that implies we don’t all “bleed the same blood.” He adds, “If I could push a button and make this technology disappear, I would.”

While this story is not about autism, I couldn’t help but think of the mercury/vaccine debate when rationality was pitted against emotionalism. Both sides of the debate show their fair share of both, often accusing the other side of being overly emotional as a derogatory method of countering an argument (which, in all likelihood, is seen as rational by the one making the argument).

Which gets me back to the question that came to mind as I read the story and am curious what others think: In a situation when rational thought tells you one thing, is it OK to let your emotions rule your decision?

6 thoughts on “Rationality and emotions

  1. Often the person who is watching and /or making the decisions in a debate is likely to be swayed by their emotional response to what they see presented. However, staying rational always allows the one presenting information the best opertunitiy to show the best and most accurate information as well as stay grounded in order to continue in this way.In the case of, in the moment law enforcement, nothing about who an autistic is or why they are behaving in whatever ways that may seem unusual have not begun to be presented rationally to law enforcment agencies. It is simply assumed as it would be in any case where the diagnosis of mental impairment is part of the situation the officers are dealing with, the public safety (and the officers) comes first.Unfortunatly, this has always come first at the expense of the suspect based of law enforcments view of their right to be abusive (which is rarely challenged).Law enforcment is slow at learning that if you continue to abuse any group of people based on personal and sociatal bias you are promoting violence that needs to be addressed with more rationality.Since autistics have been treated with a type of ABA therepy veiw (not the technical use of the term) for so long in the mental heath field, institutions, and even by parents, and have learned that just being ourselves can result in punishment and good behavior may not alter that at all, the number of “good autistics” who are desiring to be cooperative and rational in the face of danger (which a law enforcement situation definatly is), is bound to become fewer.


  2. I think that balance, in this as in nearly all things, is required. Instinct and our preconceived notions will always be part of determining how we each define “rationality.” Often, it takes the emotionally guided, critical look at the “other side’s “rational” determination to show that there may be flaws in the “objective” findings.A debate like the role of thimerosal in triggering autism — or better yet, the broader issue of external insults that act on genetic predisposition — cannot be settled quickly or easily.


  3. “In a situation when rational thought tells you one thing, is it OK to let your emotions rule your decision?”Only if it affects only yourself and absolutely no one else.


  4. Ed,Having known many in law enforcement, I think it is safe to say that those who would abuse suspects are not acting out of rationality, but rather out of emotion (in some cases caused by justified fears, in many others based on prejudice or other unjustified fears). Those who think rationally (which I believe to be most of them) will understand exactly the point you make.You also bring up a good point (or, at least, I got this point from what you say): just as police and other law enforcement need to understand how to deal with a situation involving autistics, and just like any other member of society, autistics themselves need to learn and understand what to expect if they ever get into an encounter with law enforcement.


  5. Wade,I agree with the philosophy “all things in moderation”, to a point anyway (in moderation?). It just seems that so many people today, in so many different areas of debate, are either hyper-rational or hyper-emotional. (Autism, politics, religion, home-schooling, etc etc.)How to reach them, that’s what I’m trying to figure out.


  6. No, that wasn’t actually my point but your response was very rational and approptiate.I would like to hope that such a mutual understanding could take place.It would certainly be in everyones best interest.I would like to ask that autisics are made aware that we are safe, just in order to discuss how they could allow the police to do their important work in a way that doesn’t place us in harms way.Many autistics (certainly myself included) would love to participate in anyway that might promote our safty. We have never been given such an opertunity and too many have been needlessly hurt already.


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