The Somatic Marker Hypothesis and the Possible Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex

  • Type: #article
  • Year read:#read2017
  • Bibtex: @damasio1996
  • Bibliography: Damasio, A. R., Everitt, B. J., & Bishop, D. (1996). The Somatic Marker Hypothesis and the Possible Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex and Discussion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 351(1346), 1413–1420.

Underlying theory

“The key idea in the hypothesis is that “marker” signals influence the processes of response to stimuli, at multiple levels of operation, some of which occur overtly (consciously, in mind) and some of which occur covertly (non-consciously in a non-minded manner). The marker signals arise in bioregulatory processes, including those which express themselves in emotions and feelings, but are not necessarily confined to those alone. This is the reason why the markers are termed somatic: they relate to body-state structure and regulation even when they do not arise in the body proper but rather in the brain’s representation of the body.” p. 1

“The hypothesis rejects attempts to limit human reasoning and decision making to mechanisms relying, in an exclusive and unrelated manner, on either conditioning alone or cognition alone.” p. 1


Damasio developed this theory when he encountered patients with damage to the ventral and medial prefrontal cortex. Their cognitive and social capacities were intact, but

“the patients develop a pattern of abnormal decision making which is most notable in personal and social matters. Specifically, patients have difficulty planning their work day; difficulty planning their future over immediate, medium and long ranges and difficulty choosing suitable friends, partners and activities.” p. 1

These patients did not express emotion and experience feelings in situations in which emotions would normally have been expected.