Emotions are often linked to various behavioral patterns and it is believed that a lot of human actions are based on behavior. However, there are various theories that question whether emotions have anything to do with how we behave. It is believed that the original role of emotions was for survival. Emotions can either be positive (when they yield good behavioral patterns) or negative( when they do not yield good behaviors). The topic of emotion is a complex one but we can understand it when viewed from the lens of our day-to-day lives. Emotions also involve different components like subjective experience, cognitive processes, expressive behavior, psychophysiological changes, and instrumental behavior.
Subjective experience is the manifestation of a person’s actual experience in their emotional and cognitive processes. It often determines the mood of a person. Subjective experiences are produced by a person’s mind and are not tangible in any way.
Cognitive processes are another component that constitutes emotion. They are a range of chemical and electrical signals in the brain that makes it possible for humans to understand their environment and situations.
Expressive behavior is a way your brain makes you express how you feel, either consciously or unconsciously. Your behavior is either positive or negative at any point, depending on your emotions. An example of expressive behavior could be as simple as your facial expression. You frown when you are not pleased or smile when you are. It is possible to express these things without even knowing.
A wide range of psychological changes within a person can also influence their emotion.
Types of Emotions
There are many different theories categorizing and classifying emotions across various fields. However for the sake of keeping this article simple, we will discuss the two most prominent ones.
This is also known as core emotion or main emotion. Primary emotions are how we feel about events and situations. Primary emotions are stronger and are always the first response of our brains to situations but they do not last long. The number of emotions that fall into this category can be 4, 5, or even 7, depending on the theory. Some of the basic emotions in this category are anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happiness, and surprise.
On the other hand, these emotions are only our reactions to our primary emotions. They cannot be easily understood and interpreted like primary emotions and they last much longer. Some of these emotions are guilt, shame, frustration, and remorse.
Most of the emotional problems humans face are reactions to how they felt the in the heat of the moment. This means that the emotions that trouble us are actually secondary ones. In dealing with our secondary emotions, it is important that we are aware of the primary emotions that initially triggered them. Primary emotions are fast occurring and happen just at the moment of the event that triggered them, the moment a new emotion takes over from that primary emotion, it gets more difficult to think clearly and make conscious decisions about the event itself. This is because primary emotions are simpler to understand and interpret. They are not merely emotions, they also provide you with motivation and readiness to act either in a positive or negative manner. There are ways to reduce your secondary emotions in order to stay in control of your mood and how you react to situations.
Emotional awareness is a way of consciously keeping track of your emotional responses to situations to help you evaluate them and make radical decisions based on your evaluations. While, it requires a active self-monitoring, it’s not as hard as you think.
Knowing the primary reason for your secondary emotions will help you realize you only need to work on the primary emotion rather than worry about the secondary one.
Emotion vs Mood
Emotion is usually used interchangeably with mood but they are two different concepts.
- Moods are usually more long-lasting than emotions. They can go on for hours.
- Moods do not exhibit unique facial expressions but most emotions have their own facial expression.
- Moods, sometimes, cannot be accounted for. Unlike emotions that could still be traced, people can be in a particular mood for a long time without being able to trace the root cause.
However, there is a very high chance that repetitive episodes of a particular emotion can put you in a mood similar to that emotion.
Effects of Emotions
The emotions we feel are either be positive or negative. This therefore means emotions can have both positive and negative effects of on various aspects of life. They can affect our attention, decision-making, perception, and memory.
- Decision-making: When faced with the need to make a choice, our brains usually evaluate likely options and weigh possible consequences and their probabilities, before choosing the best option. Recent research has however shown that emotion is central to both the input and output of the decision-making process. Decisions and their consequences are responsible for our emotions (such as joy, relief, regret, or disappointment), and many of our choices are based on the experiences we have had with these emotions or the anticipation to feel those emotions again. However, we do not have the ability or power to predict the future of how decisions or the kind of emotions they would trigger.
- Information Processing: We are constantly faced with large amounts of incoming sensory information in our everyday life and because the capacity of our brain is limited, we cannot process all information entering our senses at once or completely because of this, our brains are forced to select those to prioritize during information processing at the cost of the other information. The emotional relevance of the stimuli we get from emotion can influence this choice and result in prioritizing emotional information. Once that emotional stimuli has been able to draw attention, it can last longer at its location and influence how subsequent non-emotional stimuli, that appear at the same location, are being processed.
- Memory: Memories of emotional events usually have more persistence and vividness than other memories. Processing of memories can be divided into three stages: Encoding (the processing of information immediately they are perceived), consolidation (the stage at which the information is stored in the brain), and retrieval (remembrance of the stored memory). Emotion modulate or affect each of these stages. As mentioned previously, information processing is focused majorly on emotionally relevant information, which may result in emotional information getting preferences over others. The consequence of this is that, less attention is directed toward peripheral information. Because of this, during the processing of information, the emotional aspects are well memorised while the other details are neglected.
As much as there are so many theories out there and we cannot say for sure how many emotions are there, it is still important to know that our emotions are so powerful and can affect our lives in several different ways. So, it is important to always be emotionally aware.