Emotions add color to our life. Without them, life would be affectively flat, as happens to those who suffer from anhedonia. However, sometimes so much “color” can end up clouding our vision, generating a state similar to vertigo that prevents us from thinking clearly. If the emotions overwhelm us and take over, we end up showing an emotional behavior that can sometimes skims the irrational.
What is emotional behavior?
In reality, all behaviors have an emotional imprint, more or less, since it is practically impossible to get rid of emotions. When we face a situation, we experience almost immediately a feeling of rejection or attraction. It is about somatic markers.
In practice, our emotional brain is on permanent guard to warn us of a possible danger or, on the contrary, of situations that could bring us satisfaction and pleasure. It is a mechanism that goes below our level of consciousness and often triggers those visceral sensations of repulsion or attraction that we experience but can not explain.
When that first response takes shape, different emotions emerge. That rejection can be translated into rancor, disgust or hatred while the attraction becomes curiosity, joy or happiness.
At this point of the way two things can happen: we get carried away by the emotions we are experiencing by putting into practice an emotional and impulsive behavior, or reflect on what happens to us and try to mitigate the impact of those emotions to behave in a more reflective and rational way.
In one way or another, emotions are always present and our success and psychological well-being depends to a large extent on our ability to recognize, interpret and manage them.
The emotional behavior makes us take extreme decisions
Emotions are like compasses, they allow us to connect with our interior, and we should never ignore their message. However, putting emotional behavior into practice can also lead to problems.
Letting ourselves be carried away by anger, for example, will make us more prone to blame a particular person instead of taking a psychological distance and think wider. A study conducted at the University of Surrey showed also that anger increases our propensity to take risks as it instills an artificial confidence that makes us minimize the dangers. If we are angry we will also be more prone to take action and we will be less open to dialogue. We must not forget that anger is an activating emotion that encourages us to pull the trigger, in a metaphorical or literal sense.
Happiness, on the other hand, is not a better counselor either, contrary to what many might think. Happier people tend to give more value to the length of the message and its appeal than to its quality or truthfulness. In other words: we are more credulous and our reflective capacity decreases. When we feel happy, we are also more likely to take risks and establish commitments that we can not fulfill.
Sadness, for example, an emotion that we normally revile and we would like to escape, can be good in some cases because it stimulates reflective and systematic thinking leading us to appreciate the different options that we have before us. This is something positive. However, too much sadness will make us fall into rumination, so we will be stuck thinking about the options without being able to decide for one or the other.
That means that there are no positive or negative emotions, everything depends on their intensity and how appropriate they are respect the situation we are living. Therefore, instead of practicing an emotional behavior, we must stop a second to reflect on what is really best for us.
Emotions: A rudimentary and subjective mechanism
The main problem with emotions is that they are not particularly sophisticated or precise, since their real purpose is to tell us quickly if a situation is dangerous or we can remain calm. In order to catalog that situation, the emotional brain doesn’t base solely on what is happening, if that were the case, then emotions would be logical, but it also takes into account our experiences and even expectations, which means that emotions can sometimes deceive us by the moment they do not reflect only a reaction to the environment but include our subjectivity.
For example, a person who has suffered a bus accident may feel fear every time he sees one, which leads to an emotional avoidance behavior. However, in reality buses are neither more nor less dangerous than cars. Buses are not a real source of danger for most people, but they generate the response of fear and rejection in those who have had an accident due to the emotional connections created.
Emotions activate “fixed emotional behavior programs”, ways of coping that we have used in the past and to which we continue to resort without assessing whether they are adaptive or not for the present situation. That is the danger of putting into practice an emotional behavior.
How to manage the emotional behavior?
– Learn to catalog emotions. It is not the same to feel irritated as frustrated, happy or euphoric. Labeling emotions correctly will help you understand their origin and manage them better. This list of different emotions and feelings will allow you to discover the wide range of the affective states existing.
– Accept the emotions. There is nothing worse than fleeing from emotions, avoiding them will not make them disappear, on the contrary, they will become encased in the unconscious, from where they will activate the emotional behavior. The best thing is to accept their presence, without judging them. In that same moment its influence begins to disappear.
– Think. Emotions are sending us a message, and we should not neglect it. Include emotions as one more variable in the equation when making a decision. After all, happiness lies in doing what motivates, inspires and attracts us.
Aarts, H. et. Al. (2010) The Art of Anger. Reward Context Turns Avoidance Responses to Anger-Related Objects Into Approach. Psychol Sci; 21(10): 1406-1410.
Sar, S. et. Al. (2010) The Effects of Mood and Advertising Context on Ad Memory and Evaluations: The Case of a Competitive and a Non-Competitive Ad Context.Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising; 32(2):1-9.
Aviezer, H. et. Al. (2008) Angry, disgusted, or afraid? Studies on the malleability of emotion perception. Psychol Sci; 19(7): 724-732.
Guido Gainotti, G. (2001) Disorders of emotional behaviour. Journal of Neurology; 248(9): 743–749.
Boiten, F. A. et. Al. (1998) The effects of emotional behaviour on components of the respiratory cycle. Biological Psychology; 49(1-2): 29-51.