How do you recognise emotions and what function do they have?


There are five elements which help you to recognize an emotion:

  • Thoughts: This is how you evaluate a situation, for example when you think that driving through a red traffic light could lead to an accident.
  • Physical reaction: These are physical symptoms, such as sweating or a dry mouth.
  • Reaction: An emotion makes you react, for example by raising your arms to protect yourself.
  • Facial expression: An emotion often shows on your face, such as a frown or tense jaw.
  • Feeling: This is what you experience inside during an emotion.


Evolution and emotions

From an evolutionary point of view, humans have come across situations in which it was important to have emotions. An emotion directs behaviour. Originally, emotions had a social function. According to the social functional approach, emotions have evolved to help humans survive and reproduce. Situations that often occurred in our evolutionary past have caused emotions to develop. You can look at this from four different levels:

  • Emotions are important for your personal development;
  • People need emotions to maintain a social bond and to successfully establish cooperation between people and in groups;
  • When you feel love for someone, you connect with that person. This can eventually lead to reproduction;
  • When you are afraid, you take action and flee from danger in order to survive.


The function of emotions

In our present-day lives, emotions also have a specific function. An emotion can have several functions:

  • Emotions can motivate you to take action. When you have an important exam, fear can give you the drive to study more.
  • Emotions can make you avoid When you feel fear, you tend to flee from a situation.
  • Emotions play a role in decision making. A decision is not always rational and logical, because consequences can also have sentimental value.
  • Emotions function as a signal to others. By showing certain emotions, you can make it clear how you feel. Conversely, you can also make predictions about the behaviour of others by interpreting emotions.
  • You can also consciously take certain actions to ensure that you experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions. For example, finding a hobby that makes you happy.



Try to create a diary registration when you experience strong emotions. See if you can identify your emotions. Which of the elements do you recognize? Were you aware that these elements were part of your emotion? Can you also consider what the function of the emotion (s) you experience is? What are they associated with? How do they relate to the choices you make?




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