Why are there emotions? Is it useful

Effects of Emotions

Emotions are mainly seen as either useful or harmful. Some emphasize that emotions serve to adapt the individual to his environment, others see something more disturbing in the emotion. Whether something is good or bad almost always depends on the circumstances. E.g .: If, for example, one can no longer remember a bad life event, it may be an advantage (for psychological well-being) or a disadvantage (because an old mistake is repeated).

  1. Perception and attention

Research has been particularly interested in whether certain emotions change inward attention (self-awareness). E.g .: So if a sad state is accompanied by increased self-awareness, the symptoms of sick people should increase when they are sad.

Studies have shown that increased depression is usually associated with increased self-awareness - anxiety and alcoholism are also associated with increased self-awareness.

Focusing and averting attention

(Stroop Test) Influence of fear on the recognition of stimuli. E.g .: Weapon effect - witnesses of a crime can often describe a central characteristic of the event, such as a weapon, very precisely. On the other hand, the information about peripheral characteristics is rather imprecise and incomplete. This can be seen as an indication of a narrowing of attention in fear. It seems that attention was focused on the emotionally arousing central event and that the TP was therefore able to give relatively precise information about it afterwards. On the other hand, the capacity to pay attention to the reception of peripheral information was apparently lost.

2) Assessment of oneself and the environment

We usually give the things we perceive a rating. We meet a stranger and after a few moments find them "attractive", "lively" or "unfriendly". In numerous studies it has been observed that the current mood has an effect on judgment

Six explanations for the influence of emotions on judgments

of different types - which do not exclude each other but complement each other: by Clark + Wlliams

a)In some judgments, the person making the judgment depends on information from his memory. The mood can selectively affect the recall of positive and negative information,

b) - own mood serves as information itself. The assessment object is made responsible for its own condition. For example, someone may attribute their good mood to the fact that the person they are speaking to is particularly nice to them. Cause and effect are simply confused.

c) lack of influence of a negative mood.

From the simple assumption that most people would rather be in a good mood than a bad one, it can be concluded that they are working to maintain a positive state and end a negative one.

d) Response styles

e) Mis-attribution of emotional arousal

f) Limitation of memory capacity



3) Assessing risks and decision-making behavior

It happens again and again that decisions are made in an emotional state. This applies to both private and professional life.

Emotions in everyday life and subjective event probabilities

There is a connection between the valence of the emotional state and the assessment of risks. Conversely, in a good mood, negative events are viewed as less likely.

Decision-making behavior

However, the question of whether and how emotions influence actual decision-making behavior is difficult to answer. Imagine a patient who is in a bad mood after a long illness and now has to decide whether or not to undergo a dangerous operation. The examinations described so far would suggest that he is overestimating the risk associated with the operation due to his negative state of health. But will his decision depend on it too? The assumption is that he decides against an operation, but it would also be conceivable that the patient says that he is in a bad situation anyway and that everything can actually only get better and that he therefore takes the risk of the operation. There need be no relationship between the risk assessment and the actual decision.

4) problem solving

Many problems can only be solved effectively if the available information is used optimally.

The positive mood goes hand in hand with a faster or more economical intake of information.

° creative problem solving

Some tasks can be solved by ingenuity and unusual ideas rather than by proceeding systematically and thinking logically, e.g. Dunker's candle task

The good mood seems to encourage unusual and innovative thoughts.

Effects of emotions on memory

Rapaport claims that unpleasant experiences are more likely to be deleted than pleasant ones. This has also been confirmed in earlier studies, people talked about memory optimists, and when asked to list pleasant and unpleasant events, more and more pleasant ones were listed.

Remembering dramatic events

One finds evidence of extreme forgetting in individual events, e.g. B. Woman was raped and had complete amnesia for a month or murderers often claim they cannot remember anything - sometimes protective claims, sometimes real amnesia. It is different with victims who were injured - they were less able to remember details than those who were not injured, but it is not known whether they had the same opportunities for close observation or whether the defense was in the foreground.

Attempts to explain:

One can clearly see contradictions in the various studies. Everyday positive events are better remembered than negative ones, although this cannot only be attributed to "repression". However, it does not fit that traumatic events can still be reproduced in detail after a long period of time, but that amnesias can be observed in other people.

Revelle and Loftus (1992) tried to explain why there can be an improvement or deterioration in memory and examined the subjective arousal of the test subjects. With both strong positive and strong negative emotions, the individual can be aroused.

In experiments in which various strong states of excitement were triggered by drugs, it was shown that memory-promoting effects can be achieved - if the survey was after 2 or more weeks and memory-inhibiting effects in the case of surveys after less than an hour. Mc Gaugh also assumes that subjective arousal plays a central role; animal experiments have shown that adrenaline can promote teaching performance (if it is missed shortly after learning) but can also inhibit it in too high a dose. The narrow time and dose dependency can be passed on to humans, since catecholamines are released even with natural excitement and therefore have a memory-promoting effect. However, if the arousal exceeds a certain level, amnesia can occur. Christianson also stated that emotionally arousing events are more often dealt with and thought about - and this explains why one can still remember details after a long time. If one avoids the argument (for different reasons) the memory decreases.


The emotional state when retrieving stored information:

  1. Mood congruence
  2. Information that fits the current mood is better retrieved than unsuitable information.

  3. state-based remembering

Words learned in a sad state are particularly well remembered if the memory test was taken in a sad state and vice versa.

Emotions and events are viewed in our as nodes in our knowledge and thus made easily accessible.

Effects of emotions on behavior towards other people

Helpful Behavior - Influence of the emotional state on the granting of help. Studies show that a positive mood increases the willingness to help. Negative mood was blamed for the test person (test person would have broken the hearing aid) but also leads to an increased willingness to help.

One tries to explain this by saying that TPs who are positive want to maintain their good mood with a good deed, others see the benefit for themselves (social recognition) and are more likely to help. Effects of negative emotions - when someone helps, the negative mood improves, when someone is sad they are more self-absorbed and need stronger appeals to change this focus of attention.


The question is whether aggressive behavior can be triggered or changed by emotions.

Berhowitz says that the tendency to behave aggressively increases with the strength of the emotions. Not only anger and anger but sadness and frustration and the aggression tendencies of the individual are responsible for this.


In summary, it can be said that there are numerous studies that describe the effects of emotions on behavior, problem solving and memory, but no consistent results have been achieved.

The main goal in future research must be to find comprehensive explanatory approaches in which the outliers can also be taken into account accordingly.