How Do Emotions Influence Our Behaviors?

Science Daily reports that most people agree that emotions can be caused by a specific event and that the person experiencing it is aware of the cause, such as a child’s excitement at the sight of Santa Claus. But recent research suggests emotions also can be unconsciously evoked and manipulated.

Psychologists Kirsten Ruys and Diedrick Stapel of the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research at Tillburg University in The Netherlands have uncovered the first empirical evidence to suggest we do not need to be aware of the event that caused their mood or feelings in order to be affected by it. (You can see the full article here: )

They hypothesized that, since humans have evolved to respond quickly and unconsciously to threats, they should be able to react to an emotional event without full awareness.


Because, as the psychologists explained, you’re likely to live longer if you immediately stop moving at the sight of a growling grizzly bear and do not need full awareness for such a response to be instigated.

They studied 3 groups and proved that after brief, quick exposures to disgusting or scary images, people’s words and emotions were affected. So there was no real threat, just an image. But the brief sight of the image caused an emotional shift in the participants.

These findings are the first to demonstrate that specific emotions can be evoked without awareness of the cause and a person’s overall mood can develop into a specific emotion.

Your Emotions Drive Many Of Your Decisions (Whether You Realize It Or Not)

Your emotions will drive the decisions you make today, and your success may depend upon your ability to understand and interpret them. When an emotion is triggered in your brain, your nervous systems responds by creating feelings in your body (also commonly called a “gut feeling”) and certain thoughts in your mind.

Many or most of your decisions are informed by your emotional responses. That’s what emotions are designed to do: to appraise and summarize an experience and inform your actions.

But if an emotion is triggered, just how much should you pay attention to your visceral response and the thoughts it creates?

For instance, if you have a fight with your partner, perhaps you feel lonely or sad afterward. And let’s say that, over time, you’ve turned to other things to be able to find comfort or emotional relief when you feel this way…like food (or alcohol, or sex, or shopping or gossiping or celebrity news or whatever).

Because you’ve turned to the outside thing to relief the feeling, when you do that multiple times, you begin to build a habit in your brain. Your neurons literally start wiring together to establish this habitual response to the emotion.

Emotions Are Clumsy

Emotions are not particularly sophisticated or precise, but their speed and utility make up for what they lack in sophistication and precision. Emotions, when they are not disordered, provide information about your circumstances in a simple, quick way that does not require a lot of thinking or awareness.

Your emotions serve as a cueing system–an attention directing system associated with physiological changes that can prepare you to take action.

For example, imagine that you are negotiating a contract and begin to get anxious. If something doesn’t feel right, what’s happening is that your emotional system that is informing you to further evaluate the situation.

Perhaps the other person reminds your emotional brain of someone in the past who took advantage of you. Is this person doing the same thing or is it just a particular mannerism he has that triggered your anxious response? Is your anxious response a reaction to the other person or to yourself? Maybe it’s your own fear of success or failure.

Many people think of their emotions as something they have to manage or control rather than something upon which they could capitalize on.

While emotions are created to direct our attention to physiological changes to prepare us to take action, this system is clumsy. There are many false alarms. Why? Perhaps because you’re dealing with an ancient system that evolved to keep us safe from lions or death 10,000 years ago…but the cues in modern society are quite different.

Wired to be stimulated to keep us safe, our emotional brains get triggered and prepare us to react in ways that may be a misfire.

Utilizing Your Emotions As a Valuable Tool

However, this fascinating system can be utilized as a tool…your emotions can be an invaluable resource to capitalize on rather than ignoring, managing, controlling or reacting without consideration.

Emotions can tell you something about the world that you may not have accurately perceived in another way. They are something to interpret and use rather than an annoyance that you should ignore or control.

Emotions are like an indicator that you have with you all the time.

If you have a sense or “feeling” about something, the more you practice checking in to notice your feeling, the more you develop awareness. The more awareness you have, the more you can make decisions consciously.

As you make conscious decisions, you create the outcomes you intended.

And when you create the outcomes you intended…your self-esteem naturally rises. When you feel like you are able to generate the outcomes or results you want in your life, you feel in control and empowered.

So next time you start to repeat a behavior that’s become a habit, like overeating or binge eating, notice the emotions you’re having. When you pause to notice your emotions, you can then begin to understand them and see the emotions as an indicator. You can decide consciously whether you want to respond or not, rather than reacting and repeating the same habit.

Relating This To Binge Eating…

If part of you feels the urge to binge and part of you doesn’t want to binge, pausing to notice the conflict and letting the emotions run their course will give you freedom in your behavior.

Rather than reacting to the urge, you can notice your emotions, appreciate that they are triggered by something, and choose to let them come and go. By doing this, you’ll begin to break your old habit of binge eating to establish new habits to deal with the emotions.

It may be hard to distinguish what emotion you’re feeling that’s driving your behavior.

If you have a long-established habit, you’re dealing with a habit instead of an emotional reaction.

However, the habit started with an emotion at one point. It can be broken and a new one can be created with conscious awareness.

Thanks to an article on Psychology Today, “Like It Or Not, Emotions will Drive The Decisions You make Today” and Science Daily for information used in this article.

If  an emotion is triggered, just how much should you pay attention to your visceral response and the thoughts it creates?  < Tweet This! >


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