The Psychology of Emotions: How Emotions Shape Thoughts and Behaviours

Last updated on October 22nd, 2023 at 01:09 pm

Discover the psychology of emotions, key theories, and insights, including how emotions shape thoughts and behaviours for effective decision-making.

Emotions are a critical part of human psychology and play a significant role in shaping our thoughts, behaviours, and decision-making processes.

Understanding the connection between thoughts and emotions and how they drive behaviours can help us to manage our emotional responses better, leading to better mental, physical, and social outcomes.

Psychological theories related to emotions help us to better understand how and why emotions develop, which can help us to develop strategies to manage them effectively.

In this article, we will go all the way to discuss how emotions shape thoughts and behaviours and their impact on daily lives.

Definition of Emotions

different faces of emotion to demonstrate how emotions shape thoughts

From a psychological point of view, emotions are intricate psychological experiences of humans that happen due to the combination of physiological, environmental, and cognitive factors.

These experiences are often explained as feelings that are intense which can be positive or negative.

Some positive emotions are joy, love, surprise, and excitement while the negative emotions are sadness, anger, fear, and despair.

Emotions can be triggered by many internal and external factors including memories, thoughts, physical sensations, hormones, and cues from social settings.

Related: Phrases that make you smart

Functions and Importance of Emotions

A man showing two different kinds of emotion

Emotions are commonly classified into six categories: happiness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness.

Each emotional state is characterized by its unique set of physiological and behavioral responses.

For instance, happy emotions may result in smiling, laughter, and upbeat music, while angry emotions may result in clenching of the fists, raised voices, and aggressive behavior.

Emotions exist to serve a purpose, including enabling human beings to express themselves and make informed decisions.

Related: Understanding Emotional Intelligence

For example, fear emotions may prompt individuals to take precautions, such as avoiding potential dangers, while happy emotions may encourage social bonding and increase performance.

Therefore, emotions are not only a reflection of our inner states but also serve to equip us with the ability to respond to our external environment.

As described, emotions play a crucial role in human life and serve several important functions.

Here is a rundown of the importance of emotions:

  • Psychological well-being: Emotions are closely linked to our mental health and well-being. Experiencing a wide range of emotions allows us to navigate through life’s ups and downs, process information, and adapt to different situations.
  • Social bonding and relationships: Emotions are crucial for building and maintaining relationships. They enable us to connect with others on an empathetic and compassionate level. Expressing emotions like love, joy, and affection helps to promote intimacy, trust, and a sense of belonging in our relationships.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving: Emotions provide valuable information that aids decision-making and problem-solving processes. They act as a form of internal guidance, signaling what we value, desire, or find aversive.
  • Motivation and goal pursuit: Emotions are powerful motivators that drive our behavior and goal pursuit. Positive emotions, such as enthusiasm and passion, can fuel our motivation and inspire us to achieve our aspirations.

Also Read: Powerful Emotions uses as Persuasion Tool

  • Communication and expression: Emotions serve as a fundamental means of communication and expression. They allow us to convey our thoughts, needs, and experiences to others through facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and verbal communication.
  • Self-awareness and self-regulation: Emotions provide insights into our inner world and contribute to self-awareness. Being in touch with our emotions helps us understand ourselves better, including our strengths, weaknesses, values, and triggers.
  • Memory and learning: Emotions play a crucial role in memory formation and learning processes. Emotionally charged events are often better remembered due to the release of stress hormones that enhance memory consolidation.
  • Coping and adaptation: Emotions help us cope with stress, adversity, and change. They provide a way to express and process challenging experiences, facilitating emotional healing and adaptation. For example, sadness allows us to grieve and recover from loss, while laughter and humor can serve as coping mechanisms during difficult times.

Related: Understanding the Factors that Cause of Low EQ

The Components of Emotional Experience

A girl displays the screaming emotion

Emotional experiences are the feelings and reactions elicited by an individual’s internal emotional states in responding to different external stimuli including people, circumstances, or events.

These experiences can manifest in many ways and forms like physical sensations, responses through behaviours, and cognitive processes.

Here are what makes up an average person’s emotional experiences:

1. Physiological Responses

Physiological responses refer to the changes that occur in the body in response to emotional stimuli.

Emotions trigger physiological responses, which can include changes in heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, muscle tension, sweating, and hormone levels.

For example, when someone experiences fear, their body may respond by increasing heart rate, dilating pupils, and tensing muscles.

Physiological responses are a critical component of emotional experience because they help us prepare our bodies for action in response to a given situation.

2. Subjective Feelings

Subjective feelings are another component of emotional experience which is the internal, personal experience of emotions that people have.

It has to do with the understanding and interpretation of the physiological and cognitive processes linked to emotions, such as heart rate, facial expression, and thoughts, into an observable or describable experience that can be communicated to others.

Each individual has a unique experience depending on the situation.

Subjective feelings are an integral component of emotional experience because they shape how people perceive and respond to different situations.

Related: The Proactive Way To Regulate Your Emotions

3. Expressive Behaviour

Expressive behaviours are the silent or nonverbal cues and actions people use in communicating their emotions.

Expressive behaviours include body language, facial expressions, voice tones, eye contact, and other involuntary cues that are communicative.

These cues are critical components of emotional expression as they make people express their emotions and receive feedback in return.

4. Cognitive Appraisals

Cognitive appraisals are the evaluation or judgment of an event or situation, which determines one’s emotional response.

Emotional experience involves cognitive appraisals or judgments about the importance of events or situations.

These judgments affect how responses are given to these situations. There are situations that can elicit serious irritation when it is perceived as unfair, while the same situation might be ignored if perceived as insignificant.

They are the mental processes that individuals use to evaluate the significance of their environment and assess whether a situation is threatening or beneficial to their well-being.

Cognitive appraisals involve the following process:

  • Situation: A person encounters an event or situation.
  • Interpretation: The person assesses the event or situation and assigns a meaning to it.
  • Appraisal: The person evaluates the situation and considers the potential consequences of the event.
  • Emotional response: The person experiences an emotional response based on their cognitive appraisal.

For example, the death of a loved one will have different interpretations by different people.

If the family member was in a protracted sickness, some may see their death as a relief from suffering, while others might see it as a great loss and be overwhelmed by grief.

Therefore, cognitive appraisals play a crucial part in determining an individual’s emotional experience, and how they cope and respond to the situation.

Related: The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence And The Brain

How Emotions Shape Thoughts and Behaviours

A child showing the crying emotion

Emotions can influence our perception of events and how we react to them.

For instance, I can never be creative or have good experiences in society when I am angry for any reason.

That moment of unhappiness is enough to mar my day, but I learned to manage it.

If someone has a positive mood, they may be more likely to engage in positive behavior, such as helping others or being more creative and productive.

If someone is angry, they may be more likely to engage in negative behaviors such as aggression or violence.

Emotions are also linked to decision-making, as they can influence how we weigh the different options, making it more likely that we will choose something that aligns with our emotional state or values.

The Connection between Thoughts and Emotions

The connection between thoughts and emotions is mutually reinforcing, meaning that they interact with each other in a constant and ongoing feedback loop.

Thoughts can trigger emotions, and in turn, emotions can influence our thoughts.

For instance, if someone believes that they are not good enough, this negative thought can trigger feelings of sadness and low self-esteem.

These emotions can then further reinforce the negative thought, making it more challenging to overcome.

Similarly, emotions can also influence our thoughts by coloring our perception of events.

For instance, if someone is feeling anxious, they may view a situation as more dangerous or threatening than it actually is.

Psychological Theories of Emotions

A girl shading tears to demonstrate how emotions can be used to shape behaviour

There are several psychological theories related to emotional power, including the James-Lange theory, which proposes that emotions are the result of physiological responses to stimuli.

The Cannon-Bard theory proposes that emotions and physiological responses happen at the same time, and without being dependent on each other.

The cognitive theory of emotion argues that emotions are the result of cognitive appraisals, or how we interpret a situation.

The evolutionary theory suggests that emotions as adaptive responses that helped our ancestors to respond quickly to changing environments, improving their chances of survival. See primal instincts.

James_Lange Theory of Emotion

The James-Lange Theory of Emotion, named after psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange, suggests that emotions are a result of physiological responses to stimuli in the environment.

According to this theory, our bodily reactions are the cause of our feelings rather than a consequence of them.

For example, if a person sees a snake, their heart rate may increase and they may start to sweat. The James-Lange Theory suggests that physical reactions trigger feelings of fear or anxiety, rather than the other way around.

In this theory, emotions are experienced as a result of specific bodily responses to external stimuli.

Consequently, the body’s reaction is the primary determinant of how a person experiences an emotion.

The theory argues that each emotion has a unique physiological response pattern, making it possible to tell the difference between emotions.

The James-Lange Theory suggests that emotions are a result of specific physiological reactions and that different emotions are associated with different physical reactions.

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotions

The Cannon-Bard theory of emotions, also known as the thalamic theory of emotions, suggests that emotions and physiological reactions occur simultaneously and independently of one another.

In this theory, it is argued that the thalamus, a part of the brain responsible for sensory processing, sends signals to both the cortex, which is responsible for cognitive processing, and the autonomic nervous system which manages bodily functions that occur involuntarily.

According to Cannon and Bard, when we experience a specific stimulus, such as a frightening event, the thalamus sends signals to both the cortex, which processes the information and forms our cognitive reaction to the event, and the autonomic nervous system, which triggers physiological arousal.

The physiological arousal can then result in behaviors associated with specific emotions, such as fighting or fleeing in response to fear.

The Cannon-Bard theory challenges the popular James-Lange theory, which suggests that emotions are caused by physiological reactions that are triggered by specific stimuli and occur before conscious awareness of the emotion.

Instead, Cannon and Bard propose that emotions and physiological reactions are both prompted by the stimulus, and neither one causes the other.

The Cannon-Bard theory suggests that both physiological arousal and cognitive processing play important roles in generating emotions.

The Cognitive Theory of Emotion

The cognitive theory of emotion states that emotions are driven by our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of a situation.

People’s cognitive appraisals of a situation determine their emotional responses and how they will behave in response to it.

What this means is that emotions are a result of a person’s interpretation and evaluation of an event or stimulus rather than the event itself.

It suggests that an individual’s emotions arise from their cognitive appraisal of a particular situation, and how they evaluate the situation.

In other words, it is the person’s interpretation of a stimulus that gives rise to the emotion.

According to this theory, an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and expectations can influence their emotions.

For example, if someone anticipates that a particular situation will lead to a negative outcome, they may experience anxiety or fear.

On the other hand, if they expect that a situation will lead to a positive outcome, they may experience happiness or excitement.

The cognitive theory of emotion is often associated with the work of American psychologist Richard Lazarus.

He argued that cognitive appraisal involves three stages: primary appraisal, secondary appraisal, and reappraisal.

Primary appraisal involves evaluating whether a situation represents a threat or opportunity.

Secondary appraisal involves assessing one’s ability to cope with the situation.

Reappraisal involves evaluating the situation again after it has occurred and revising one’s initial appraisal.

The Evolutionary Theory of Emotion

The evolutionary theory of emotion suggests that emotions are adaptations that have evolved over time through natural selection in response to environmental challenges.

According to this theory, emotions provide us with important information about our environment and help us to react quickly to threats and opportunities.

For example, the emotion of fear may have evolved to help us quickly identify and respond to potential predators or other environmental threats.

Similarly, the emotion of happiness may have evolved to signal that our needs are being met, which in turn increases our chances of survival and reproduction.

The evolutionary theory of emotion also suggests that emotions are universal across all cultures and are shared among most if not all, living species.

This universality suggests that emotions are an essential part of our biological makeup and have played a critical role in our evolutionary history.

The evolutionary theory hinges on the adaptive function of emotions and their importance in shaping our behavior and decision-making processes.

Understanding The Science of Emotions

Emotions are unique to each individual, and their intensity and duration can be influenced by various factors.

Therefore, understanding the science of emotions is crucial in our lives.

In this section of this post, we are going to look at the opinion of science on emotions.

How Thoughts and Feelings Synthesize to Produce Emotions

The process of synthesizing emotions involves the complex interaction between an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and bodily reactions.

Emotions can be triggered by different factors such as stressors, environment, and social interactions.

In response to these triggers, the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region in the brain activates, leading to a series of physiological responses, such as increased heart rate, adrenaline production, and muscle tension.

The activation of the amygdala further leads to the activation of the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for thought analysis and decision-making.

During this process, the brain evaluates the stimuli and determines whether to respond to them or not.

Through this process, the brain can produce a range of emotional responses that are uniquely tailored to the individual.

How Emotions Impact the Brain

Emotions have a significant impact on the brain, influencing cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and decision-making.

During the process of synthesizing emotions, the brain goes through a series of changes, which ultimately affect its overall function.

For instance, research has shown that stress and anxiety emotions can have a negative impact on the brain, resulting in decreased cognitive performance.

In contrast, positive emotions such as happiness and joy can encourage neuroplasticity, resulting in enhanced memory, creativity, and cognitive function.

Related: History Of Emotional Intelligence, And Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding the science of emotions is an essential aspect of modern psychology and human behavior.

By understanding the complex processes of synthesizing emotions, individuals can gain insights into their thought patterns, behavior, and effective emotional regulation.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for individuals to cultivate emotional intelligence, which refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s emotions effectively.

Ultimately, the ability to harness the power of emotions is crucial to leading a fulfilling life and creating a positive impact on society.

The Impact of Emotions on Daily Life

As emotions are an inseparable part of human existence, we must learn how to navigate, manage and reduce their negative impacts on us.

Here are ways emotions impact our daily lives:

How Emotions Impact Personal and Professional Relationships

Emotions play a crucial role in shaping personal and professional relationships.

They have the ability to either strengthen or damage a relationship.

When emotions like love, respect, and compassion are present in a relationship, it helps to build strong bonds between individuals and fosters a positive environment.

On the other hand, negative emotions like anger, frustration, and jealousy can harm relationships or even end them.

In professional settings, emotions can affect how we relate to colleagues, how we communicate with our bosses, and how we function as a team member.

For instance, anger can lead to conflicts with coworkers, while empathy can establish stronger teamwork and support among team members.

Emotional intelligence (EI) skills, such as empathy, active listening, and assertiveness, are vital in the workplace.

Effects of Suppressed Emotions on Mental and Physical Health

Suppressed emotions can have negative effects on both mental and physical health.

When we bottle up our emotions, we deny ourselves the opportunity to confront the issue and resolve it.

This can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression, which negatively affect our mental well-being.

Suppressed emotions can also manifest into physical health issues like headaches, stomach problems, and high blood pressure.

The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Success in Life

Being emotionally smart (EI) is an individual’s ability to understand and manage their own emotions and to recognize and respond appropriately to the emotions of others.

Research has shown that individuals with higher levels of EI are more successful in their personal and professional lives.

People with high EI have better communication skills and can establish stronger personal and professional relationships.

They are also able to manage their emotions and stress more effectively and can handle difficult situations in a productive way.

These skills can help individuals excel in their careers, establish stronger relationships, and attain greater levels of success in life.

Therefore, developing EI skills would benefit individuals in all aspects of their lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do emotions affect our thought process?

Emotions affect our thought process by coloring our perception, and influencing interpretation, attention, memory, and decision-making.

How do emotions shape us?

Emotions shape us by influencing our beliefs, values, and behaviors, impacting our overall personality and how we interact with the world.

Do our emotions control our thoughts?

Our emotions don’t control our thoughts entirely, but they can influence them. Emotions can bias our thinking and affect our decision-making processes.

How do emotions influence our thoughts?

Emotions shape thoughts by influencing our interpretation of events. Happiness, sadness, or fear can color our perception, impacting attention, memory, and decision-making processes.

Can emotions distort our thinking?

Intense emotions like anger or fear can distort thinking. They may lead to cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias or emotional reasoning, affecting our perspective. Awareness and balance are crucial in such situations.

Can positive emotions enhance our thinking abilities?

Positive emotions enhance thinking. Joy, gratitude, or love broaden cognitive processes, boosting creativity, problem-solving, and flexible thinking. They also encourage social connections and cooperation, further enhancing cognitive abilities. Cultivating positive emotions positively impacts thinking.

Wrapping Up

Understanding how emotions shape thoughts and behaviours is crucial in navigating society and the world.

As human beings, we experience a wide range of emotions that influence our decision-making and interactions with others.

Understanding the psychology of emotions is important for our personal growth and development, as well as our relationships with others.

Through the study of emotions, we can learn how to regulate our feelings, make informed decisions, and communicate effectively with others.

Additionally, it is crucial to recognize that emotions are not inherently good or bad, but rather a natural human experience that should be normalized and accepted.

By embracing our emotions and harnessing their power, we can lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.


  1. Functions of Emotions
  2. Thoughts, feelings and behaviours
  3. The role of emotion in human decision-making

Pious Clements is the insightful voice behind "The Conducts of Life" blog, where he writes about life ethics, self-development, life mastery, and the dynamics of people and society.

With a profound understanding of human behaviuor and societal dynamics, Pious offers thought-provoking perspectives on ethical living and personal growth.
Through engaging narratives and astute observations, he inspires readers to navigate life's complexities with wisdom and integrity, encouraging a deeper understanding of the human experience and our place within society.