Emotions are surely important in our lives, but it is amazing to see just how foundational they really are in how we experience the world.
Humintell’s own Drs. David Matsumoto and Hyisung Hwang put together a comprehensive book chapter exploring that very question. They emphasize the crucial role that emotions have in intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cultural contexts. This can show how emotions are critical both at the very micro-level of human life but also at the macro-social level as well!
The first of these, intrapersonal, focuses on how emotions operate internally, as opposed to interpersonal functions which shape how we interact with other people. In all of these contexts, emotions give meaning to events and inform who we are on a fundamental level.
At the intrapersonal level, emotions can help us respond to events and handle potentially dangerous situations. For instance, we need not rationally contemplate every situation and instead can rely on emotions, like disgust or fear, when we need to act quickly. This helps determine not only our behavior but also our physiological state, as our emotional response triggers physical reactions, like saliva reduction or increased blood flow.
Similarly, when we reflect on our memories, our emotions help frame them and determine how we conceptualize ourselves and our past. They create a sort of value-laden narrative which unites what would otherwise be loosely connected facts. This helps motivate us going forward, shaping what behaviors we practice, such as a desire to work hard to avoid past mistakes.
Emotions are at least as important interpersonally. They help us communicate information to other people and help us better understand other people and their intentions.
Our facial expressions convey social signals, not only about our emotional state but also about how we might act in the future. By reading other people’s expressions we can then better understand them, using emotions as a medium for that understanding.
Similarly, emotions play a huge role in understanding interpersonal relationships. When researchers examine the subtly displayed emotions of married couples, for instance, signs of contempt or disgust can significantly predict later behaviors, such as divorce.
But it is not just at these micro levels that emotions matter. In fact, emotions are key to understanding macro-level social and cultural concerns.
Our human societies rely on incredibly complex norms of behavior and require that people all over the world act within a coordinated and organized way. In many ways, this is rooted in emotional commitments. Our culture provides a system of norms and meanings that shape how we interface with the world.
Hopefully, this overview helps you see just how foundational emotions are in our lives. It is not just a matter of seeing the relevance of emotion in any one given situation, but instead it is necessary to see how emotions shape so many areas of our lives, individually and collectively.