Why do we have emotions? What role do they serve? One function that is needed is to think rationally. Charles Darwin, however, took a broader approach. In ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’, Darwin argued that emotions developed over time to help humans solve problems. Emotions are useful, because they motivate people to engage in actions important for survival-actions such as forging for food, seeking shelter, choosing mates, guarding against predators, and predicting others’ behaviors. For example, disgust (an emotion) motivates us to avoid dangerous or harmful things (such as rotten foods). Excitement (also an emotion) motivates us to take on situations in which we require energy and initiative (for example, tackling a new career).
Drawing from Darwin are researchers who focus on evolutionary psychology. This field of study says we must experience emotions whether they are positive or negative because they serve a purpose. For example, you would probably consider jealousy to be a negative emotion. Evolutionary psychologists would argue that it exists in people because it has a useful purpose. Mates may feel jealousy to increase the chance that their genes, rather than a rival’s genes, are passed on to the next generation. Although we tend to think of anger as ‘bad’ it can actually help us protect our rights when we feel they are being violated. For example, a person showing anger when she’s double-crossed by a colleague is serving a warning for others not to repeat the same behavior. Consider another example. RW was a secretary at a prominent law firm. Her boss wouldn’t stop touching and grabbing her. His treatment made her angry. So she did more than quit. She sued, and won a multimillion-dollar case. It’s not that anger is always good. But as with all other emotions, it exists because it serves a useful purpose. Positive emotions also serve a purpose. For example, a service employee who feels empathy for a customer may provide better customer service.
But some researchers are not firm believers of evolutionary psychology. Why? Think about fear (an emotion). It’s just as easy to think of the harmful effects of fear as it is the beneficial effects. For example, running in fear from a predator increases the likelihood of survival. But what benefit does freezing in fear serve? Evolutionary psychology provides an interesting perspective on the functions of emotions, but it’s hard to know whether or not this perspective is valid all the time.
Mood as Positive and Negative Affect:
One way to classify emotions is by whether they are positive or negative. Positive emotions like joy and gratitude express a favorable evaluation or feeling. Negative emotions like anger or guilt express the opposite. Keep in mind that emotions can’t be neutral. Being neutral is being non-emotional.
When we group emotions into positive and negative categories, they become mood states because we are now looking at them more generally instead of isolating one particular emotion. In this exhibit, excited is a specific emotion that is a pure maker of high positive affect, while boredom is a pure marker of low positive affect. Similarly, nervous is a pure marker of high negative affect, while relaxed is a pure marker of low negative affect. Finally, some emotions like contentment (a mixture of high positive affect and low negative affect) or sadness (a mixture of low positive affect and high negative affect) are in between. You’ll notice that this model does not include all emotions. There are two reasons why. First, we can fit other emotions like enthusiasm or depression into the model, but we’re short on space. Second, some emotions, like surprise, don’t fit well because they’re not as clearly positive or negative.