“Well, that person is very emotional!”
“Don’t be emotional!”
How many times have we heard of statements similar to this? I guess it should be almost every day. What is the objective to coin sentences similar to these? Have we thought about this? I think one of the main reasons to brand a person by saying he is emotional is to mean that he is not rational; he is not applying his mind. Now should we think emotions are hindrance to rational thinking? If your answer is yes then you are right but one fact is you are still in olden days! Because in the olden days people thought emotion is a hurdle to think rationally and logically. Plato said “passions and desires and fears make it impossible for us to think”. Descartes also said in the same vein that emotions keep the mind from pursuing its intellectual process.
In the recent times (50 years is recent in research unlike technology for which it is ancient!) researchers, especially, psychologists have explored the many positive roles of emotions in cognition and intelligence.
I am not going into the technical details to explain the positive roles of emotions in this post but I would like to suggest few examples which can substantiate to an extent the positive roles played by emotions.
Herbert Simon in one of his paper in 1967 argued that emotions perform the critical important function of interrupting normal cognition when some unattended goals require attention and servicing. This is a very important feature of emotions — in the broader sense this is called as internal goal management. The other main use of emotion is as problem solving tool. This too, was pointed out by H. Simon. For example, let us see a person who is going to perform on the stage for the first time. Just think of his varied mix of emotions. He is happy that he has got an opportunity; He fears that nothing unexpected things happens; He is anxious about his performance and the response from the audience. These are few emotions a normal person will go through. Happy makes him/her in a positive frame of mind. Fear makes him to prepare for the eventualities that he might face when he performs on the stage. Anxiousness makes him to perform to the liking of the audience according to his belief (leave out if it is ultimately a success or failure). The liking is with respect to him — he is seeing the expectation of the audience through his perception. So what we infer here — emotions are driving forces to take necessary actions for the expected events. Emotions are also in the abstract sense an umbrella term to seek solutions. I mean to say each emotion is mapped to few set of solutions. Fear can occur for various events but each occurrence of fear in a person will drive him to apply the solutions associated with fear either to run away, prepare to face it, get some help from someone and so on.
So emotions are not hindrance to thinking but the moral is to use emotion and thinking in a correct proportion. Correct proportion is very hard to define here. It comes only through experience and it also depends on one’s own personality.
Thinking without being emotional is learning to drive a car by reading books about driving; learning swimming without touching the water!