In general, all our emotions make us act, in other words, they exist for our survival and are the result of evolution. The word emotion comes from the Latin word, which means to move. So, the action is at the root of every emotion. This can especially be seen more obviously in children and animals.
Every kind of emotion has a special role in our life. Using the new methods of studying body and brain, researchers have discovered how physiological changes help us to form our actions. Let’s look at each emotion more closely.
Anger: When we get angry, our hands become stronger because they become filled with blood,
and we can punch someone easily, for example. We get more energy and that is why we can hurt someone physically at such a moment.
Fear: When we have feelings of fear, our legs become much stronger, so that we can run faster. Our face becomes pale because blood goes away from our face. But at the same time, our body freezes to make the right decision, perhaps hiding instead of running is a better choice. Our hormones make our bodies extremely focused and being ready to take action and being aware of the danger. This helps us to make the right decision on what to do to protect ourselves from danger.
Love: Love, tender feelings and sexual satisfaction give the opposite physiological reaction than the anger and fear do. Our body becomes very calm, peaceful, and relaxed. We become still, happy, and content. These feelings help us to cooperate with each other more easily.
Surprise: When we are surprised, our eyebrows automatically lift up, which allows us to see more and allows more light to come into our eyes. It gives more information about the event that surprised us and helps us to make a better decision on what to do next.
Disgust: When we want to show that something disgusts us, we want to show that we don’t like its taste or smell. We do it by changing the facial expression – our upper lip and nose make the movements that indicate that we don’t want to smell something unpleasant or spit out poisonous food.
Sadness: Sadness has a very special role too, it serves a purpose, and we may even need it. Its main function is to help us to adapt to sad changes in our life, like death or a big disappointment. It makes us lose a lot of energy, hope, and inspiration towards living. As the sadness becomes bigger and goes deeper inside, our metabolism slows down too. This loss of energy and slow activity inside of our body gives us an opportunity to process the sad event that happened, accept it, and understand how it will change your life. When the energy returns, we can start making new plans and find solutions. In the past, this emotion helped depressed people to survive by ensuring that they stay close to their homes where they are safer because they wouldn’t be able to go far with such loss of energy.
These biological reactions to act are shaped by our experiences and the culture we live in. We all, no matter in which culture we are born, might feel the emotions in the same way, but how we show it depends on a culture we grew up in. For example, being sad is shown differently in different cultures. In some cultures, sad people can express openly their sad feelings, while in others they have to hide it and be modest.
The period in evolution, when these emotional reactions were shaped, had very harsh conditions and was a much more dangerous time than during most other parts of history. It was a time when a lot of children died, and adults could live only till 30 when there were many dangerous animals everywhere and they would attack you at any moment when natural disasters and simple changes in the environment could be life-threatening. However, as agriculture started developing and even the most primitive communities were created, the conditions started changing making it easier to survive. In the past 10,000 years, when the whole world became civilized and there have been many developments, the harsh conditions, that helped our emotions to be in control and helped us, became much weaker and in some places have almost disappeared.
These pressures to survive and these harsh conditions made our emotional reactions very valuable for our survival. However, as these pressures became weaker, our emotional reactions were not. They stayed the same. If the developments of the world have been developing at the same speed according to the laws of evolution, emotional reactions would change too, and be in harmony with the conditions we live in and continue to help us to make our life better. But the world has been developing very fast, and the evolution of our emotions can’t catch up. So, our conditions have changed, but our emotional reactions have stayed like they were in the ancient past. For example, getting angry in the ancient past could help you to survive but today anger can sometimes literally kill you and others around you.