The Psychology of Emotions

[Taveena Atsu | Features Sub Editor ]

Emotions are at the core of many of our decisions, and we all know what they are; but here we go a little deeper into emotions, and factors which might affect our mood on a daily basis.

Essentially, emotions are feelings brought about by particular experiences or physical states. For many of us, they control just about every aspect of our lives, and according to psychologist Paul Eckman, there are six main emotions: anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, fear, and surprise. Although these are said to be the main emotions, additions have been made, and they can also be combined to create new emotions, says psychologist Robert Plutchik. We’re able to feel different degrees of each emotion too.

Our bodies often go into autopilot when it comes to emotions, which is why our hearts beat faster when we’re scared, or why we can’t sleep at night if we’re excited about something. This is called the fight or flight response and is controlled by our nervous system.

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Theories of emotion

There are three main theories of emotion: cognitive, neurological, physiological. The cognitive theory is concerned with  how our thoughts affect our emotions, the neurological theory is looks at how brain activity contributes towards how we feel, and the physiological theory suggests that it’s our body which determines how we feel.

There’s also the evolutionary theory of emotion which suggests that emotions serve an adaptive function as they help us to survive. For example, the fact that mothers feel love for infants means they’ll care of their children or; fear can stop individuals from acting carelessly. Having said this, emotions can also be counter-productive if people become clouded by them and act out of emotions as opposed to logic.

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You are what you eat

When people say ‘you are what you eat’ they really mean it; I know for sure that when I’m hungry I can get a bit grouchy (to say the least). But there are also numerous studies that display how food can affect how we feel. For example, The National Institutes of Health found that in parts of America and Europe, depression was more likely for individuals who lacked DHA (an acid which can be found in different types of fish) were more likely to suffer from depression. But that’s not all, the mood you are in can affect your emotions too. People often use food to make themselves feel better, hence the term ‘comfort eating’.

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The role of hormones

As mentioned, food can make us feel good. That’s because it helps us to release one of the key hormones involved in making us happy: serotonin.

Serotonin is produced in the brain and the intestines and scientist Dr. Lenard suggests that a lack of it can contribute towards depression, violence, and anxiety. Psychotherapist Julia Ross says other ways to increase serotonin levels include exercise, eating healthy carbs, and exposing yourself to light regularly.

Other hormones that make us feel good are endorphins, they can be released after feeling pain (which is why some enjoy the pain that comes with getting tattoos), fear, or stress. Exercise is also a great way to produce endorphins and they leave us feeling relaxed.