Once of our most popular articles talks about WHY we feel emotions. Emotions are thought to motivate us to fix things in our environment. Guilt makes us want to confess to something naughty. Anger often motivates us to right a perceived injustice. Shame? We did something socially unacceptable and now we have to wheedle our way back into good graces. Well, psychologists think that we feel emotions when our day to day ‘mindless’ routines (see the article I linked before) are stopped short. Maybe you’re off to work and your shoes aren’t where they usually are. Some things we don’t really think about when we go about our lives. We have expectations or as psychologists call ’em ‘schemas’ and when these are interrupted, psychologists say we feel an emotion.
Now, it’s all well and good to say we’ll feel an emotion, but our brains have such a delightful selection to choose from. How do our brains choose which one? Well, attribution theorists (a social-cognitive type view) have a pretty useful idea about that. Now, if you read that post I just linked, you’ll know this isn’t the only explanation. It’s just one of the more useful ways to think about and combat jealousy in your everyday life!
Ok, so your routine has been interrupted. Your brain has woken up. You’ve decided that it’s certainly important, and the it’s important and bad (negative valence, as psychologists call it). Your attribution machine kicks in. Let’s break it down, choose your own adventure style:
- What’s the locus – is it because of you, them or something else?
- Other – Is it happening to them? Maybe it only involves them?
- Self – Is it happening to you? Maybe it only involves you?
- Environmental – Is it happening because of something else?
- Is it typical? Or a one-off? (Global/Situationally Specific) – do they often do this or is this not like them?
- Global – is this something that happened because you or they always get into this situation?
- Situationally Specific – is this something that happened because someone made an unusual error in judgement?
- Stability – does it happen all the time or is this unusual? (Again, we need to make the distinction, where the above is about the why, is it due to their personality or not, this is about the regularity, maybe they’re really attractive so it happens often)
- Stable – This sort of thing happens all the time.
- Transient – It’s pretty strange, this isn’t something that happens often.
- Controllability – Could it have been taken care of or not?
- Controllable – Could it have been stopped in it’s tracks?
- Uncontrollable – No one could have forseen it. It happened and there was nothing that could be done about it.
- Intentionality – was it on purpose?
- Intentional – it happened because someone made it happen on purpose.
- Unintentional – it happened, but no one meant to cause it.
Attribution theorists reckon that once your brain shoots through all these decisions, it makes up it’s mind about the Responsibility (what or who was to blame) and consequently what sort of emotion we’re likely to feel. What sort of motivation we need to go about putting all of those decisions we just made back into alignment.
So, how can we use this framework to control our emotions? Well, we could just do what our brain wants. Give in to the emotion and act on it. But that’s obviously not always gonna help us, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Well, you’ve got to consciously go through your checklist. Identify what it is you’re thinking. If you can answer out loud everything on our list, you can probably see why you feel the way you feel and get a handle on your emotions. It’s a method that psychologists use everyday. Heard of anger management? You’ll see it there. Just spend a minute running through the checklist before acting, you might find you’ve just made some ridiculous attributions, or maybe you’ve got it right and you’re hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Either way, can’t hurt to take a breath right?
Alright, now you know how emotions happen, maybe you can figure out what sort of attributions might lead to jealousy or maybe you can see how complicated things can get when two people mash their routines together? ‘Til next time, at The Dirt Psychology.
Thumbnail image courtesy of René Kasman (Flickr)