Emotion is about feeling – something that isn’t easily encapsulated or captured with words, but it is something familiar to us all. Various definitions are available, but most are in agreement that emotion has three core qualities, according to renowned psychology researchers David Watson and Lee Anna Clark (1994) at the University of Iowa. Those are; psychophysiological response whether to external stimuli or as a result of mental processes, a pattern of autonomic change and a distinct subjective feeling state. Watson and Clark’s definition also includes the presence of some expression, usually facial, but for many of the emotions we experience, especially when we are alone, there is little change in our appearance.
Many psychologists and theorists have suggested emotions have no obvious benefit. This notion is quite easy to appreciate when we feel scared, depressed, anxious, or any other negative emotion, especially when the emotion impedes our performance in a particular task or our day-to-day lives. Take, for example, a penalty taker in a football/soccer match, feeling almost physically sick with fear, his legs turning to jelly as he makes his way towards the ball. These feelings do not help the person perform better.
Particular negative emotions are important to us, which are thought to perform various functions essential for maintaining physical and mental well-being. Let us consider anxiety; over a prolonged period of time, anxiety can be debilitating, but in the short term, it prepares us and sensitizes us to potential threats in our environment. This preparedness also ensures we are in a sufficiently high state of physical arousal to deal with the threat or remove ourselves from the threatening situation. For example, anger is the result of an unsuccessful action or one that has been obstructed, which might lead to the individual ceasing their activity and attempting an alternative approach to their problem. This has the benefit of conserving physical and cognitive resources for other attempts at solving a problem, rather than continuing to expend these precious resources by following an already unsuccessful goal path. Happiness, however, encourages the individual to continue down a particular goal path, as this emotion is likely experienced as a result of a successful approach.