Skip to content
Health, Sports & Psychology

Why Do We Have Emotions?

Updated Tuesday 9th August 2005

Why do we feel emotions? Tim Dalgleish offers an explanation

"We have evolved emotions as ways of helping us to rapidly reorganise our mental and bodily resources to help us prepare for anything the world might throw at us.

During our lives, each of us experiences millions of emotional reactions either consciously or unconsciously. In a world of uncertainty, we sometimes need gut feelings to negotiate our way through life’s tricky path, as the process of cold rational calculation alone can’t help us make many decisions.

Take fear for example, when you hear a strange noise in the night feelings kick in and your senses become tuned for danger. Emotional memories recall how you coped with similar situations in the past and kick in to help you deal with this one.

A sad face on a street sign [Image:  Mòni under CC-BY-NC-ND licence] Creative commons image Icon Moni via Flickr under Creative-Commons license
A sad face on a street sign [Image: Mòni under CC-BY-NC-ND licence]

A more subtle example is sadness - when we suffer a loss, feelings of sadness help our minds turn inwards to release our mental resources, establishing new goals and forgetting the old ones we’ve lost.

Some emotions also have a primarily social function. Take guilt - unpleasant feelings such as this can motivate us into doing something a situation and this should help us make amends!

So you should listen to your emotions obvious and subtle, as they are essential in situations where the correct decision requires more than just rational thought."

Find out more

What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories
Paul E. Griffiths, University of Chicago Press

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.Charles Darwin, Oxford University Press

On the Emotions
Richard Wollheim, Yale University Press

Cognition and Emotion: From Order to Disorder
Tim Dalgleish and Michael Power, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Does Inside Out accurately capture the mind of an 11-year-old girl? A child psychologist weighs in Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Tanyaru | Dreamstime.com - White Eggs With Different Emotions In Tray Horizontal Photo article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Does Inside Out accurately capture the mind of an 11-year-old girl? A child psychologist weighs in

Is it enough to use Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger to portray a pre-pubescent child's behaviour?

Article
Researching, with feelings Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Tanyaru | Dreamstime.com - White Eggs With Different Emotions In Tray Horizontal Photo article icon

Money & Business 

Researching, with feelings

Caroline Clarke has co-edited a new collection on the link between research and feelings - but why is the relationship important?

Article
Commodifying our feelings into raw materials Creative commons image Icon SF Brit under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Commodifying our feelings into raw materials

If you can treat Starship's pride in their city as a commodity, is there nothing that can't have a price put on it?

Article
Verbal fluency Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Verbal fluency

John Oates explains verbal fluency. Have fun with our tests to measure how quickly you can think and talk

Article
Brexit and the Art of Negotiation Creative commons image Icon "Negotiations" by The Bush Centre, via Flickr under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Brexit and the Art of Negotiation

How to reduce your biases during complex negotiations, in the fifth article from Volker Patent’s series on the psychology of Brexit.

Article
The dog beyond the mirror: Experiments with dog consciousness Creative commons image Icon Pup Fan under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

The dog beyond the mirror: Experiments with dog consciousness

Traditional mirror-based experiments might have sold dogs self-awareness short. New research using smell instead of sight suggests dogs might have self-consciousness.

Article
The Bisexuality Report Creative commons image Icon gem fountain via Flickr under Creative Comms license under Creative-Commons license audio icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

The Bisexuality Report

According to a new report written by Open University academics, bisexuals endure worse mental health problems and suffer from an equality gap.

Audio
5 mins
Forensic psychology: Taking it further Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: RichLegg article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Forensic psychology: Taking it further

Explore how the mind works, and discover how the limitations of the human brain can lead to major miscarriages of justice.

Article
Emotions: Fear and loathing Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Emotions: Fear and loathing

Advances in brain imaging technology have increased our understanding of the relationship between our emotions and areas of the brain.

Article