Types of emotions and sources of emotions

If you are like most people, you can experience a wide range of emotions each day. One moment, you might be happy because of a good result on a test or the successful completion of a project. The next moment, you might feel sad because of bad news from your family or friends, or because of a personal problem that you are having trouble solving.

Many factors can affect your emotions, and it is important to be able to identify at least some of them. With a better understanding of the types and sources of emotions, you can learn techniques for dealing with what you are feeling, whether you driving a vehicle or dealing with other aspects of your day. Emotions are part of life, but they need not be so strong that they overwhelm a person’s ability to cope with small or large events.

The Importance of Controlling Emotions

Using strategies to control and use emotions can be very helpful in dealing with a variety of situations. Controlling emotions should not mean becoming bland and robotic, but it means avoiding the kinds of situations that lead to reckless or dangerous actions stemming from extreme emotion. Understanding the difference between moods and emotions can also be helpful, as the two aspects may require different strategies for learning to cope and to avoid potential problems.

People often confuse moods and emotions, but the two concepts have significant differences, mainly in duration and cause. It is important to understand how they relate to each other and the various ways that they affect people’s ability to cope with the situations they encounter, whether in tasks like driving or anywhere else in life.  

Mood is an overall state of feelings and emotions, often related to general wellbeing and health. Sometimes, people can wake up feeling angry, happy or sad, depending on the overall direction of their lives and any major events that have taken place. They might say that they are in a good mood or a bad mood. Generally, moods tend to last quite long and tend not to be much influenced by specific occurrences.

How Moods and Emotions Differ

Throughout the day, regardless of their overall mood, people might experience flashes of emotions such as happiness, anger or sadness. According to an online Pearson Higher Education document on emotions and moods, emotions tend to be intense and often quite fleeting, normally coming in response to a word, event or other stimulus.

Moods generally tend to be less intense than emotions but often lack a particular context. Thus, some people who go through major hardships can still be happier overall than people whose lives are easy because their moods do not depend on their circumstances. Often, moods are governed as much by chemicals in the brain or personality type as by anything else.

Although moods can affect people’s reactions to what happens around them, emotions are often the source of their responses to events and people. Emotions such as anger, disgust, happiness, or fear can come from many different sources. However, they generally fit into one of three categories, according to Kendra Cherry in her overview of the six major theories of emotion on the Very Well Mind website.

As Cherry notes, the term “emotion” often refers to complex feelings resulting in physical and psychological responses that can affect thought and behaviour. Some of the other factors that can affect emotion are personality, temperament, mood and motivation. Some people are naturally more cheerful than others, for example, while others tend to be gloomier, even if they have the same experiences. Emotions, however, tend to be tied more closely to the circumstances of the moment.

Theories of Emotional Responses  

The three basic theories of emotional responses, according to the author, are physiological theories, neurological theories and cognitive theories. Physiological theories claim that responses in the body produce emotions. Thus, seeing a bear close by on a hiking path would create an increased heartrate, sweaty palms and other physiological responses that the person would interpret as fear. Although the two might come almost simultaneously, this theory states that the physiological response prompts the mental realization of fear.

In contrast to physiological theories, neurological theories say that emotional responses come from instinctive activity within the brain. According to this theory, the brain first receives a certain type of stimulus from the thalamus, such as seeing a potential danger or other situation that can involve an emotional response. The brain then sends messages to the heart and other parts of the body, which react according to the type of emotion appropriate to the situation. Often these two parts of the reaction come so close together that it is almost impossible to know which came first.

Cognitive theories of emotions emphasize the role of the brain and thought in emotional responses. According to this theory, a stimulus leads to conscious thought, followed by a response that is both physiological and emotional. Encountering a bear would first bring the knowledge of danger. Then the instincts stemming from the realization of an imminent threat would lead the person to respond to the intellectual assessment of the situation. Thus, the emotion of fear and all of the physical effects that accompany it would be the result of thinking about the danger before reacting.

In many situations, whether they are happy, sad or dangerous, the physiological, neurological and cognitive responses occur so quickly that it can be almost impossible to separate them. However, these responses are not always helpful or even safe. A hiker who encountered a bear, for example, would likely find that backing away quietly or playing dead was more helpful than running down the path screaming. Mental preparation beforehand, and practice if possible, can help people choose the right response in a crisis, even if their emotions are strong.

Other Emotions

People experience many emotions besides fear. In a September 2017 article on the Forbes website, Bruce Y. Lee lists twenty-seven human emotions, as identified in a study published that year. According to the study’s authors, Alan S. Cowen and Dacher Keltner, these emotions can come singly or in combination with each other, depending on the immediate cause of the emotion and the person who is experiencing the sensation. The emotions range from admiration or amusement to sadness or sympathy, including triumph, confusion and more.

Although the list includes many of the terms that many people consider to be basic emotions, it also has some omissions. One of these is anger, which the authors consider to be a reaction to other emotions rather than an emotion in itself. Often, anger is closely related to fear. Similarly, hate and resentment can also be traced back to emotions such as fear or envy.

Recognizing Emotions in Everyday Life

Recognizing the core source of an emotion can help people understand themselves and each other. In management, leadership and sales, knowing the potential causes of emotions can help give people insights into the reactions that others have. Knowing the likely effects of certain emotions on people and anyone they encounter. In many fields, this knowledge helps with marketing or with motivation for employees, but it can also be useful in everyday life, as well.

Driving is one area where the emotions and their sources are important. The safe operation of a vehicle requires drivers to develop overall skills that help keep them avoid accidents. However, day-to-day driving also involves understanding how emotions can affect actions and reactions. An angry response to being cut off, for example, could relate partly to the driver’s personality but also be related to fear and possibly be related to lingering memories of a similar event in the past.

Knowing the source of an emotional reaction like fear or even happiness can help drivers identify their strengths and weaknesses. Drivers who are frequently angry on the road, for example, might lack the skills to deal with unexpected situations and could benefit from additional lessons or from taking breaks while on the road.

Facial Expressions and Driving    

In driving, as in the rest of life, people are affected by the emotions of others. According to the Pearson Higher Education document, facial expressions are so important in assessing people’s emotions that one study was based on gauging people’s emotions by the expressions on their faces. During the pandemic, people have realized the difficulty of reading people’s emotions when they are wearing masks, but this task can be difficult even in other contexts.

In traffic, for example, drivers can read the expressions on the faces of cyclists and pedestrians because they are usually easy to see. Tinted windshield glass on vehicles, however, can often obscure drivers’ faces. Even if drivers cannot see each other’s faces, however, they can often perceive moods and emotions through the way people are driving, whether calmly and carefully or with confusion and anxiety.

Some people are very good at hiding their emotions behind a mask of politeness or smiles, while others show every emotion that passes through their minds. Although it is difficult to read the facial expressions or even gestures of strangers, getting practice in this art is important for assessing the best way of interacting. Theoretical learning can be useful. However, making a habit of assessing others’ emotions can give people the practice they need. These skills can be useful in many areas of life, from driving to anything else that people do. Emotions are too important to ignore.