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The effect of emotions on your behaviour depends partly on your expectations

20 October 2017

Will you get a better result from a business negotiation if you get angry or remain calm? What about a creative task – will you come up with more solutions to a problem if you’re excited, or relaxed?

The answer, according a new study in Emotion, is that it depends at least in part on what you expect the impacts of emotions to be.

Some theories linking emotion and behaviour hold that emotions activate fixed behavioural “programmes” (anger activates aggressive actions, for example). Others hold that while emotions do influence behaviour, how they do so depends upon the individual’s past experiences, and the current context. (Faced with a bullying boss, the anger you feel may lead you respond aggressively, if this has worked for you in the past; alternatively, it may prompt you to go off and strengthen bonds with colleagues.)

Maya Tamir and Yochanan Bigman at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, reasoned that if this second class of theory is correct, a given emotion will lead to a particular behaviour if a person expects it to do so – but if that expectation is not there, it won’t.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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