Emotions: Keys to Emotional Intelligence


What are emotions and what is their function?

The word emotion comes from the Latin emotio , which means movement or impulse:

“This is because emotion is a set of subjective reactions experienced to a stimulus, which implies a series of organic changes and, a posteriori, in the affective state.”

This variation of the affective state is not only due to the organic changes that the emotional experience itself entails, it is also due to the fact that this process usually activates a series of thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that determine the perception of the situation as positive, neutral or negative .

Thus, the main function of emotions is to adapt the body to the circumstances that surround it, preparing it for the behavior that it considers most appropriate to solve the situation. However, although emotion serves as an indicator of internal state (needs, desires, motivations, etc.), it is not a clear behavioral predictor , since reason is what ultimately determines behavior.

In addition, emotions have a social and sometimes instrumental communication function , since the gestural expression associated with emotions increases the probability of survival by promoting behaviors in the group. In fact, a study from Glasglow University argues that the distinction between fear and surprise, as well as between anger and sadness, has a social basis rather than innate.

It should be noted that these physiological reactions are regulated by the cerebral limbic system , which is why it is known as “the emotional brain”. In this regard, it is important to note that the limbic system is closely related to learning , as it determines the degree of importance of what happened, that is, whether it deserves to be remembered or not.

Difference between emotion and feeling.

The feeling is the affective state resulting from an emotion, so that the feelings derive from the emotions. In this way, feelings, unlike emotions, are not primarily organic instinctual reactions, but rather:

“Feelings arise from a rational assessment of emotions, as well as their trigger.”

An example that illustrates this idea is when a child falls and injures himself: the first he experiences is fear or fright, but then he becomes aware of the severity of the injury and his feeling of pain arises.

(1) – Basic emotions: Sadness.

This dependence of feeling on emotion has generated confusion regarding the differences between the two terms. However, feelings activate the necessary mechanisms to use the emotional tools available to the individual, those that regulate their mood, as well as everything related to it.

In short, feelings are linked to reflection, so it can sometimes be difficult to identify their cause. In addition, feelings are much longer lasting than emotions and do not generate immediate behaviors , in addition to not involving intense physical sensations.

Types of emotions.

“Authors such as Paul Eckman or Robert Plutchik have established different criteria for the classification of emotions, although this question was also addressed by Darwin and Aristotle.”

In 1972, Eckman distinguished six basic emotions (joy, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger) based on the creation of a facial action coding system ; while Plutchik created the wheel of emotions with eight antagonistic primary emotions (joy vs. sadness, anger vs. fear, trust vs. disgust and surprise vs. anticipation) whose combination generated other secondary emotions of different intensity (eg happiness and anticipation create optimism).

Generally, emotions are usually differentiated according to their origin (primary or secondary) or the well-being generated (positive, neutral or negative):

  • Primary and secondary emotions: Primary emotions are those most basic and innate – shared by all cultures – such as joy, surprise, fear, aversion, anger and sadness. On the other hand, secondary emotions are those generated at the individual level as a result of learning social and moral rules, p. eg, hope, jealousy, shame, guilt, anxiety or pride. An example that illustrates secondary emotions are some cultures in the Amazon that are not envious because they lack a sense of belonging.
  • Emotions positive, ambiguous or negative : Emotions are neither good nor bad in themselves, but also generate pleasant or unpleasant sensations (or neutral, as the surprise). In this sense, it is necessary to point out that negative emotions are also necessary, since the emotional memory is responsible for remembering the consequences of the acts, avoiding to err again.

What is the meaning of emotions?

The following explains in detail the primary or basic emotions, that is, those that are experienced in response to a stimulus and that are common in all cultures:


Joy is a basic pleasant emotion that indicates that something is satisfactory, that you want to continue or repeat, that is, that it induces to execute what is beneficial and pleasant.

It is associated with pleasure, well-being, fun and euphoria.

(2) – Basic emotions: Joy.


It is a particularly transitory emotion. The main function of surprise is to help orient yourself to a novel situation through research.

It is associated with shock, amazement, and bewilderment.


Fear is an unpleasant emotion that warns against possible dangers, as it prepares the body for attack or flight, as well as paralysis if necessary. In short, the function of fear is to keep the person safe, protect them from threats, facilitating their survival.

It is associated with restlessness, nervousness, insecurity, worry, uncertainty and anxiety (phobia and panic).

Disgust or aversion.

Disgust implies rejection of what produces it, in a way that usually causes withdrawal towards objects or people considered potentially harmful (including immorality).

It is associated with disgust, dislike, and boredom.


Although anger is unpleasant, it serves as an impetus to act and motivates you to find solutions to what is annoying. It has to do with self-defense and limits, with those that must be placed on others and with overcoming the obstacles encountered.

It is associated with indignation, hostility, irritability, frustration, rage, and fury.


It is an unpleasant emotion associated with loss, whose function is to recognize the value of what was lost and to help integrate the experience.

It is associated with pain, apathy, disappointment, grief, pessimism, and depression.

Reactions associated with emotions.

It is estimated that the emotional reaction itself lasts approximately six seconds, so that it is the judgment that is made of the emotion itself that modifies the mood. This makes each one experience emotions in a unique and particular way depending on their emotional learning, their character, their previous experiences and the situation that is presented.

“This means that physiological, organic and behavioral reactions are not exclusively innate, but can also be influenced by previous experiences or knowledge.”

However, the physiological reaction to basic emotions is common in all humans , as it has genetic and hereditary bases, which explains that, p. For example, blind people also have similar facial expressions despite not being able to imitate them. On the other hand, although culture and gender can influence the configuration of the forty-two muscles of the face, they are usually similar.

(3) – Physiological reactions to emotions.

Most common reactions to emotions.

In this way, it has been determined that the most common reactions to basic emotions are:

  • Joy : Joy often produces a feeling of openness and body and fullness. Relaxes the muscles in general, causing a feeling of calm and body tranquility. It also generates an optimistic tone of voice.
  • Surprise : The gesture that most characterizes this emotion is raising the eyebrows, as it allows to widen the visual field and make the retina receive more light. It also releases adrenaline, as it tends to cause fright.
  • Fear : Activates the nervous system to prepare the body for a flight-attack response, causing the person to feel body heat, speed up their breathing, feel like running, experience rapid heartbeat, sweating, tremors, etc.
  • Disgust or aversion : The gesture that most reveals this emotion is to block the nostrils (eg when there is an unpleasant smell).
  • Anger : Anger tends to manifest itself by tightening the muscles of the jaw. In addition, it produces an acceleration of the heart rate, as well as an increase in adrenaline, which predisposes the body to action. It also generates heat, tachycardia, etc. In the most extreme cases it can lead to violence or aggression.
  • Sadness: Decreased energy and general mood, induces isolation, silence and crying.

While it is true that learning can facilitate the control of non-verbal communication (eg facial expressions or gestures), physiological changes are more difficult to control (eg blushing, trembling, sweating, pupillary dilation or increased heart rate). It is precisely these less visible and more difficult to manage physiological changes that the lie detector relies on .

What is emotional intelligence and what is it for?

emotional intelligence

The emotional intelligence defines the ability to recognize, manage and express emotions so that they can interpret, understand and influence those of others appropriately.

The main researchers, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, defined it as a subset of social intelligence (described by Thorndike) that serves to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings in order to guide one’s thoughts and actions. Subsequently, Daniel Goleman has given great notoriety to this concept due to the benefits it provides in mental health and in relationships with others.

In this way, emotional intelligence consists of:

  • Have emotional self-awareness , recognizing emotions and their origin.
  • Regulate your own emotions , being more flexible and tolerant to stress, showing adaptability and optimism.

“An adequate emotional management leads to the productive use of emotions.”

  • Understand the feelings of others , responding to them in an empathic way.
  • Have good social skills , that is, communication skills (verbal and non-verbal) and persuasiveness.

(4) – Emotions and social skills

  • Be self-motivated , not only through external rewards (eg money or social recognition), but also by engaging in positive experiences through which to achieve one’s goals.

In short, emotional intelligence serves to perceive and understand the emotional changes that prepare and, subsequently, guide decision-making; in addition to having a special importance in emotional memory. Therefore, both pleasant and unpleasant emotions provide valuable information about current needs.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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